Vivacious, Viable Vermicompost

I’m not big on new year’s or birthday resolutions, but there was one big hurdle I wanted to jump before turning 30: my fear of worms. I’ve been absolutely disgusted by earthworms ever since my older cousins put them down my shirt when I was five. With a little encouragement from some gardening pals, I’ve become Sunset Park’s newest worm herder.

worm union

Vermiculture is using worms to compost kitchen, garden, and household waste. It turns stinky trash into nutrient-rich, fresh-smelling worm castings that can be added to potted plants or gardens. If you pay for your trash collection it will lower your costs and, whether you pay or not, reducing the amount of methane-producing food that goes to landfills is good for everyone. While traditional compost requires a large, outdoor space, vermicompost can be housed in a tiny Brooklyn kitchen. And although a worm or two might get antsy and make a wiggle for it when they’re getting used to their new space, once they’re established, no one will ever know they’re around.

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In The Weeds: Gallant Soldier

The difference between a weed and a flower is judgment. Or maybe just attention. Who – other than the gardeners who spend hours uprooting them – really thinks about weeds? Weeds are tenacious growers, always looking for new ways to survive where they’re not wanted. Although most are unassuming, they always carry rich histories and often have potent properties. Learning about these overlooked plants can teach us about spontaneity, endurance, and healing. Every two weeks, I’ll find out everything I can about a local (to wherever I am at the time) weed that’s in season so that we can become better acquainted with one of our quiet but powerful neighbors.

Context is everything. In Colombia, guascas are an essential ingredient in a chicken and potato stew called ajiaco. In the U.S., gallant soldiers are organic gardeners’ worst nightmare. No matter what you call them, Galinsoga parviflora are probably the cutest members of the daisy family.

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Fucking Pansies!

Next time someone tries to tell you that queer and trans folks have taken our identities too far, give them a botany lesson. Plants are SO queer, y’all.

Before we get into all the very exciting sexualities that plants have, let’s talk about their sexy parts. If you’ve ever taken a 6th grade science class, you’ve probably learned about the “male” and “female” parts of plants. Since we’ve all come to recognize that there’s nothing inherently “male” about sperm or “female” about eggs, it’s about time for a vocab rehab. I’m excited about all the trans and queer plant-lovers out there who are rethinking ways that we can talk about and learn from plants. Today, I’m going to talk about “stamens” and “pistils,” and I can’t wait to see what we come up with in the future.

With that in mind, let’s hop in the Magic School Bus and learn all about plants’ bits.

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In plants, we usually call sperm “pollen.” That’s right allergy sufferers: sperm is the cause of all your springtime snot. The part of the plant that produces pollen is called the stamen. Stamens consist of two parts: the filament and the anther. The anther is covered in pollen and the filament is the thin strand that supports the anther.

Plants have eggs that, when fertilized, mature into seeds. The part of the plants that produces seeds is called the pistil. Pistils are made up of the stigma, style, ovary, and egg. In humans, ovaries produce eggs while uteruses incubate fertilized eggs that grow into fetuses. In plants, the ovary both produces the egg and is the enclosure where seeds grow. The stigma is the sticky landing pad where pollen collects. The style is the tube that connects the stigma and ovary. When pollen lands on the stigma, it grows a tail through the style so that it can deposit its genetic material in the egg.

The plant world has a gorgeously diverse combination of pistils and stamens. The names can get really long, but if you divide the parts up by their etymological roots, you’ll know what’s going on. To make it easier to read, I’m going to put dashes into long words.

Flowers can be either bi-sexual or uni-sexual.

  • Bisexual flowers have both stamens and pistils. Bisexual flowers are also called perfect — let’s hear it for the perfect bisexuals — mono-clinous (monos = one, cline = bed), andro-gynous, herm-aphrodite or syno-ecious (syn = together, ecious = house). Famous bisexuals include Lily (Aldrin) and Rose(a Diaz).
  • Unisexual flowers have only stamens or only pistils. These flowers are also called imperfect, di-clinous (di = two, cline = bed), or incomplete. Watermelons are unisexual.

A species can have bisexual flowers, unisexual flowers, or both! We group them depending on whether these flowers live together on one plant or separately on different plants.

The zucchini flowers facing up are staminate and the flowers facing down are pistillate.

Monoecious (monos = one, oikos = house) species have some flowers with only stamens or some flowers with only pistils, but all the flowers live on the same plant. Corn and zucchini are both monoecious.

