Loki does science

Agalinis navasotensis–Scientia Versus Tempestate

It is a lovely early fall day. The sun is shining and it’s not brutally hot. The calendar has rolled past the third week of September, so it is time for that annual botanical adventure, checking up on the rare Navasota False Foxglove, Agalinis navasotensis that the human female discovered. We are all headed to the outcrop in the next county over to see how many there are and how they are doing.

(a bit later)

Things actually look pretty good. There is a lot of grass this year, since the summer was wet. The human female and two other plant nerds have counted over 100 plants in flower.

A good year, if not great. The usual fall flora is in evidence too. The blue sage is open for butterfly take-out dining.

Or is it dine-in? Except the lepidopteran is not sitting down. How does it work with bugs anyhow?

It took a bit of looking, but we found the little cacti again.

The plant nerds have located the endpoint stakes of a sampling transect that was run in 2006 and are going run the transect again so they can compare results.

That’s the human female up there at the top of the outcrop. If you could see her any more clearly you might be turned to stone. You’re welcome.

Ugh! This science is tedious! Every half meter along the line, we have to note what is touching the line between 0 and 0.5 meters, between 0.5 meters and 1.0 meter, between 1.0 and 1.5 meters, etc., all the way up to the canopy. I think that at most of the points along line we are going to have…grass. It’s not in flower, so we won’t be able to write down what kind it is. Grass. Grass. Grass. And we have thirty meters of this to do? The plant nerds will be at this all morning and I will die of boredom. Time for a little excitement!

And here it comes! I’ve noted before that, while I cannot really control the weather, I can certainly nudge it along. (You don’t grow up around my stoopid brother Thor without picking up a few tricks.) So I think I will take advantage of the forecast “chance of precipitation” to see how dedicated botanists conduct a transect in the pouring rain.

Vera quaestio est quousque perstent antequam cladem agnoscant.

Norns’ nighties! They are actually doing it. The human female is crouched under a car windshield sunshade, trying to keep her notes dry, her partner is completely exposed, holding the height pole, and a third intrepid plant nerd is marking a GPS record of groups of Agalinis plants. Everyone is soaked to the skin and I am laughing so hard at the human female slipping in the mud that I almost fell down myself.

Sigyn and I, of course, are under a magic umbrella spell and are perfectly dry.

(later)

The botanists and all available paper being sodden, they have decided to call it a day and not set up a second transect. Farewell outcrop! We shall see you again in the spring, perhaps.

(later still)

This is what the human female’s notebook looks like–after drying out a bit!

The notes themselves are barely legible.

I am grudgingly impressed, though. Her cheap little ballpoint did a pretty good job of not running.

When all typed up, the transect results look like this:

Prope est ut si quid agerent sciebant.

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Loki, NO!

This is a post about how very, very MEAN the humans are. While I’m “under their roof” (i.e., while my grand palace is in the planning stages), I’m supposed to “abide by their rules.”

Stoopid rules. “No Limburger in the fridge.” “No napalm in the living room.” “Forging checks to pay for weapons is prohibited.” “No selling the furniture on Craigslist while the humans are out.” “Razors and cats do not mix.” And on and on and on.

The human female is the worst. She’s SO unreasonable! You’d think, being a “scientist” and supposedly into things like “research” and the “quest for knowledge,” she’d be all for it, but just today, she told me I can’t have one of these:

It’s so unfair.

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It’s Going to Make Her Tetra-Neurotic

We are back out at the herbarium again. The human female has finished the asters, mostly. She is still waiting on some identifications from that poor botanist she tracked down and dragooned into her quest to write a proper key to the East Texas species. She sent him some really “lovely” images of what she calls her “problem” children. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to try to figure out what this is!

She is now deep in the genus Tetraneuris. The slanty name means “four-nerved,” because, according to her, “the lamina of each ray floret has four brown or reddish nerves on the abaxial surface.”

I understood two of those words.

Stemless Four Nerve Daisy, Tetraneuris acaulis

There aren’t too many species in Texas, and they’re not that difficult to sort out, especially since several pairs of similar species have non-overlapping ranges. What IS a mess is the changing taxonomy and nomenclature.

In the beginning, there was Actinea.

