Wednesday Weirdness: Cannonball Tree

I will admit that Pharyngula's Botanical Wednesday feature today induced a kind of a panic attack that only a botanist can have:

Couroupita guianensis, the cannonball tree

See that big, pink, sea-anemone-looking structure just kind of floating there? Well that's (1.) some sort of biological structure that's (2.) apparently part of a plant and (3.) I don't know what the hell it is!

Convergent Evolution in Lignin

Lignin is a rigid, waterproof polymer found only (as far as I know) in plant cell walls.  It's pretty interesting stuff: it's what makes trees rigid enough that they don't fall over and gives the water-bearing vessels in plants the ability to withstand large tensions without caving in. It's also inedible, at least to animals, and is sometimes used as a defensive compound. Because it's of economic significance (high-lignin wood makes good building material and fuel, but bad paper) a fair bit is known about it biochemically.

Why do I, an evolutionist, care? Because of this cool paper recently published in Plant Cell. 

Botany Basics: Carpels

In 1790, the German poet J.W. von Goethe introduced the hypothesis that all the parts of a flower are derived from modified leaves. On this view, the sepals (the green, sheathing structures on the pink pictured above) and petals of a flower are leaves which surround the reproductive parts, usually with the goal of attracting insect pollinators, with an optional dose of attractive pigment. The stamens (male reproductive structures) are leaves which have developed specialized pollen-producing organs. The stamens in the water-lily pictured (the yellow structures) are more or less leaf-like, and it is easy to see how they might have developed from a primordial leaf. But where are the leaves on a pistil?

Oh look: another nerdy science blog

Hello internet! I'm a plant nerd with designs on grad school and one year left on my BSc in evolutionary biology. My plan is to write on various topics of interest to me in plant biology, with a focus on my areas of specialty: systematics and comparative development. The goal is to improve my science writing and natural history chops, hopefully while being slightly interesting.

I should post a real article within a few days. Stay tuned!

(My title, by the way, is cribbed from this excellent, if outdated, book by E.J.H. Corner.)