Horticultural Fun Facts

Have you ever been interested to know a few science facts behind common landscape and horticultural practices or the science behind the natural plant world? I recently did a presentation for a group of local business people entitled “Landscape Fun Facts:  Or At least What Becca Thinks are Interesting Facts”. I admit that there is a lot more science behind the simple answers I’ve presented, but in layman’s terms these fun facts might just be the answer to your next trivial pursuit game, or maybe something to wow the kids around the evening dinner table.
  1. How does herbicide work?

Have you seen the dandelions in your lawn start to curl up and flatten after being sprayed with herbicide? The abnormal growth is caused by the herbicide. Some chemicals like 2,4-D, which is used in lawn fertilizers makes plants grow themselves to death by using plant hormones. These plants will grow so fast they cannot support themselves.


2. What turns red on a poinsettia?  How do you make them turn red?

The poinsettia has red bracts, which is a leaf like structure and the yellow centers are the flowers.If you are interested in trying to keep your christmas poinsettia over the summer and hoping to turn it red again next Christmas, you might want to buy another one next year instead. Twelve weeks before Christmas a poinsettia needs 14 hours of darkness (place in a closet) and 10 hours of light until mid-December. Miss two days and the plant may not color.


3.  How does cold kill a plant?

The ice you scrap off your car is the same type of ice crystals that form inside a plant cell membrane. Those ice crystals are like tiny daggers that penetrate cell membranes when the water freezes and expands. If you’ve ever notice that leaves can look wet when hit by frost, the wet look is caused by the “sap” leaking out of the cells of the plants.


  1. Is a strawberry a fruit?

Those small “seed” like structure on the outside of a strawberry are called achenes. They are actually the covering to a tiny seed. A strawberry is actually a group of many fruits with each one of those “seeds” being one fruit. This is called a complex fruit just like blackberries, raspberries, and mulberries.


  1. What types of plants attract bees?

Bees do not see the same colors that we see. They don’t see red or rather it appears green to them, so it doesn’t stand out against the green of a leaf. Bees see blues and green shades and UV light, and are more attracted to purple flowers though they can still see other bright yellow/orange colors. Since we cannot see UV light, we can’t see that some petals of flowers have markings that direct bees (like little arrows) showing them where the pollen or nectar source is located. Check out this picture of a cucumber flower in natural and UV light taken from a blog listed below.

6.  How can you use trees to keep your house warm/cool?

Evergreen trees are placed on the northwest and west in masses. This will cut down on wind 8-10 times their height (a 20 ft tall tree can protect 160 ft of space). If more than 60:40 ratio to wind (some wind must get through the branches) otherwise the wind will return to the ground faster and not produce the desired effect. No, I haven’t gone out to inspect whether the trees we planted are a 60:40 ratio after many years of growth. Most likely the trees are letting some air in without having to monitor it too much. Aside from evergreens, deciduous trees planted on west side close to the house will allow the sun to warm in the winter and leaves will keep the house cool in the summer. A few fun facts according to the Arbor Day Foundation, is that a healthy shade tree has the same cooling effects as 10 room sized air conditioners running 20 hours a day.  Also, the winter heating costs can be reduced by up to 25% by using trees as a wind break.



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