The plants in Actinea ended up in a broadly-defined Hymenoxys. But then some of the plants from Hymenoxys were transferred to Tetraneuris. Something about whether the phylly-something is something…something.

Here’s one that’s still Hymenoxys.

But this next one isn’t.

So now Hymenoxys is Tetraneuris, except when it isn’t, and all the Actinea linearifolia and Hymenoxys linearifolia are Tetraneuris linearifolia. Easy-peasy. Jot down some annotations, woman, and we can go home and eat ice cream.

Oh, if only it were that simple. For, you see, there are all sorts of misidentified specimens lurking in the folders.

This little fellow?

It’s small enough that it might be Hymenoxys texana and not a Tetraneuris. That would be a Big Deal, since H. texana is a federally endangered species known only from a few spots near the Big City to the South. The specimen’s from the 1920’s though. Would the population even still be there?

What cheek! The human female has pestered another botanist, one who has worked with this genus, and he says it’s just a runty specimen of T. linearifolia. See? The flowers:

microscopes are handy things!

are actually too big!

Wow. Don’t you look foolish! (Why should today be any different?)

What about this one?

Turns out this one is misidentified. Sigyn says you can tell this one is perennial, since it “has a woody rootstock.” T. linearis is an annual with a slender taproot. So this is T. scaposa var. scaposa. The other variety, var. argyrocaulon (literally, silver-stem) has–you guessed it!–a silvery, woolly stem and leaves that are just a smidge more spaced out.

And they live in different parts of the state. Trust me–the dots and the triangles and the stars are hanging out in different counties.

But, just to make it interesting, for many years, the concept of another species, Tetraneuris acaulis (“stemless,” since all the leaves are close to the ground), included the plants now referable to T. scaposa. I did a little time travel and went back and got the botanists to separate the two, so now there are simply scads of old specimens that say T. acaulis that should be T. scaposa.

Real T. acaulis has rootstocks that are enlarged at their tops, just below where all the leaves are attached. It lives up in the panhandle of the state.

If you’re following along, that means this next one, from the middle of the state, isn’t Hymenoxys or Tetraneuris acaulis at all.

It’s just more scaposa. More annotations! My plan is to throw misidentified specimens at her until she gets a hand cramp from all the writing…

Sigyn likes this next sheet a lot.

She says the collector has a very good name.

Great Frigga’s Corset! I thought were were done, but apparently there’s another species that has to be winnowed out. T. turneri, which has a very short cluster of very fuzzy leaves.

It is, indeed, very furry, and Sigyn is, indeed, squeeing.

If we’re not leaving any time soon, I’m gong to start making more mischief. Here’s a good prank.

It’s not Hymenoxys/Tetraneuris turneri. Sigyn says she can see the difference. This one has big leaves that go up the stem instead of being all bunched at the bottom. Tssk, tsk! How could anyone make such a mistake? How could three people make that mistake? Actually, make that five people, three on that sheet up there and two more on the two other sheets of Amblyolepis setigera the human female has just yanked out of the pile of T. turneri and T. scaposa.

Sweet Sif on a cracker. We have been here. All. Day. I’m mischiefed out. I don’t care if I never see another yellow-flowered daisy thing in my life, however many nerves it has or how scapose it may or may not be. This Loki is tired and in need of refreshment!

Sigyn, while the human female is distracted by annotating the last few sheets and noting the new identifications in the spreadsheet, let us avail ourselves of the sweet and colorful snacks she has brought.

Sweetness, look! Under the grapes. Do I spy….rainy cherries?

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A May Neener Perambulation

The human female and Sigyn and dragging me out on another Neener Walk. Didn’t we just go?

My innocent question was met with a mixture of scorn (the human female) and gentle reproof (Sigyn.) Apparently, things happen quickly in late spring, with the early spring flowers winding down and the summer flowers just appearing on the stage. It is therefore some sort of moral imperative that we take the trail down by the LUAs (Large, Ugly Apartments) and make note of what we see.

Oh, well, as long as it’s for science. (insert eye-roll.)

The highlighter-yellow false dandelions have been up forever.

And so has the bur clover.

The human female says it has been a good year for dogshade. It’s in all the ditches. Sigyn says it looks like lace.

Thistles are old hat. Be careful, my love. You are up very high and they are very prickly.

