Archives For plant biology

In the world of fashion, floral and botanical prints cycle in and out of style regularly—think Lilly Pulitzer in the 1960s or Christian Lacroix in the late ’80s. This year, flowers are big again: plenty of designers and brand names are offering up gorgeous flower and plant prints in dresses, shoes, scarves, handbags, and even trench coats for this spring, summer, and fall. Here’s a recent rave in the New York Times.

Saturday, May 3, is Members’ Double Discount Days in the Garden Shop. Members receive an extra 10% off regularly priced items.

Naturally, the trend has popped up in our Garden Shop, too, especially as accessories, like this floaty floral scarf…or a cluster of way-cute flower-shaped handbags…and in jewelry that makes a flowery statement, large or small. Pollinators and insects—bees and butterflies and ladybugs and beetles—have designers buzzing, too. At our Garden Shop, Bali-based Paula Bolton’s bee-and-honeycomb jewelry is thought-provokingly beautiful in sterling silver and 18K gold.

Mother’s Day gift ideas, anyone?

PHOTO: A gauzy, pink silk scarf with felted white 5-petal flowers.

A pink-as-a-flower silk scarf with felted wool blossoms can wrap neck, waist, hair.

PHOTO: Delicate crystal and sterling silver children's earrings in the shape of 6-petal flowers.

Found in our kids’ section, but go ahead and admit you’ll be borrowing these: Swarovski crystal flower earrings, in posts or wires.

PHOTO: Round, leather clutch purses with decorative roses in jewel tones.

Flower power that doesn’t overpower: a comment-worthy clutch

PHOTO: A collection of 3 rings in the shape of various flowers.

Bling the blooms: flower rings are big this season.

PHOTO: Silver loops with honeycomb interiors support sculpted metal bees on necklace pendants and earrings.

Handcrafted jewelry by Paula Bolton celebrates bees and their honey handiwork.

Nonetheless, I was gobsmacked when I walked into my long-time favorite clothing store in the city* and saw this top and skirt (pictured below) from designer Christopher Kane hanging on a mannequin. Its style couldn’t be simpler: a basic crew neck top and an A-line skirt, easy enough for every body to wear. It’s the “print”—and its message—that made me gasp.

His floral print celebrates science—in this case, botany. (In other pieces from the same collection, he highlights the process of photosynthesis. View his spring show here.)

Each flower in the skirt's print has a petal that waves in the breeze as you walk.

Each flower in the skirt’s print has a petal that waves in the breeze as you walk.

From a distance, the words and images are pleasing graphics, but look closely, and you’re startled into a flashback. That big, exploded graphic on the top is a stylized science textbook illustration, and those words are the names of the plant parts you learned about back in grade school: petals and sepals…anthers and ovaries…filaments and nectaries. With the shock of recognition, you start to test your memory, “Now how does a flower work again? And what was it that a nectary does?” A glance…and a gasp…and a conversation.

As with any art, the best fashion is that which pleases as it provokes thought. We think nothing of wearing a sweatshirt with a college name on it…or a baseball cap with a team name on it…or of carrying a handbag with a brand name’s logo on it. In doing so, we advertise what is important to us.

But how often do we choose to wear…a scientific fact? Or an item that advertises nature? Or an outfit that stimulates a discussion about learning?

PHOTO: Detail of flower part diagram embroidered on Christopher Kane skirt.

Detail of flower diagram embroidered on a Christopher Kane skirt.

The influences of cutting-edge fashion often take a few seasons to reach everyday fashion. Here’s hoping that plant science captures the imagination of fashion fans everywhere!

*Thank you, Adriene at Blake, who shared these photos.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Springing Forward in the Wild West

Undercover Science

Julianne Beck —  April 3, 2013 — 1 Comment

A race is on in the Colorado Plateau, where native and nonnative plants are battling to out-compete the other and lay claim to the land.  In this dynamic location bridging Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico, the situation is heating up.

It’s a race scientists are not willing to gamble on. Andrea Kramer, Ph.D., a conservation scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden, is working with a research team to determine how to give native plants the lead.

