With a unique blend of science and humour, American naturalist and science educator Milos Radakovich is an extremely popular cruise ship lecturer.
He has written two volumes full of what he calls “Bite-size SCIENCE snacks” called 90 SECONDS. These articles were written to be delivered as 90 second radio spots. I have read and reread all many times.
If you are interested in ordering a copy or for more information e-mail Milos at firstname.lastname@example.org
Flowering plants evolved about 100 million years ago. As the planet’s climate changed, some plants developed a seasonal strategy to lay low through the winter and bloom in the spring – a process called vernalization.
Scientists have only begun to understand how flowers know when spring has actually sprung, and cold seems to be the key. Most plants don’t flower in the fall because their genes tell them not to by suppressing flowering activity. The passing of a critical number of cold days turns the suppressing genes off and gives plants the green light to bloom.
Studies have also identified certain plant proteins that start flower buds. Flowering before the vernal equinox can be deadly for a flower. Imagine a daffodil’s surprise if it flowers in February after a fluke warm spell… so precision is important.
Not only must flowers have a thermometer-like mechanism to measure the outdoor temperature, they also need to keep count of the winter months.
Many cultivated varieties we grow are never exposed to cold in a typical growing season, and there are crops like cabbage and beets that we don’t want to flower at all.
Keeping track of winter isn’t limited to the plant kingdom either. Many insects have to measure and count cold days also, so that they don’t hatch too early in the year.
Similar to humans and other animals, plants have circadian clocks inside their cells that operate on a 24-hour schedule. A better understanding of plant rhythms may help us to solve problems of jet lag, shift work, and many sleep disorders.