Greenbriar is also nothing new. This one is just about to bloom

The farkleberry has nearly finished flowering. If I didn’t know it was related to blueberries, I’d think it was kin to lily-of-the-valley. The flowers look a little alike.

No, human, don’t bother me with the slanty Latin name or start harping on monocots and dicots. I don’t care, and you know it.

The venus’ looking-glass has been out for a good bit. It’s tall enough that the human has to lift Sigyn up to get a good view.

The daisy fleabane started early this year and is gong strong.

We should take some home with us, Sigyn. The human female has some itchy bites she says are from fire ants, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if she actually had fleas…

This cut-leaf evening primrose has yellow flowers which turn orange as they fade.

I suppose that’s mildly interesting.

I remember the dayflowers from previous years. They’re such an alarming color.

Ah. The spiderworts are up. The human female really likes them.

The brown-eyed susans showed up last month.

And so did the tickseed.

Have you noticed, Sigyn, that all of those yellowy orange composites are always EXACTLY the same color? With blue flowers, there is usually some variation in shade, but nope, these are all the same. That can’t be natural… I don’t trust them.

So where is the new stuff? Things we haven’t seen already this year?

All right–the prairie gentians are new. I will give you that.

Sigyn is squeeing! She thinks she has found “an itty bitty teeny tiny one.”

The human female says no, it’s a centaury, and that it’s a cousin of the gentians. That’s right, human. Take all the fun out of my sweetie’s delight with your tiresome pedantry. No wonder you never get invited anywhere.

I don’t remember seeing this before. If I did, I forgot it.

Go on, Sigyn. Ask her what it’s called. Ehehehe! Look at her waffle and stutter! She can’t remember what its name is! She says she always confuses Mecardonia and Lindernia and can’t remember which one has yellow flowers and which one has white. Woman, you are losing it, and we all know it.

What about this yellow one?

It’s on a small little shrub with shreddy bark. The human female is calling it “St. Andrew’s Cross.” What a ridiculous name. I swear she makes this stuff up.

Odin’s eyepatch! I’ve needled the human female enough that she is barking back at me! “Fine,” she is saying, “If you don’t want to learn anything about botany, show me what you are interested in. What did you see this morning that you liked?”

Glad you asked! I thought this mushroom was neat.

Might have to put some in the next batch of spaghetti sauce…

And this. This makes me very happy.

Because it means somewhere, there is an annoying, cute–possibly even squeaky–stuffed animal that has had its puffy guts ripped out.

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Did You Know? Physics Edition

Did you know that it is possible to hang up a towel in such a way that it has enough potential energy ( U=mgh, where m is the mass of the towel, g is the gravitational field, and h is the height of the towel rack) so that the slightest nudge will cause it to drop right off the rack and fall to the floor?

The math for this is quite complex. Let m be the mass of the object and A its cross-sectional area, such that the air resistance is proportional to the square of the fall velocity, v. The equation of motion is thus {\displaystyle m{\frac {\mathrm {d} v}{\mathrm {d} t}}=mg-{\frac {1}{2}}\rho C_{\mathrm {D} }Av^{2}\,,}

where ρ (rho) is the air density and C_{\mathrm {D} } is the drag coefficient, assumed to be constant, although in general it will depend on something called the Reynolds number, which I, as a god, understand completely— and which most mortals do not.

And did you know that it is possible to hang it up in such a way that when it does fall it lands just so on the toilet paper roll and causes it to unspool?

And did you know that the sound waves from a towel falling and a roll of toilet paper unspooling will travel throughout the house at the rate of three hundred and thirty-two meters per second and strike the ear drum of a quadrupedal mammal, who will come to investigate at something above 3.3 kilometers per hour?

All of this is embodied by Lc , the Loki Coefficient, a measure of the inherent mischief of a given situation. In this household, the Lc is always greater than 1.

But don’t blame me–the laws of the universe are immutable, after all.

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Doing My Part for Science

The human female is back out at the herbarium—no bats today : ( — still working her way through the BBBB (Big Book of Boring Botany). Today she is working through hundreds of specimens of Liatris, identifying them all down to the variety level.

As near as I can figure out, Liatris mucronata used to be its own species, but it has been mooshed into Liatris punctata as Liatris punctata variety mucronata, a difference that matters to a very few botanistic pedants just a smidgen and to the Liatris itself not at all.

