On my way back

I’ve been away for far too long.  For that I apologize.  I understand that I will have to work hard to make it up to those readers who left comments in the past couple years.  Yes, I said ‘couple years.’

Tonight I’m wading through the over 46,000 comments that have accumulated in my absence.  A formidable task that is sure to take many of my evenings.   From what I’ve seen so far, I’d estimate that well over 75% are spam.  As the saying goes “there ought to be a law!”  Once I get through this step, I will be answering comments that warrant it – and I’ve seen many comments in the few hundred I’ve waded through already that are deserving.  As I work through this process, I will also start posting again.  I’ve already got a couple posts written & waiting.  Over this broad span of time I’ve started but not finished working on many ideas.  The jobs that have been paying the bills can be so distracting.  For that reason, this re-start may be slow – but I’m determined to make it sure.

I can’t thank you all enough for reading my posts and commenting.

Posting for you again soon & looking forward to more of your comments!


A Unique Baby Gift: 4 Great Reasons to Give A Lemon Tree

A lemon tree may seem an odd choice for a baby gift, yet you have to admit, it is different and unique!  However, you may be wondering, ‘is a lemon tree appropriate?’  I think so.

Many people send plants, flowers or gift baskets to the hospital or home to commemorate a baby’s birth.  Trees are sometimes planted to mark the event.  It is so amazing to say to your child years later ‘we got that tree when you were born.  It was just a twig and look at it now!’  My lemon tree suggestion is just a variation on that tree theme.  The big difference is that the lemon tree should be producing fruit when you have that conversation with your child.

4 Great Reasons to Give a Lemon Tree:
A child’s lemon tree can provide almost unlimited teachable moments.  Here are some topics that quickly come to my mind: gardening, pruning, nature, energy (make a battery with lemon), butterfly life-cycle & host plants, nutrition, cooking (lemonade, lemon meringue pie, lemon chicken, etc.), household economy, household cleaning, entrepreneurship, plant natural history, plant/flower/fruit anatomy, aromatherapy, natural remedies…  Did I say unlimited?

Lemonade Day
Lemonade Day has a short but rich history of inspiring and empowering children to think creatively and giving them real life experience as an entrepreneur.  A child’s lemon tree gives both child and parent inspiration and good reason to follow this path.

Nutrition & Health Benefits
Children don’t always like to eat the foods that promote good digestive function and thus constipation is a not an uncommon issue.  Lemon aids in digestion and helps the colon work better.  Thus, lemon and real lemon lemonade can help control or even prevent diarrhea and/or constipation.  Lemon also helps the body cleanse itself of toxins.  A parent need only to look at the ingredient labels on the foods their children like to find a host of things that they can’t even pronounce let alone believe are good for their children.  Of course, lemon is a rich source of vitamin C, an important and necessary nutrient for a healthy body & proper immune function.

Economically Smart Gift
For the money you would spend on a nice vase of flowers or gift basket from a florist you can typically buy a young lemon tree.  Unlike a vase of flowers that will die or the food in a gift basket that will be eaten up in days if not mere hours and toys that will soon be outgrown, a lemon tree will give its gift of fruit, grocery savings and produce for a lemonade stand for many, many years.  When a child’s tree reaches peak productivity, that level of productivity typically lasts 10-15 years.  Most lemon trees live for 40 or more years and continue to produce fruit throughout their life, just not as prolifically.

Lemon trees perform best in low or no freeze regions.  However, many varieties can be grown in ½ barrels and maintained in large shrub form with pruning.  Thus, in colder regions when the winter’s first freeze arrives your lemon tree can be moved to a protected location with strong natural or artificial light, such as an atrium, greenhouse or garage.  In the spring, your potted lemon tree can then be moved back outside again.

Some of us long to give meaningful, inspired and unique gifts.  The gift of a lemon tree to commemorate a birth is just such a gift.  It is a gift both parent and child can enjoy and benefit from for more than just a few days, but rather, a lifetime.

Author: Dee Lusk, PhD
© 3/21/13,www.worldinplants.com

1. Walheim, Lance.  1996.  Citrus, Complete Guide To Selecting & Growing More Than 100 Varieties For California, Arizona, Texas, The GulfCoast & Florida.  Ironwood Press.
2. http://lemonadeday.ja-development.com/about/mission-and-history
For more information & registration, Google: Lemonade Day
3. http://www.2020site.org/history/history-of-lemonade.html

GMO, what the heck is that?