  • Flowers with only pistils are called pistillate.
  • Flowers with only stamens are called staminate.
  • Some plants have both bisexual and unisexual flowers on the same plant.
    • Gyno-mono-ecious plants have pistillate flowers and bisexual flowers, but not staminate flowers.
    • Andro-mono-ecious plants have staminate flowers and bisexual flowers, but not pistillate flowers.
    • Poly-gamo-mono-ecious plants (also called andro-gyno-mono-ecious, poly-gamous, tri-mono-ecious plants) have staminate flowers, pistillate flowers, AND bisexual flowers all on the same plant.

Some plants fall somewhere between monoecious and dioecious. They’re called subdioecious or polygamodioecious.

  • A sub-gyno-ecious plant has mostly pistillate flowers, but some staminate or bisexual flowers on one plant.
  • A sub-andro-ecious has mostly staminate flowers, but some pistillate or bisexual flowers on one plant.

A staminate pistachio tree

A pistillate pistachio tree

 

 

 

 

 

Dioecious (di – two, oikos = house) species have flowers with stamens on separate plants from flowers with pistils. Holly and pistacho are dioecious, which is why you only get berries and nuts when you have a pollen-producing and an egg-producing plant near each other.

  • A gyno-ecious plant has only pistillate flowers.
  • An andro-ecious plant has only staminate flowers.
  • Some species have both bisexual and unisexual flowers, but on different plants.
    • A gyno-dio-ecious plant has pistillate flowers on one plant, bisexual flowers on another plant, and no staminate flowers. Wild beets are gynodioecious.
    • An andro-dio-ecious plant has staminate flowers on one plant, bisexual flowers on another plant, and no pistillate flowers. Japanese ash is androdioecious.
    • A tri-oecious plant has bisexual, pistillate, and staminate flowers on different plants.

Plants have one more trick up their sleeves. They can change from pollen-producing to seed-producing over time in a process called dichogamy (dikho = apart, gamy = marriage).

  • Proto-gynous plants produce eggs first before producing pollen. In pearl millet and avocados, the pistil matures first.
  • Prot-androus plants produce pollen first before producing seeds. In corn and many members of the carrot family, the stamen matures first.

Decoding Botanical Language

Reproduction

Reproductive flower parts

  • Stamen – the sperm or pollen producing parts of a flower
    • Pollen – sperm that travels to other plants on insects, animals, and air
    • Filament – the thin strand that supports the anther
    • Anther – the pollen-producers
  • Pistil – the egg or seed producing parts of a flower
    • Stigma – the sticky landing pad for pollen
    • Style – the tube that pollen grows a tail down
    • Ovary – the enclosure where seeds grow
    • Ovule – an egg that grows into a seed

Flower sexuality

  • Bisexual / Perfect / Monoclinous (one bed) / Hermaphrodite / Androgynous / Synoecious (together house) – a flower with both stamens and pistils
  • Unisexual / Imperfect / Diclinous (two beds) / Incomplete / – a flower with only stamens or only pistils
    • Monecious (one house) – a single plant contains some flowers with only pistils or some flowers with only stamens.
      • Pistillate – flowers with only seed-producing parts
      • Staminate – flowers with only pollen-producing parts
    • Species with both bisexual and unisexual flowers on the same plant
      • Andromonoecious – a plant with both staminate flowers and bisexual flowers, but no pistillate flowers
      • Gynomonoecious – a plant with both pistillate flowers and bisexual flowers, but no staminate flowers
      • Androgynomonoecious / Polygamous / Polygamomonoecious / Trimonoecious / Triecious – A single plant that has staminate flowers, pistillate flowers, and bisexual flowers
    • Polygamodioecious / Subdioecious – Species that have mostly pistillate or mostly staminate flowers, but some other types
      • Subgynoecious – a species with mostly pistillate flowers, but some staminate or bisexual flowers on one plant
      • Subandroecious – a species with mostly staminate flowers, but some pistillate or bisexual flowers on one plant
    • Dioecious (two houses) – the flowers with stamens are on separate plants from the flowers with pistils
      • Androecious – a plant with only staminate flowers
      • Gynoecious – a plant with only pistillate flowers
      • Species with both bisexual and unisexual flowers, but on different plants
        • Androdioecious – staminate flowers are on separate plants from bisexual flowers
        • Gynodioecious – pistillate flowers are on separate plants from bisexual flowers
        • Trioecious – bisexual, pistillate, and staminate flowers are on different plants
    • Dichogamous – a plant or flower with sexes that develop at different times. The flowers may be bisexual or unisexual.
      • Protandrous – a plant or flower with staminate parts developing pistillate seed parts
      • Protogynous – a plant or flower with pistillate parts developing before staminate parts

Seedless reproduction

Flowers

The perianth is the group of sepals and petals. When the sepals and petals are undifferentiated, they’re call tepals.