Great Frigga’s hairpins! I thought we were done here. She has finished the whole puctata vs. mucronata folders and has now turned her attention to Liatris elegans, which has not one but THREE varieties in this part of Midgard, “distinguished by the color of the phyllaries and the shape of the corm,” whatever that means.

The human female is quite annoyed that Gaiser named variety carizzana after the Carrizo geological formation on which it is found, and as such, it is misspelled.

It is all very dull. Time to liven up the varietal determinations a bit.

Augh. There are maps, too. The human female is going through all of the records she just updated and is making sure the corresponding counties are reflected on the maps.

Let’s see… Liatris cymosa… Sigyn and I saw that plant the day we went to watch the human female try to fly a kite. It is a narrow endemic, found in only a few counties in East Texas. We can do better than that!

There! Now it grows on the Edwards Plateau as well! Doing my part for conservation, don’t you know.

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So Much Mischief in One Small Genus–But For Once It’s (Mostly) Not Mine

The human female has traded the frustrations of ordering and riding herd on techs and grad students for the hair-pullingness of botanical scholarship. She is part of a team writing volume two of a book about the flora of East Texas. If it is anything like volume one, which she was also involved with, it will be hailed and lauded as a seminal work in the field abhorred for its sheer size and weight. There should be a warning on the frontispiece of tomes like this, an admonition to wear steel-toed shoes in case the book happens to fall afoul of gravity and plummet floorward.

At present, she is working her way through the draft manuscript on the largest, most contrary of the dicot family, the Asteraceae or Sunflower Family. There are a lot of them, their anatomy is fiddly and usually quite small, and the distinctions between species can be blurry at best.

For each genus, she has to check the description, test run the genus through the two keys to genera to make sure it comes out where it is supposed to, verify which species are in the region’s flora, and check the key to species, along with the supporting citations. For each species, she has to check the description and then see how the gazillions of specimens in the herbarium contribute to the stated season of bloom and the county dot maps that illustrate distribution.

As you may have guessed, it’s slow going. Today she’s working with the genus Hymenopappus, commonly known as wooly-white or old plainsman.

Accordingly, she has the genus pulled up in the herbarium database:

She has about a dozen very full folders of specimens out and is going through them, one by one, to make sure they’re correctly identified. In theory, it should be easy. One species has pink flowers, one has yellow, and the others have white. One prefers heavy clay and two like sand, with one known only from sands of a particular geological formation. Some have fat-lobed leaves and some have skinny-lobed leaves. Some have undivided lower leaves and some have very divided lower leaves. You’d think that would be enough to work with, wouldn’t you?

Ehehehee. No. I had nothing to do with it, but the pink and yellow pigments don’t always show up in pressed specimens. All the flowers have dried a sort of creamy beige. Many of the older specimens have no habitat information and thus no indication of soil type. Where the soil is mentioned, there’s no guarantee that the plant was growing on its preferred substrate and not being an opportunist somewhere else. A fair number don’t include the diagnostic lowermost leaves. Most have floral characters that are exactly in the overlap between measurement ranges. Some don’t even note which of Texas’ 254 counties they’re from.

Then there’s the nomenclatural fun surrounding some of the species. Locally, there is Hymenopappus artemisiifolius, with two varieties, var. artemisiifolius, which is widespread, and var riograndensis, which grows down in South Texas. We also have Hymenopappus scabiosaeus, also with two varieties, var. corymbosus, which is common, and var. scabiosaeus, which grows in Louisiana to the east and needs to be mentioned in case it takes it into its head to sneak over the border. So after checking the species ID, the human female has to deal with variety.

Now, here’s where the fun comes in: H. artemesiifolius used to be spelled “artemisiaefolilus“, so there are plants and records with the outdated spelling. In a book from the last century on the flora of the Southeast U.S., only H. artemisiifolilus was listed, so there are old specimens of H. scabiosaeus with the wrong name on the label. Later, other botanists combined the two species under H. scabiosaeus, so there are a LOT of specimens of H. artemisiifolius languishing under the wrong species name. There are old sheets marked H. corymbosus that need to be updated to one or another variety of H. scabiosaeus. There are a handful of old sheets labeled H. robustus, which is a synonym of H. flavescens, the yellow-flowered one, but the names can’t just be updated, the plants have to be keyed—and behold! All the ones in this collection are actually H. scabiosaeus. Another few have been identified as a species that doesn’t grow in Texas. Since the name on the label refers to a yellow-flowered species, one can only assume they belong to H. flavescens, the yellow-flowered kind that does grow here. There are older sheets of H. carrizoanus hiding in with other species, because H. carriozanus was only recently described.

