September 22, 2011

"It's of absolutely no agricultural or economic significance, but it is a previously unrecognized biological entity and, as such is intellectually interesting."

University of Wisconsin–Madison botanist Robert R. Kowal, talking like a professor about the new flower he found on an island in Lake Superior. Kowal is an expert on the genus Packera, which sounds like something that belongs in Wisconsin, but it's simply the sunflower. The new species is Packera insulae-regalis ("the Packera of Isle Royale"):
"The species is known only from one population along the trail used by hikers moving along the ridge that forms the spine of the island... The plants are probably saved by the trail. If the area was allowed to go to forest, this species would probably be shaded out and go extinct."
And here are the beautiful illustrations of the flower, by Kandis Elliot, an artist in UW–Madison Botany department (who won the 2010 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge for a poster called "Introduction to Fungi").

30 comments:

Carol_Herman said...

Looks "dwarf-ted"

Plus, I always thought people grew sunflowers to hide marijuana plants.

Anyway, I'd bet there's millions of varieties of things we just don't see.

Now, what would an American Indian have done with that plant?

traditionalguy said...

Meade must really be excited.

Everybody loves sunflowers, especially Dr Zhivago when Lara was close by.

Coketown said...

Zzzzzzzz

Ann Althouse said...

I like the way human activity SAVED it from extinction.

For once, we the people are not the villain in the nature story.

Scott M said...

SO...human development has saved the day?

Quayle said...

If the ecosystem is a fragile as we've been led to believe, then it can't possibly NOT be of significance.

We're probably one Packera insulae-regalis away from the whole ecosystem coming down like a house of cards.

Better close off the trails.

It is all very fragile, even though it was the evolutionary result of struggle and killing and mayhem and mutation.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

Somebody may know where you get the Texas sunflower. It is hardy in the Texas sun and will grow, if naturally seeded, without particular coaxing. The sunflowers available in the mass market shops will start out but get cooked and killed too easily in the Texas heat. Need something with more ability to make heat shock protein down here I suppose.

edutcher said...

I presume varieties will be named the Hornung, Lombardi, Starr, and Favre.

(I know, I dating myself...)

Ann Althouse said...

I like the way human activity SAVED it from extinction.

For once, we the people are not the villain in the nature story.


Keep that up and Albert Gore won't come Trick Or Treating on Halloween.

MadisonMan said...

Very cool!

ALP said...

Love the illustrations! Nice to see hand-rendering and to know that it still has an advantage over photography once in a while.

Bob Ellison said...

I won a prize in college for something called "Introduction to Fungi". Maybe I misspelled that, or maybe instead I should keep mum on this topic.

MarkW said...

I like the way human activity SAVED it from extinction.

For once, we the people are not the villain in the nature story.

You might want to pick up a copy of 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.

One of the major arguments is that the Americas before Columbus where much more a cultivated garden than an untouched wilderness. It only looked like a wilderness by the time most Europeans started exploring because so many of the natives were wiped out by diseases for which they had no immunity. Consistent with that is the claim that immense flocks of passenger pigeons and herds of buffalo were relatively new phenomenon -- species whose populations exploded when the population of their main predators (American Indians) were decimated.

And surprisingly, the Europeans aren't really even the villains in the story. Yes, a lot of the Europeans who came were a nasty bunch -- but it wouldn't have mattered if they'd sent only unarmed missionaries, the results of exposure to European diseases would have been just the same.

Seven Machos said...

The St. Louis Cardinals are 11-2 since Nyjer Morgan went wacko on Chris Carpenter.

Ron said...

What no props for it being, not in Wisconsin, but Michigan! Cheddar chauvinism, (Chedauvinism?) I say!

Geoff Matthews said...

Intrusive species! Kill IT!

Brian Johnson said...

I assume this thing is green and gold? It's so the new state flower. (Wood violet? I don't think so.) :)

Curious George said...

Packera insulae-regalis? He should have named it Packera kowal-isawesome. ("the Packera of the awesome Kowal")

How cool would that be? Fool.

Fred4Pres said...

I love the beer and wine in the fungi poster...fungi are our friends!

Fred4Pres said...

MarkW. I have heard those theories on passenger pigeons and bison. Of course, bison were very hard to kill until the Indians got the horse from the Spanish. Until then, tribes did periodic harvests when the herds moved through (driving them off cliffs, etc.). But the harvest was limited.

Once the horse was on the scene, the bison faced pressure from humans who could follow them. The Sioux for example were in Minnesota forests and moved out onto the plains. Presumably the horse would have given the Indians the ability to increase their population across the plains (and that would have had some impact on the bison). Small pox may have delayed that. But by the time the market hunters showed up the bison were facing assault by both white and Indians (by then most of the small pox epidemic was over) and that just decimated the herds.

Market hunters decimated the pigeons (who needed large flocks to survive). They were not a solitary species like mourning doves. So if you disrupted the flocks too much you doomed all the birds.

Psychedelic George said...

Weirdly, I know a moose warden at Isle Royale National Park...He's A. Tad Strange.

Even more weirdly, he knows Dalmatian toadflax. LIke the sunflower, its blossoms are yellow, but it is a noxious weed.

ricpic said...

I think the caribou in Alaska are also thriving in proximity to that invasive pipeline. It's a pernicious myth that humans, their activities and structures are "villain[s] in the nature story."

Michael said...

Professor. I expect many species have been saved by man's Inadvertant actions. Think of the plants ghat were not trampled by the awkward Dodo or the seeds that survived the glutinous passenger pidgeon!

Kylos said...

Heh. Definitely sounds like an academic. I could see my TA brother writing that.

Widely Seen said...

Let's see -- sunflower plants found along a hiking trail. Hikers carry sunflower-based munchies...
Could be a connection.
Mutant hybrid ninja sunflowers!

gail said...

cool illustrations. I've wanted to go hiking on the Greenstone Trail on IR again...wonder if the professor put an ID sign up...

paminwi said...

If you like illustrations of flowers there is actually a really great display at Harvard University. Along with some of the illustrations they have glass sculptures of these illustrations. Very cool if you like this sort of thing.

MarkW said...

MarkW. I have heard those theories on passenger pigeons and bison. Of course, bison were very hard to kill until the Indians got the horse from the Spanish. Until then, tribes did periodic harvests when the herds moved through (driving them off cliffs, etc.). But the harvest was limited.

But the argument here is that there were many more American Indians (as many as 10x more) *before* the Spanish brought their diseases and their horses. The population of hunters on horseback may have been more effective, but it was much smaller. And the passenger pigeons -- they weren't hard to kill and Indians did eat them, but their bones are not numerous in pre-Colombian settlements (leading to the argument that they were nothing close to as numerous before most of the Indians were wiped out by European diseases).

The general argument is that, pre-Columbus, the Americas (including possibly even the Amazon) were not a sparsely populated wilderness, but a fairly densely populated human-managed garden environment and that the 'wilderness' that most Europeans saw was both fairly recent and 'unnatural'.

I'm not sure how much I buy it, but it's one of those ideas that, if true, really has the potential to change the way we look at the environment and human impact on it.

gerry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gerry said...

the results of exposure to European diseases would have been just the same

I've wondered why the reverse never happened and North Americans infcted the Euros with nasty stuff. Is it rue that syphilis was unkinown in Europe until after 1492?

Martin said...

Does the Endangered Species Act cover plants?

If so, better shut down that hiking trail.