Sepals are modified leaves that protects the flower before it blooms. The outermost group of sepals is called the calyx. Petals are modified leaves that attract pollinators and protect the flower’s reproductive parts. The group of petals is called the corolla.

Bracts are modified leaves that usually appear just below a flower. A series of bracts is called an epicalyx. A flower can connect directly to a stem — sessile flowers — or can be attached with a Pedicle.

A group of flowers on a single stem is called an inflorescence. Sometimes, what appears to be a single flower is really a group of tiny flowers. This “flower” is called a composite flower and is common in the aster family, which includes daisies, chrysanthemums, and sunflowers. The center of the flower is really made up of hundred of tiny, tubular, reproductive flowers called disk flowers. The petals are flat, long, non-reproductive petals called ray flowers

Flowers can be characterized by them symmetry. Flowers like daisies that are symmetrical no matter where you draw a line have radial symmetry. Flowers like lavender that are symmetric only along one line have bilateral symmetry.

Leaves

Structure

  • Blade / Lamina – the widest part of the leaf and what we usually think of as the leaf.
    • Simple – a leaf made of single leaf blade or leaflet.
    • Compound – a leaf made of multiple blades. The main stem of a compound leaf is called a rachi. The multiple blades are called pinnules.
      • Palmately compound – a compound leaf with blades radiating from one point.
      • Pinnately compound – a compound leaf with two rows of blades coming from a central axis.
      • Doubly compound – the leaflets are arranged along a secondary vein, which is one of several veins branching off the middle vein. The leaflets are called pinna.
  • Vein – a tube that brings water, nutrients, and water to the plant
    • Venation pattern
      • Reticulated – veins form a network
      • Parallel – veins don’t intersect
      • Dichotomous – veins branch symmetrically in pairs
      • Palmate – veins diverge from a single point
      • Pinnate – veins are opposite across the midrib
    • Midrib – the vein that runs down the center of the leaf. In leaflets, it’s called a midvein.
  • Margin – the edge of the leaf blade
    • Entire – the margin is smooth
    • Toothed – the margin has points

    • Lobed – the leaf has an indentation or indentations that go less than halfway to the leaf’s midrib
    • Parted – the leaf has an indentation or indentations that go more than halfway to the leaf’s midrib
  • Petiole – the stalk that attaches the leaf to the stem. A plant with no petiole is called sessile.
    • Stipule – an outgrowth at the base of the petiole

Arrangement

  • Phyllotaxy – the arrangement of leaves on a stem
    • Opposite – two leaves come from the same node on opposite sides of the stem

    • Alternate
    • Whorl – three or more leaves come from the same node
    • Spiral

duration

  • Deciduous – leaves fall after the growing season
  • Evergreen – leaves are retained throughout the year, sometimes for several years
  • Fugacious – leaves last for only a short time
  • Marcescent / Persistent – dead leaves, calyx, or petals don’t fall off

Stems

  • Node – the point where a stem, leaf, or flower comes off a stem
  • Internode – the space between two nodes

Roots

  • Primary – the first root to emerge from the seed as it germinates
  • Secondary – roots forming off of the primary root; often called branch roots
  • Fibrous – roots that are thread-like and tough
  • Fleshy – roots that are thick and soft, normally made up of storage tissue
  • Tuberous – roots that are thick and soft and are typically thick and round
  • Taproot – a primary root that grows downward into the soil
  • Root Hairs – very small roots, often one cell wide
  • Root crown – the place where the roots and stem meet
  • Adventitious – roots that form from a plant part other than the root, usually from the stem or from leaves
  • Aerial – roots growing in the air

Plants

  • Herbaceous – plants with green, soft parts above the ground. They die back in harsh weather and may regrow again in the spring.

  • Woody – plants that produce wood as their structure. They are typically perennial.

  • Monocots
  • Dicots

Life cycle

  • Annual – plants that live, reproduce, and die in one growing season
  • Biannual – plants that need two growing seasons to complete their life cycle, normally completing vegetative growth the first year and flowering the second year
  • Perennial – a plant that lives longer than two years