Pick up a specimen. Assess the leaves. Look at the flower bits under the microscope. Compare to illustrations, known specimens, and online specimen photos. Consider the label data. Make a determination Correct the name on the sheet. Update the database. Over and over and over. At the end, go back a second time and see if anything needs a different ID, given that a hundred other specimens have now informed your mental image of the species. Refile, relabeling some folders that have been switched to

Repeat.

She has been at this for days. Slowly, she’s making sense of it. She’s been able to identify most of the specimens. There is a LOT of green in the database, indicating where the information has been updated, and because she’s a diligent rather anal-retentive worker, she has taken the time to enter the location and habitat data for specimens whose information wasn’t captured in previous databasing passes. Not to mention she’s found a good few that were never databased at all! And she’s “neatly” colored in a bunch of counties on the distribution maps:

So what is my part in all of this? I’ve been the one hiding the extension cord for the powerstrip for her computer, misplacing first her ruler than her pencil, kicking her ultra-fine red pen off the table and bending the nib, rolling the database up or down a row when she’s trying to enter data, hiding the stack of specimens that was right there, whispering in her ear that maybe the leaves are not quite divided enough for H. scabiosaeus and she should rekey it and all the other H. scabiosaeus, distracting her with funny/stupid things on the internet when she should be checking references, and suggesting that perhaps a nap would be good right about now.

I know *I* could use one!

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I Am Quite Famous in the Botanical Community

Sigyn, do you know what day it is? It’s go-to-the-outcrop-and-look-for-the-rare-plant day! The weather should be lovely, too, so grab your sunscreen and let’s go!

(a bit later)

Here we are. The human female is meeting two colleagues here. Between the three of them, they hope to get an accurate account of how many (if any) plants are blooming this year. Here comes one of the others now.

Ehehehee and neener, neener, neener! Do you know what his first utterance after “hello” was? Not, “How have you been?” Not, “How many do you think we’ll find this year?” Ha! No, what he said was, “Did Loki and his little friend come today?”

Yes, indeed we did, good sir, and thank you for putting the human female in her place!

Idunn’s little green apples! Our first Navasota false foxglove has met us right at the top rim of the outcrop, and it’s a big, well-branched one.

Now that we have all reminded ourselves what it looks like, we can start carefully quartering the outcrop and getting a good count.

Hmm. It looks as if this will not be a record-breaking year, number-wise, though it is certainly better than the worst year. Most of the plants are well-grown and flowering well, which is good to see. There’s a good growth of grass and a lot of leaf litter, however. That means it must be time to BURN this place again! Just name the day, humans, and I will be here with a torch and my fireproof cape. (Setting things on fire is FUN!)

It is like meeting old friends, seeing the usual fall plants right where we expect them to be.

The obedient plant is abundant this year. The flowers will stay in whatever position you put them in. While Sigyn dangles, I think I will try to arrange the flowers on the next plant over to spell out semaphore-wise, “the human female is a dork.” It will look something like this:

except with more pink and less yellow and red. It will be a lot of work and might take two or three plants to get in the entire message, but it will be worth it, and I will definitely have time, as it is taking the GPS forever to calculate the waypoints.

The holly at the top of the outcrop is in full fruit. Isn’t my color-coordinated sweetie cute?

Hello! What’s this? The human female says it is a wild petunia and she’s not sure she remembers seeing it out here before.

It’s not really a petunia. I guess someone thought it looked like one, though.

And this might be new, too.

It’s snow-on-the-prairie. There are only a few plants her, but I imagine that a whole roadside of it would look whitish. Great Frigga’s corset! Sigyn, do you see any mature fruit? I need seeds of this dreadfully! The human female says the sap is caustic and that’s she’s really, really sensitive to it! I want to plant it all over the yard and see if she really does swell up like a red, peeling balloon if she gets any on her. (All for science, of course.)

