It’s interesting how things come to be – for instance, an entire Polish town painted in flowers grew from one person using a whimsical painting to cover a soot spot on the ceiling.
The town is called Zalipie, and it sits just a couple of hours southeast of Krakow. Though the paintings began as a way to cover soot on a ceiling, the idea quickly took off. Other people began concealing their home’s imperfections in the same way, until eventually every house contained at least one painted flower.
Sure, you’ve heard that the bees are in trouble – that they’re disappearing, colonies are dying, even that seven species were recently placed on the endangered species list.
You might be a little unclear on the reasons why this is a problem for humans, so let me sum up: bees are pollinators, which means we depend on them in order to grow much of our produce. Around 30% of the world’s crops rely on cross-pollination to thrive, so if you enjoy things like bananas and coffee, you might want to take a look at the list below.
They’re small things, perhaps, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference!
#6. Don’t be so quick to pull your weeds
Dandelions and clovers might annoy gardeners, but bees love the substantial nutrients they provide. Dandelions are especially beneficial: they flower early and stay open late, and they house up to 100 florets full of food – and not just for bees. Butterflies, beetles and hoverflies (all pollinators!) love them, too.
#5. Send some emails to your local representatives
There are petitions out there that will let your elected officials know that you care about the disappearing bee population – this one asks the EPA to suspend the use of pesticides, and this site has a whole host of potential actions/petitions. Take it to the streets, people!
Eleni Stavrinidou wasn’t sure what she’d see when she looked through her microscope at a slice of rose stem. Her team was experimenting with the flowers. They were trying to make a cyborg — a living thing with electronic enhancements. In the past, their attempts had failed to work. But this time was different. She noticed a thin, dark line running up the stem,. It put a grin of excitement on her face.
That dark line was not some natural part of the plant. It was a wire. And it had grown there on its own.
Stavrinidou isn’t the only one turning plants into cyborgs. Several research groups around the world are looking into ways to weave electronics into the natural world. With cutting-edge techniques, they are inserting artificial parts into the plants’ own structures. Such parts can enhance the normal abilities of its hosts. Others may give those plants superpowers.
Plants have the ability to create energy from sunlight. If scientists can harness that, they might one day build a literal “power plant.” They are working to engineer plants in other ways, too. Researchers are turning some into detectors for dangerous materials, from pollutants to bombs. They’re also turning to plants for inspiration. By mimicking certain aspects of leaves and roots, researchers hope to create robots that help monitor the environment — and alert us when conditions start to go bad.
One big reason to create cyborg plants: They might capture more energy than Mother Nature’s natural versions.
Green plants take light from the sun and turn it into electrical energy. Normally, that electricity goes to make the sugars the plant needs to grow. This process is called photosynthesis (Foh-toh-SIN-thuh-sis). And it takes place inside the small, walled-off sections of plant cells called chloroplasts (KLOR-oh-plasts). These structures are full of a pigment called chlorophyll (KLOR-oh-fill). Different pigments absorb different colors of visible light. Chlorophyll most strongly absorbs blue and red light. It reflects green, which is what makes these plants look green.
To make energy, the chloroplasts need both carbon dioxide and water. Plants pull in carbon dioxide from the air through tiny holes, called pores, on their leaves. Water travels up from the soil, first through the roots and then through a channel inside the plant stem. That channel, called the xylem (ZY-lem), is where Stavrinidou’s wire grew.
Stavrinidou works in bioelectronics at Linköping University in Sweden. She studies how electronics affect biological functions. Her team had created the wired rose she was peering at under the microscope. And that wire actually worked. It formed a circuit — a path down which electricity could travel. The result was a rose that conducts electricity.
But how did the Linköping team get a wire “grow” inside the rose’s stem? They mixed into water the building blocks needed to make that wire. Then they placed thirsty cut flowers into the water. As each rose drank, it also sucked up molecules of the wire-making material. Once inside the plant’s stem, the molecules stuck together. “They self-organized,” Stavrinidou explains, into a long, thin line.
The material they used was a polymer — a molecule made from a chain of identical, linked segments. Their thin shape makes such molecules ideal for wriggling into small spaces, like the long, narrow vessels that run up and down a plant’s xylem. Polymers form the basis of many materials, such as plastics. But most plastics do not let electricity flow through them. They block it. The PEDOT-S polymer that Stavrinidou used is special because it does conduct electricity. It even can act as a transistor — a switch that stops or starts the flow of electrons. With PEDOT-S, the Linköping group became the first to “build” a transistor inside a flower.