In my last post I mentioned GMO tomatoes.  I had a friend review the article before I posted but the next day I had second thoughts.  So I asked her if she knew what GMO means, and she revealed she did not.  Nothing to be ashamed about, she has an abundance of good company.  I’m not quick with acronyms so I had to Google it the first time I saw it to make sure I understood correctly.  So let’s get with the basics, a description and then the ugly, the bad and the good.  Yes, I said ‘good.’

GMO means ‘genetically modified organism.’  This isn’t the same as a hybrid.  Hybrids are created by crossing two individuals of different species.  A mule for instance is a hybrid, resulting from cross breeding a horse with a donkey.  GMOs are different in that humans have mucked around in the genes and added a little this or that from another organism, resulting in a phenotype (WYSIWYG, what you see is what you get) with a characteristic or characteristics we, for whatever selfish purpose, desire.

So you might ask, what is a gene?  A gene is a segment of DNA, a snip-it of the genome.  Genes contain information.  DNA residues are the code or alphabet of genes and genome.  The genome or all the genes collectively, contain all the information to create and successfully operate an individual.  I tutor a very bright grade school student and when I talk to him about this I call the genome a book.  The book contains all the blueprints and operating instructions for the organism.  It also acts like a CEO (chief executive officer), responding and directing or redirecting operations at the molecular (chemical particles) and cellular levels when an organism is faced with change or challenge.  For us, the flu would constitute such a challenge and our bodies respond by producing antibodies under the direction of genes within the genome.

So let’s assume you want to grow corn, lots of corn.  When you grow a lot of any one thing there are inherent problems.  Foremost among the problems are nutrition, competition, disease and predation.  In agriculture, for many years now the primary tactic used to deal with these challenges has been to treat with synthetic chemicals; respectively, non-organic fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides & anti-bacterials and pesticides.  However, evidence has amassed showing that some if not most of these chemicals have detrimental effects, from herbicides reducing crop vigor to reduced reproductive success of bald eagle and other raptor eggs (1).  Human cancers have also been linked to agricultural chemicals (2,3).  At the same time demand for agricultural products is increasing; particularly corn and soy for food products and now for biofuel.

The result is that people do what people do, that is to work hard to find a way.  Now agriculture has a new tool in their arsenal, creating genes for desirable attributes then adding those genes into the genomes of crops or target organisms, thus creating a GMO.  For example, let’s say growers are having horrendous problems with weeds, so we then create a gene for herbicide resistance and insert it into the corn and/or soy genome.  Bingo, those farmers can now apply herbicide at a higher rate without reducing crop plant vigor and/or harvest size.  Alternatively, let’s say that disease rates for particular pathogen are predicted to skyrocket in the upcoming seasons; we create a gene that directs the crop to produce anti-pathogen molecules.  Now the farmers don’t have to spray or spray less for that disease.

Sounds good, right?  Certainly, GMOs are a slick way to deal with agricultural issues.  Yet that brings us to the ugly.  The strategy of creating crops that tolerate herbicides then increasing herbicide use is already being employed.  How many studies showing environmental and human health issues will it take to prove to the industry that the cost of using herbicides outweighs the benefits?  We don’t need more herbicide, we need less.  We don’t need more non-organic fertilizers, pesticides or anti-pathogens, we need less.   Yes, with GMOs we may acquire more food products and biofuel at lower a cost, but how do you put a price on the environment, the potential extinction of species or the emotions, pain and monetary cost of a family member battling cancer?

It seems logical that we could eat GMO corn, tomatoes, soy or other crop plants without harm.  After all, if the GMO crop organism can thrive with the new molecules being produced within their bodies, why shouldn’t we also tolerate them?  Well let’s all go out and collect water hemlock root and put it in our winter stew!  Tomorrow we won’t be talking about how good the stew was last night.  Even if you survived the stew, the story would not be a happy one.  This example is extreme of course.  However, it makes the point; just because an organism can create and tolerate a chemical within its body, that doesn’t mean it isn’t poisonous to us or other organisms.  All of the GMO created foods need to be tested for safety as thoroughly as any other food additives.

With those points being made you might wonder what good I could possibly see in a GMO.  Not all GMOs are crop plants.  In particular, there is research and work being done to create GMO algae that produce oil for biofuel (4).  Work is being done to create strains of GMO yeast that produce high quality alcohols for biofuel (5).   Yeasts have been successfully put in a GMO harness to produce quality, low cost pharmaceuticals (5).  The difference is that these organisms are not directly in our food chain nor are they intended to be.  Further, the products we are creating in this manner, with these organisms, require processing and purification.  When the use involves human consumption such as pharmaceuticals, the safety work has already been done and the pharmaceuticals themselves are purified before use.  There is the possibility of creating a super decomposer (6) for use in textile and biofuel industries.  This type of GMO could become problematic if it could attack untreated plant materials or live plants and was released into the environment.  For the moment, this seems an unlikely scenario.  Yet, with the rapidly building climate and energy issues, this direction of biofuel research may be worth the risk.