Oooh! What’s this? I thought junipers made little blue-green-gray fleshy cones and not these pointy, twiggy structures.

Ah. Not fruits. Sigyn, did you hear? The human female says there’s an evergreen bagworm caterpillar in each of these, all tucked up for the winter. Basically, bug hotels. Imagine if you built and lived in a case constructed of everything you ate! It’d be cherries and Cheetos and apples and…more than a little messy!

We have finished our survey of the sides of the outcrop and are ready to have a look at the top. We don’t expect to find any of the rare plant up here, but the human female says we might see other interesting plants.

There’s this. It smells vaguely minty and has small, purple, hand-puppet-shaped flowers.

The common name is “skullcap”, which doesn’t sound very nice but it is decidedly comfy to lie in. The human female is telling some tedious story now, how the little extra “flange on the calyx” is the same shape as an old-fashioned John Deere tractor seat, except that today’s students are used to tractors with enclosed cabs and AC and stereo and have no clue and..blah, blah, blah. How is anyone supposed to rest with you yapping away like that?

One last plant to look at before we wrap up the day’s investigations. I like this one! The flowers of the zizotes milkweed have a strange, alien-looking anatomy—and they have horns!

Supposedly, butterflies love them. If I hang here quietly, maybe I can catch one for Sigyn to cuddle. It’s definitely worth a wait!

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Here a Neener, There a Neener, Everywhere a Neener-neener, Part II: New Releases (and possibly some shoving)

Yesterday we looked at plants we’d already seen recently. Nice, but a bit BORING. Where are the new things? I checked the calendar. It is FALL now. Show me fall things!! I demand fall things!

Ah. This is better. False foxglove. Shows up like clockwork the third week of September.

Sigyn and I have a fondness for this plant. Well, one of it’s relatives, anyway—the rare one that grows on that outcrop to the east of us. I wonder if we’ll get to visit the outcrop again this year?

What does one call that color, anyway? Pink? Purple? Pirpkle? Whatever it is, it seems to be a theme. (Trust Texas to have non-traditional fall color!)

The Beautyberry is quite conspicuous in the understory.

Gaudy, but great for dangling. (The one at the house does not have any fruit this year, on account of I let the tree-removers drop a big oak tree on it earlier this year and it is in the process of recovering.)

The Beggar-ticks has flowers the same color, only a few shades paler.

It has typical bean-family flowers and makes interesting little legumes (one of which is visible at the left end of the stem). They’re scalloped and break up into single-seeded bits that are just covered with microscopic hooked hairs, which makes them perfect for being dispersed by furry animals or clothing. I will keep an eye on this extensive patch, come back in a few weeks when they’re good and ripe, gather up a pound or so of them, and do a little experiment to see what happens when you dump them in the washer with a load that includes socks, sweatpants, and towels. (I’m all about the science.)

Looks like the Woolly Croton is doing well this year.

It has separate male and female flowers and is very, very furry.

Hey, I have an idea! Let’s see how well the Beggar-ticks stick to the Croton! A wildflower cage-match. It’ll be brilliant! I can sell tickets. . .

Whatever else Sigyn does on a nature walk, if she gets a chance to sit in a holly, she calls it a perfect day. The fruit on this Possumhaw are about half-ripe.

A little further along the path we have yellow rather than pirpkle. Unless I’m mistaken (which I rarely am), we are looking at Camphorweed.

That’s the flower head in the photo, but the wispy foliage to the left belongs to Horseweed, and the leaves to the right to another something else. (Sigyn, are you going to play ‘He loves me; he loves me not’ with the flower? Because I can tell you, if the ‘He’ is me; he definitely, definitely DOES!)

The something else those leaves belong to is, I think, Climbing Hempvine. The human female says, “it’s our only local viney member of the sunflower family or Asteraceae.”

She also says it’s related to the Mistflower. I can see that. Both have the same fluffy flower heads. There is certainly a lot of it here, sprawling over shrubs and climbing trees. It likes wet feet, so I imagine it is very happy here in the ditch by the path.

