From the origins of soil to curiously cool plants, check out these interesting garden facts.
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Gardening can be an endless source of fascination. Check out these fun facts about the natural world.
Lichens (figure A) are curious organisms that grow on rocks or tree branches and have no true leaves, stems, or roots. Essentially, they're part-algae and part-fungus. The algae in the lichen manufacture food, and the fungus wraps around the algae to protect it from the sun. Plus they do no harm whatsoever.
According to some biblical scholars and botanists, lichens were the manna from heaven that sustained the children of Israel. "Indeed a number of lichens are edible," says master gardener Paul James, "Although they do need more than a little flavor enhancement to make them palatable."
Perhaps the coolest thing about lichens is that they're the original building-blocks of soil. When a lichen originally attaches itself to a rock and eventually dies, it becomes mixed with the minute grains of the rock. It's this combination of lichen and rock that formed the first soils ions ago, and the process continues today.
Bamboo also features some curiously strange characteristics. For one thing, it grows fast. In fact, one particular variety of bamboo can grow up to 40 inches in one day! Another thing about bamboo is that it's structurally as strong as steel.
Did you know that bamboo was used as the first commercial filament in light bulbs? In 1878, Thomas Edison was camping in Wyoming when someone accidentally knocked a bamboo fishing pole into a campfire. He noticed its resistance to burning. When he went back to his lab in New Jersey, he proceeded to produce millions and millions of light bulbs with bamboo filaments, until he got the bright idea that tungsten worked even better.
Pampas Grass Roots
At first glance, you may not notice anything cool about a clump of pampas grass (figure B), but what's happening below ground is quite amazing. Incredibly, the total root mass, including the primary and feeder roots, that is produced by one clump of grass when placed end-to-end would stretch out more than 600 miles. Add to that the tiny root hairs, and you're talking more than 6,000 miles!
Almonds and Cyanide?
When was the last time you took cyanide? Sounds like a ridiculous question, but it's what gives almonds their distinct smell. "Of course the concentration of cyanide in almonds isn't large enough to cause any harm," says James. "But it's still cool to think that a nut is in a manner of speaking anyway, poisonous."
Insects and Color
Insects see a different range of colors than we do, as well as ultraviolet light that's invisible to us. Bees, in particular, like to gather pollen from yellow- and blue-colored flowers. But that doesn't mean they're only attracted to those colored flowers. This rose looks red in color to us (figure C)
Natural Plant Defenses
Speaking of insects, in response to insect attacks, many plants produce chemicals to make them less tasty to their attacker. For example, when an insect lands on a laurel and starts chewing, the leaves release a bitter-tasting chemical, cyanide to be exact. This makes the leaves taste awful to the insect. And believe it or not, when you crush the leaves of a laurel, and take a big whiff--it smells just like almonds.
Within the world of plants capable of defending themselves, the willow has no rival. Not only does the willow, when under attack, produce defensive chemicals, but so do all the other willows nearby.
What's in the Soil?
In just one teaspoon of soil, there are as many bacteria as there are people on the planet, somewhere in the neighborhood of five billion bacteria!
Cool as a Cucumber
Native to India and in cultivation for at least 3,000 years, the cucumber is nutritionally inert. In fact, you'd have to eat over 120 of them to get the vitamin-A found in one carrot! But being 96 percent water, the cucumber is, if nothing else, cool. So cool in fact, that in the mid-1600's, it was thought that lying on a bed of cucumbers would cure a fever. Hence the expression, cool as a cucumber.
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