It isn’t the research or theories behind GMOs that I find problematic.  It is the application to food chain products and their end use.  Even with the potential positives in mind, I wonder if it is not a dicey experiment, egotistical and potentially devastating to believe we can enhance without negative consequence the natural processes of adaptation and evolution that have been in place and functioning successfully for millennia.

1. http://earthfix.opb.org/water/article/bald-eagle-eggs-show-dioxin-regulations-working/
2. http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/44163/title/Pancreatic_cancer_linked_to_herbicides_
3. http://erbc.vassar.edu/erbc/environmentalrisks/outsidethehome/ph/index.html
4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2863401/
5. http://www.fastcoexist.com/1680328/the-rise-and-fall-of-the-company-that-was-going-to-have-us-all-using-biofuels#1
6. http://www.energyboom.com/biofuels/yeast-super-strain-promotes-biofuel-production

Plant Enthusiast or Hoarder?

I follow a tweeter who in profile at first claims in to be a plant hoarder, then retracts.  This person is an enthusiast I am sure.  We are of a kindred spirit.  As I haven’t yet had the fortune to transition to owning property, I sincerely believe that the apartment managers where I live would label me a ‘plant hoarder.’

There is a difference between the professionals, enthusiasts and hoarders even though by all appearances the 3 may at first blush seem the same.  Or perhaps it is just a matter of perspective.  One of my mentors at University of Florida had one of the most extensive, diverse and amazing orchid collections I’ve ever seen.  His specialty was, not surprisingly, orchid taxonomy and evolution.  He published regularly on the topic.  His home greenhouses were stuffed to the rafters with orchids and the trees in his yard were hung with specimens.  Yet I would not call him a hoarder.  Orchids were his passion, his business in life.  His orchids were well cared for, well-loved, well documented and he gave specimens to interested students.

In my case, I not only love plants but have an extensive, long-term investment in a botanical career.  One business goal I have set is to sell plants and thus I propagate.  I grow certain plants specifically to sell their greenery to a flower shop.  My collection also reflects my interest in edibles, medicinal uses, aromatherapy and beauty.   What would even a small container garden be without some beautiful flowering plants?  In addition to providing manna for our psyches, flowers attract bees and other beneficial wildlife.   Finally, apartment living in a big city can be hazardous and my plants serve the purpose of deflecting both eyes and potential bad guys.  Let’s face it, where prey is abundant, if it takes too much effort most predators will move on to easier prey.

Regardless of a professional’s or an enthusiast’s specific interest in plants, these folks who keep large collections typically trade or sell plants.  They also tend to talk or write about plants.  They are often members of plant or gardening related groups.  The most valuable service provided by those who keep large living plant and seed collections is to save varieties from extinction.  Imagine if there were no heirloom tomato enthusiasts in the world.  We would have long since been stuck with the latest and supposedly greatest hybrid red or GMO tomato.  One could imagine a similar fate for antique roses.  The plant collections of professionals and enthusiasts are to horticultural varieties what wild spaces are to native species, repositories of genetic potential.  Both plant collectors and wild spaces are vital to maintaining diversity.

As for the hoarder, this is the collector who does so reclusively.  Unfortunately, when such a person is forced to clean-up or passes away leaving someone lacking plant wisdom to dispose of the collection, rare genetic treasures can be lost to a dump.  It is the act of sharing that changes a person from a hoarder to an enthusiast and the career direction that makes a professional.  Sharing information and perpetuating diversity are paramount to maintaining an abundant planet with both natural and hybrid genetic resources.  If you have an extensive or large plant collection and are not already socially involved, I urge you to get out there and participate.  Trust me, someone undoubtedly wants a start from a plant you’ve got!

Dee Lusk, PhD

Cutting out Soda; Turning to Tea.

