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Showing posts from February, 2013

Preparing the pool for Victoria

Each year at the Botanic Garden, the pool in the tropical zone glasshouse is drained of two thirds of its water and prepared for a new growing season of water-dwellers. The most dramatic of these, is without a doubt, Victoria - the giant water lily. The enormous round leaves, spanning as much as six feet (~2m) across, provide a floating habitat for insects that crawl from leaf to leaf, while anacondas and piranha lurk in the waters beneath. Penny Harms is the Glasshouse Coordinator at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden and she spoke to me this week about what’s involved with providing these native South American giants with the best habitat possible in a northern temperate climate.
As we stood beside the pond chatting, the surface of the water was constantly dimpled as the guppies rose to the surface in search of a meal. The water level is very low, revealing two large wooden planters that sit empty.  The planter on the left, Penny tells me, will contain Victoria cruziana the S…

The chemical allure of plants

We have all been drawn in by that scent carried on a spring breeze – something sweet or fruity, maybe even spicy or with a hint of citrus. If we’re lucky enough, we might even find the source and bury our noses among the petals in order to fill our head with the aroma. We, and ancient cultures before us, have been besotted by the chemical allure of plants.

Recently, I wrote about the ‘Scent of winter’ in the Botanic Garden and how winter blooming plants tend to be incredibly fragrant in order to attract pollinators at this time of year. I immediately wanted to dive into the science behind floral fragrances, but quickly learned that this was a discussion all on its own...perhaps even a tome.  

The scents associated with plants are produced by a mixture of chemical compounds known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They are described as volatile because they have a low boiling point, which means they are gases at room-temperature. It is these VOCs that are extracted as essential oi…