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Coffee boosts forestation

30 April 2021
Scientists from ETH-Zurich and the University of Hawaii found that coffee pulp sped up restoration of exploited land in tropical regions. A post-agricultural plot in Costa Rica covered with 50 cm-thick layer of coffee pulp, the leftover of coffee production that are typically discarded, was transformed into a small forest with pioneer tree species after two years. The coffee-boosted plot had 60% more canopy cover by trees that are 4 times taller than those in the non-treated control plot. The coffee pulp treated topsoil was rich in Carbon and Nitrogen, and the amount of Sulphur, Phosphorus, Iron and Manganese were much higher than the control plot.

Talking with plants

14 April 2021
Researchers at Nanyang Technological University have found an innovative way to communicate with plants through electrical signals. The Venus Fly Trap is a carnivorous plant that traps insects by shutting its modified leaves when prey touch trigger hairs. Researchers were able to use electrical impulses to close the leaf trap and even ‘pick up’ a thin wire using a connected robotic arm on command! This was done by connecting the leaf trap to a smartphone via an electrode. As electrical signals generated by plants tend to be weak, the discovery of a novel hydrogel with strong adhesive properties was key to making this type of communication with the plant possible. As researchers deepen their understanding, they hope to develop plant-based robotic systems that can better handle delicate and sensitive tasks than the current technology.

Home Gardens in Britain: Secret Nectar Source and Valuable Biodiversity Habitats

09 April 2021
Home gardens are the biggest source of nectar for pollinating insects like bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies and beetles in Britain. The study led by the University of Bristol found that the amount of nectar produced in urban areas was concentrated in residential gardens -- roughly 85 per cent. In the cities studied, home gardens produce the most nectar per unit area of land and they cover the largest area of land studied compared to parks and allotment gardens. The research highlights the pivotal role that gardens play in supporting pollinator conservation and biodiversity in urban areas. These gardens form a valuable resource of food and habitats for pollinating insects. Gardeners can have a positive impact by choosing pollinator friendly plants, garden design and cultural maintenance practices. Click the title above to read more.

A game of hide-and-seek

08 February 2021
High in the Hengduan mountains of Southwest China, the valuable herb Fritillaria delavayi commonly known as Fritillary or 梭砂贝母(suō shā bèi mǔ) in Chinese, grows. Traditionally used to treat respiratory ailments, the group of Fritillary herb (川贝 chuān bèi) can be found in Asian cough remedies. A kilogram of the plant’s bulb is valued more than SGD 600 (approx. USD480). This herb can only grow at high elevations with cold and dry conditions, making the growing conditions hard to replicate for cultivation. As a result, fritillary can only be harvested from the wild and wild populations run the risk of getting overharvested. However, researchers found that in areas where fritillary is popularly harvested, the colours of the plant have become duller, blending into the surrounding. Whereas in inaccessible areas, the colours of the herb remain vibrant. This plant may be the first threatened species where natural selection can be observed to have played a part for the species to hide from its predator – Humans. Click on the title to read more.

Newfound Species is Possibly World's Ugliest Orchid

20 January 2021
Researchers from Kew have described a new leafless orchid with mottled brown flowers that resemble a mouldy paper bag. The orchid, Gastrodia agnicellus spends most of its life hidden beneath leaf litter in the tropical forests of Madagascar. It emerges after pollination, where fruit pods grow above the leaf litter for better seed dispersal. This small orchid relies on fungi for food as it does not have any photosynthetic ability. The flower has a musky rose-like scent that intensifies under warmer temperatures to attract its pollinators. Click the title above to read more.