Transistors lie at the heart of every computerized device. The chip inside a mobile phone may contain 2 billion of them. Each transistor can either switch on or off to make a 1 or 0. Computer programs rely on such 1s and 0s to store and handle information.
Engineers make most transistors from metals such as silicon. This electronic rose project, or one like it, might one day lead to living flowers that house working computer chips.
Roses are red, leaves are blue
The Swedish group also is probing other ways to get polymers into plants. In one experiment, they submerged a rose’s leaves into a bath containing another type of PEDOT. The leaves absorbed the polymer, which settled into tiny cavities inside the lower part of the leaf. These cavities stack together in a single layer, looking almost like a piece of bubble wrap.
This PEDOT has a special color-change trait. It converts from dark to light blue as electricity travels through it. To inject electricity, the researchers attached pin-like electrodes. Each electrode pierced a single leaf cavity (think of a single bubble in a sheet of bubble wrap). When the researchers sent juice through the electrode, this tiny region lightened up, while all neighboring ones stayed dark. By attaching many electrodes, the researchers could control which cavities lit up throughout the leaf. This allowed them to create a pixelated display, sort of like the numbers on a digital watch. They published their findings in Science Advances a little more than a year ago.
Stavrinidou hopes that her team’s accomplishments will lead to plants with whole new functions….
Love is free, but romance isn’t—especially right around Valentine’s Day, when an order of a dozen red roses can cost upwards of $45. A simple explanation for their high sticker price is that florists profit from high seasonal demand, but e-coupon website Brad’s Deals found the story to be a little more complicated. They spoke with representatives from online floral companies, who explained the hidden costs involved in your purchase.
According to Brad’s Deals, 250 million roses are grown for Valentine’s Day every year. To meet this increased demand, flower factories hire additional harvesters and deploy extra trucks and airplanes to transport the blossoms, which costs them money. Also, don’t forget roses aren’t in season: Valentine’s flowers are often imported…
Florists know all about caring for and arranging a variety of flowers, but they do more than put pretty flowers into a nice vase. After talking to a few, we got the dirt on the job, including how they find the best blooms, which household fruits are the enemy of long-lasting bouquets, and why the holidays make their feet ache.
1. THEY’RE (VERY) EARLY RISERS.
Being a florist means getting to work early, as the team at Miami Gardens Florist tells mental_floss: “You have to be in by 7 a.m. so that the first batch of flowers is ready for delivery by 9 a.m., when most businesses start to open.” Florists use those early morning hours to cut and process flowers, organize orders that came in overnight, and prioritize which arrangements to work on first. And when they buy flowers at wholesale flower markets, some florists wake up even earlier—around 3 or 4 a.m.—to find the best flowers at the market before they sell out.
2. FINDING THE RIGHT FLOWERS CAN BE INCREDIBLY TIME-CONSUMING.
To assemble complex floral arrangements and mixed bouquets, florists typically need to search for flowers and plants from a variety of sources. Depending on their clients’ wishes and what flowers are in season, florists maypurchase directly from local farms, wholesalers, or flower auctions. Some florists even grow their own flowers or import them from countries such as Holland or Colombia.
3. FLOWERS ARE HEAVIER THAN THEY LOOK.
“Being a florist is a lot more labor-intensive than most would assume,” says Lauren Ghani, the owner of Nu Leaf Design, a floral design shop in Los Angeles. “We have to pick up and transport all the flowers, clean and process them (which can take hours of being on your feet!), decide on a design, and then clean up the extensive amount of leaves and debris,” Ghani explains. Florists must also have strong arm and leg muscles to unpack large shipments of plants, lift heavy buckets of water, and arrange large branches and other foliage for display.
4. TIMING IS EVERYTHING.
Because flowers only last so long before they wilt and die, florists are in a perpetual race against the clock. They must properly time purchases and deliveries, making sure that buds have bloomed by the time they arrive at a client’s door. To speed up or slow down the blooming process, florists use a variety of tricks. They may condition flowers (get them ready for display) by cutting or splitting the stems (trimming them at a 45-degree angle increases the surface area for water absorption) or dunking the blooms in cold water. Storing the blooms away from direct sunlight is also key. To ensure that flowers for weddings look fresh and open, Ghani keeps them in a refrigerated environment and makes the centerpieces the day before the event.
5. HOLIDAYS ARE HARD ON THEIR FEET.
Because flowers are perishable, florists can’t get too much of a head start on making arrangements for high-volume days such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. “During our high seasons, every flower shop becomes a factory where all we’re doing is trying to get as many arrangements out as possible,” the Miami Gardens Florist team explains. Although most florists find working with flowers to be generally relaxing, holidays require them to stand on their feet for eight to 12 hours per day, often for several days in a row.