(That’s it, human female… Lean out over the wet ditch just a little bit more for the photo and it will be my perfect day… A little bit more… One good shove…)

Odin’s eyepatch! I hate it when she catches me plotting and removes herself to safety. I really, really wanted to see her sopping wet and muddy today! Oh, well. Maybe I will have another chance for mischief on the way home…

Hmm. There’s more water next to the sidewalk on the way home, a big floody area by the part of the wetland they didn’t build Large, Ugly Apartments on. I could push her down the slope into the Bagpod bushes…

Nah. She likes the clusters of redorangeyellow flowers so much and enjoys popping the seeds out of the inflated legumes enough that she’d probably just sit happily in the water enjoying the plant.

She wouldn’t like being pushed into the Horsenettles though. They have lovely flowers, but they’re very prickly.

In fact–ouch!–this member of the Nightshade genus–ah!— is– ow!—very unpleasant to sit in! I think I shall vacate! Besides, the sun has risen enough that it has cleared the surrounding trees and buildings, and it’s making me all squinty.

I don’t like squinty.

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How to Waste an Afternoon

I’ve written before about how the dusty old human female often spends hours at a time out at the dusty old herbarium, working with dusty old plant specimens.  She has two projects going on.  One is slowly making the herbarium’s database better, correcting errors, adding missing information, bringing the nomenclature up to date, and so forth.  (That’s what she says she’s doing, anyway.  I see a lot more YouTube than botany, some days.)

The other project is checking on distributions of various plants for the book on Texas botany she’s helping to write.  Does the local collection have a specimen of X from Y county?  Yes?  No?  If Yes, is it correctly identified?  If Yes and then No, what is the proper identification?  As you can imagine, this can be a very s l o w process, because each uncertain plant has to be correctly identified and its county compared to a master list of species occurrences, just in case it represents a new county for the map.

The process is made even slower by the fact that Midgardian science refuses to be a knowable, static thing.  On the contrary, I’m convinced that there are legions of plant nerds whose sole purpose in life is to constantly change the classification of things so that, at any given moment, whole swathes of the average herbarium consist of specimens with the wrong names on them.

Find a specimen.  Check the identification.  Check the name.

This furry gray one was originally collected as Gnaphalium falcatum.

gamochaeta1

That’s a good name, because it reminds me of wailing and gnaphing of teeth.

However, as you can see, someone has annotated the sheet.  If I understand the gobbledyspeak the human female was spouting, some geek at some point decided that Gnaphalium needed to be split up based on characters of something called “the pappus.”  I think that was it.  I could be wrong.  My eyes glazed over at that point and I was mentally counting my knives rather than really listening.  I think she said that this particular Gnaphalium is now in Gamochaeta.

“But, Loki,” I can hear  you saying.  “That annotation doesn’t say Gamochaeta falcata!  It says Gamochaeta antillana.”

Well-spotted!  This is something else I’ve arranged to slow the human female down.  I had a word with the person who wrote the latest treatment of these plants.  “I don’t care how or why or what,” I said, “but can you also split up what used to be Gnaphalium falcatum into two or three different things in such a way that other botanists will have to peer at every specimen under a microscope to sort them out?”  He was quite amenable to the bribe of several gold pieces, so now the human female is having to look at every single sheet of the former Gnaphalium falcatum to see how it should be placed.

Now she’s identified it, she has to make the correction in the database.  Let’s see.  This is sheet number 115267.

gamochaeta2

She’s looking up the record in the big spreadsheet….

gamochaeta3

Ehehehe!  I’m not sure if you can read that, but it says “Aristida adscencionis“.  That name belongs to a GRASS, a plant in an entirely CLASS.  Something is definitely NOT RIGHT.

So now she has to traipse across the giant warehouse that is the herbarium and rootle through the cabinet that houses Aristida adscensionis and see what is going on.  Are there two sheets with the same number?  Did someone mis-enter the number on the grass sheet?  She won’t know until she looks, and there are a LOT of Aristida adscencionis to look through.

(Later)  She didn’t find any such sheet among the grasses, so she has to assume that whoever entered this specimen in the database just copied the record before it and didn’t change all the information.  Good old 115267 only exists on this sheet, so now all she has to do is correct it in the database.

Well, that’s twenty minutes or so well spent!  She’s got a dozen or so folders full of Gnaphalium to get through.  I hope she packed a lunch!