When I was a young teen, a cousin stayed with my family for the summer.  She was a big fan of Mountain Dew and I have to admit that I caught the soda addiction that summer.  I’m not blaming her of course; it was just a matter of exposure and timing.  After I learned that phosphoric acid in brown sodas is bad for the bones, I pretty much stuck with the Dew even though I knew it wasn’t a plus for my diet.  I liked it so much.  Despite being well aware of the many health and weight negatives, I couldn’t seem to harness the will power to shake the habit.  As fortune would have it, some years later I had an extended bout of the flu.  For awhile it was so bad that I could barely hold down mere tablespoonfuls chicken broth.  My head wanted Dew so bad, but my body was most definitely saying “NO WAY.”  During that illness I decided that the period of “enforced detox” was my best chance to end the Dew habit.  I’ve never drank it since, not even once.

I would not wish that kind of ailment on anyone.  Yet, I am a true believer in silver linings and from that cloud of physical distress I was able to make one of the most positive dietary changes in my life.

Moving forward wasn’t easy.  Like many, I’m not a fan of water and you have got to drink something, the body demands it.  Eventually, I returned to soda.  This time it was Spite.  My justification of course was that “its not as bad as…”  Then along comes the natural aging tendency to gain weight and spread.  At least that is how it has gone in my family.  Despite the soda habit, amazingly I managed for most of my life to maintain a healthy weight.  But time is telling and not only had gained a muffin it was looking like someone had overfilled the cupcake form with batter before baking.  Worse, battling the muffin to tie my shoe laces I was becoming physically uncomfortable.  At only about 25 lbs above the healthy range I was feeling it and knew a line had to be drawn.  Unfortunately, I was over, not under that line.   Thus, I went about nipping and tucking the calories and reshaped to improve my good yet not exceptional eating habits.  I knew I had to reduce the soda so I decided to experiment with teas and coffee.  When I hit a weight plateau I just couldn’t break through I finally gave up soda turning totally to tea, water and coffee.  Not surprisingly, I broke through that plateau post-haste.

Soda is now a rare treat in my life.  Instead I drink mostly unsweetened tea.  There are a number of really good ones out there.  Bonus, many excellent tasting teas are much less expensive than soda, so you will save some money too.  While not as perfect a drink as clean, pure water, teas are a healthful, tasty and a refreshing alternative to soda.  The best advice I can give anyone trying to break the soda habit; turn to tea.  It is much easier to wean yourself with something that has flavor.  While I don’t advocate putting sugar in your tea, you might feel the need to start with just a little.   Give that up as soon as you can as well.

To a true connoisseur of tea I’d probably be considered a novice, etiquette-less and of questionable palate.  However, because I know some of you may want greater introduction into this world, look for tea reviews in future postings.  I will do my best to describe flavor and also discuss nutritional and medicinal properties.

Please keep in mind that living is a process not a goal.  Respect that truth, but still set your goals; doing so reasonably.  Then, work the process until you succeed.  Be real, working a life change does not mean abusing yourself.  Rather, it means developing a sense of value for each and every step along the way and visiting and revisiting the discipline you are asking of yourself until it is habit.



Welcome to worldinplants.com.

People, all people, are very dependent upon plants.  From food to bio-fuels and so, so much more; my goal for this blog is to shine a bright light on the many aspects of that dependence.  Further, I believe in living as eco-friendly as possible and that theme will surely appear in many future posts.  Beyond sharing my rather broad ranging interests and expertise in plants, fungi, science, veggie-medicine and home & garden, I hope to delight you with photos, trail tales, recipes, creative activities and my off-beat sense of humor.

Plants affect our lives in so many ways it is beyond amazing to me.  Even if the closest you get to a plant is eating the veggies in your pasta primavera, plants (and fungi) have a far greater influence on you than just nutrition.  From the air we breathe and clothes on our backs to the stock market, plants are major players in our daily lives.  Even as an educated scientist I am excited about this blog because I have so much to learn this work will continually propel me along that path.   For future posts I’ve already been exploring topics I have up to now successfully avoided – like farm futures and the commodities market.

As for the business of blogging, I do hope to make some money with this blog.  That means I will include advertising.  On occasion I may even review products for profit and/or seek sponsorships.  However, I can promise you that I’m not the type of person that will positively review a product I don’t like just to turn a buck.  Honestly, I am rather repulsed by that type of dis-integrity.

As for your comments, please, let’s be respectful of each other, learn together, have fun and keep it productive and positive.   I will present more explicit expectations of your comments only as necessary.  Until the time comes that I can’t keep up with job, writing, research and comments, I will review all of your comments before they are posted on the site.  I apologize in advance for slowing the process down, but not for saving you from annoying spam and/or disrespectful prose.

I sincerely hope you come along with me on this blogging journey.  I pray you will find my thoughts, knowledge and work worthy of your time and that we can together create an interesting, fun and successful blogosphere community.

Thanks for the read!