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The Colorado Plateau stretches into Arizona.

Since invasive species such as cheatgrass arrived on the Plateau more than a century ago, they have fueled destructive fires and caused numerous other problems, according to Dr. Kramer.

These problems do not deter the expansion of cheatgrass, but they do inhibit many native species. This clears the way for more cheatgrass to grow each year. In this area that is home to numerous native animals including the nearly endangered sage grouse bird, a solution is imperative.

The cheatgrass invasion is an accelerating problem that once seemed hopeless. But now, building on research begun in the Garden’s Plant Production Greenhouse by Becky Barak, currently a Ph.D. student in the Garden’s joint graduate program in plant biology and conservation with Northwestern University, Kramer and her team have learned that native species are not as helpless as they once seemed.  Some of them may even be unlikely heroes.

“We’re focusing on the native wildflowers, particularly on the Colorado Plateau because they are so important to the functioning of those natural communities, and because so little is known about them,” said Dr. Kramer.

Andrea Kramer Ph.D.

Dr. Kramer samples and photographs study plants near Utah’s Zion National Park.

She has worked with botanists around the Colorado Plateau to identify specific species of native plants, categorized as native “winners,” that have naturally begun adapting to the new circumstances.

Unlike their counterparts in unaltered locations, these species have learned how to grow their roots deeper, faster to access water, or found other ways to gain an advantage. Not only are they capable of surviving in an unnaturally harsh environment, but Kramer believes they could prove to be smart and fast enough to help keep invasive species in check.

In labs at the Garden, she is working with graduate student Alicia Foxx to stage trials between cheatgrass and these plants in conditions nearly identical to those in the Plateau. Kramer’s goal is to identify the strongest native “winners.” Once they are known, she will work with local partners in the west to test the best seeds on the ground in this struggling landscape. Then, they will make sure the seed is available for restoration work — positioning the native “winners” for success.

“Ultimately, we want to get the right seed in the hands of the right people,” said Kramer.

Kramer’s field research began last year, and will resume in coming weeks. On a typical expedition, she flies into the Las Vegas airport — the closest access point to the Plateau. Along with fellow Garden researchers and graduate students, she climbs into a research vehicle and rolls into the field armed with data from the lab, a bundle of tools, and camping equipment. Over a series of days at a range of locations, they meet with local botanists and collect seeds from key locations to take back to the Garden lab for study.  

native winner vs. cheatgrass

In the Garden laboratory, a native “winner” on the left, battles cheatgrass, on the right.

This year, they are eager to return to a site they planted with native “winners” last year, in order to check for progress. The site, called Pine Ridge, experienced an extensive fire in July 2012 when lightning struck an area with abundant cheatgrass.

When compared to lab results, their findings will inform which seeds may go into development for restoration use on the Plateau.

The concept of native “winners” is helpful to many newer research projects in other locations, including Illinois. Another graduate student in the Garden’s program is beginning to apply the process to plants found in Illinois wetlands.

It is this opportunity for collaboration and expansion that most excites Kramer. “It’s a great project because it uses the expertise of many garden research staff members and engages students,” she noted. “We have this in-house expertise in working with the species, the labs here are unique, and the opportunity to engage students is also unique.”

Learn more about Dr. Kramer’s work and watch a video interview.

Kramer spent her youth exploring an agricultural area of Nebraska where she grew up. Her love of the outdoors led her to study botany in Minnesota, where she quickly became enamored with prairie plants. At the Garden, she takes every opportunity to stroll the Dixon Prairie. “It’s like revisiting old friends,” she said.

Clearly, Kramer is a good friend to have.


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Conservation and Land Management Program (CLM) is in its 10th year in 2011. Each year, the Chicago Botanic Garden places 75-90 interns with Federal biologists working primarily in twelve western states including Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Interns work on botany- or wildlife-focused projects for five months. Most of the time is spent doing field work and gaining hands-on experience working for a federal agency. Applications for the 2011 program are now being accepted. Visit www.clminternship.org to apply.