Category Archives: Ecology

Cheating fig trees

People don’t think plants are sexy. Even biologists don’t think plants are sexy. In my first year as an undergraduate, an enterprising algal biologist asked us at the start of his lecture series how many of us thought plants were interesting, and was met with a deafening silence. By the end of his teaching block, when he repeated the question every hand in the lecture theatre went up.

But plants are sexy: and their sexual reproductive systems are far more variable than you might think. In school we’re taught that flowers have petals and sepals and carpels and stamens. All very nice and dull.

Typical anatomical drawing from EnchantedLearning.com

But in reality there are lots of other cool versions of flowers. There are plants like Anthurium that use a brightly coloured leaf in place of true petals. And plants that have separate male and female flowers, like Euphorbia – in which the flowers are often so reduced that they consist of barely more than the sexual organs.

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Having a whale of a time!

Just occasionally, I find it in me to write about some ecology (aka fluffy bunny biology). Lots of female biologists end up studying science because they just want to cuddle the world, but I’ve always been more of a molecular person. (In fact, I probably would have studied Chemistry or Physics if the teaching had been half as good as it was in the Biology department at my school). Nevertheless I do have brief lapses into wanting to stroke fluffy things, and I am always game for a cool story about animals.

You know what my favourite animal is? Continue reading