Monday, April 20, 2009

Spring is in Full Swing!!!

It was so beautiful out today!!! We could walk around with a fleece rather than our cumbersome winter coats! We still have the wind coming off the 4 degree Celsius ocean to contend with at this time of year, so no matter how warm the land gets the breeze is always much cooler. Everyone was out and about....Diego and I even took an hour walk around the city this afternoon to get away from our computer and get some much needed rays on our pale faces!

I also, got to visit some of my fav. flower spots along the way. The daffodils are on the verge of opening and being ripe for picking (they are on public adult school to be exact and I only take 4 or 5...). The pussy willows are out full force! I picked these up at the market on the weekend. Halifax has an amazing farmers market year round!!There is also a HUGE magnolia tree close to my place and you can see where the buds are cracking open to reveal the delicious smelling white flowers within. I give it another 1.5 - 2 weeks before it is in full visual and olfactory glory! Every year I encounter the owner of said tree and she is happy to have someone enjoy it so much! I try to walk by there every day when it is in bloom! Yes, I am a self admitted flower stalker...

Speaking of flowers...more of my orchids have opened up!
This one opened its first flower 1.5 weeks ago. I love how you can see the spots that the flower will have on its petals on the surface of the buds! These flowers are quite small, the size of a twoonie (our 2 dollar coin for those non Canadians).
This one opened up about a week ago. It has large flowers, about the size of my palm and has these delicate tails that you can see in profile on the side view flower. I have two more orchids left to produce flower shoots, I am not sure if they will bloom this year...but if they do you will be sure to know!!! Another great thing about spring are the orchid shows!!! I love orchids, they are so varied and produce gorgeous and very long lasting flowers! Remember this one well it still has one flower left and it has been 2.5 months since it started blooming!!

We also went to Pete's Frootique to pick up the few things we couldn't get at the market on the weekend. For those of you who aren't familiar with this store...Pete's is a locally owned store that specializes in exotic fruits and veggies but also carries a lot of locally made beauty products and other fare...way better than the HUGE corporate grocery stores and has most everything you would ever need and it pretty competitive with prices (except for the cheeses...)...but I digress... It was here that Diego surprised me guessed it...Flowers!
Irises to be exact. We passed a garden a few days before and I got all excited that it had a local variety of iris that was blooming!! So when he saw these beauties he knew I would squeal with delight! Although, they are not the local variety they are beautiful!!! He is such a sweety!

That's all for now...back to the grindstone!

Don't forget to enjoy spring wherever you are!
Happy Spring to all! :)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Eelgrass Story. Part I a: What is Eelgrass?

As promised (although quite belated) here is the first installment of The Eelgrass Story.

What is Eelgrass?

Eelgrass is a type of seagrass and seagrasses are aquatic angiosperms (flowering plants). They are called seagrasses because most of the plants resemble large grasses found on land but are confined to marine environments. In North America, eelgrass refers to the species Zostera marina.

Seagrasses in general have an extensive below ground network that comprises of roots and rhizomes and grass like leaves above the sediment.
The rhizome is the main below ground stem off of which roots and new shoots can grow. The roots anchor the plant in the sediment and they also absorb nutrients from the water in the sediment, similar to the roots of land plants. Growth of new shoots from the rhizome is called rhizomatous growth and is how the plant reproduces asexually (ie: without the need for fertilization). This type of asexual reproduction is the main mode of expansion of a bed. An entire bed can sometimes be composed of just one or two individuals!

Above the sediment, seagrasses can have leaves of various shapes and sizes, from flat to filaments to round leaves from lengths of a few centimeters to over a meter! Eelgrass leaves are flat and narrow and really do resemble grass.

Copyright © 2006 Mary Jo Adams; From Washington State University (

The blades can be long or short, this depends on the amount of light reaching them. So in shallow waters their leaves are short but in deeper or more turbid (ie: lots of particles or murky) water their leaves can be over a meter long! The leaves need to be close to the surface of the water to gather enough light for photosynthesis.
This is a bed in Prince Edward Island where the length of the leaves was on average 20 cm long and was found in water about 0.75 m deep at high tide.

This was my study site in Musquodoboit Harbour (MH), Nova Scotia. This site had the longest leaves always over a meter long, but the water depth was only 1.5 m....her you can see the tops of the leaves on the surface of the water as the tide is receding. This was very hard to paddle/swim through. So why were the blades so long here with the water so shallow....
This is one of the reasons...this is underwater in MH in June, there is so much sediment, phytoplankton (floating unicellular plants, hence the greenish colour) and tannins in the water that not a lot of light actually gets through to the bottom. Tanins are tanic acid which comes from decaying plant matter and gives freshwater its brown colour. The brown freshwater can form a lense on top of the seawater (because it is less salty it floats) or get mixed in with waves and wind. There is a limit though to how long the leaves can get, and if the water is turbid and deep they will likely not occur there because they don't get enough light.

***Mini experiment*** Mix salt with water in the bottom of a glass (2 tbsp for 1/2 a cup), then put some food colouring in some freshwater of the same temperature in another glass, then slowly pour it in on top of the salty should see a clear separation...leave it for a while and see if there is any mixing. Then mix it up with a spoon. This is how it works in the oceans where rivers meet the sea! The freshwater will continue to float on top of the seawater unless something mixes it up, like waves, wind, boats, tides, etc. ***

At this site in Taylor's Head Provincial Park in Nova Scotia, the water is more like 2.5 m deep at high tide, but the leaves are only 30 cm long on average....but look at the beautiful blue colour of the water (ie: not a lot of phytoplankton, etc.) and the clarity. The instrument you see in the photo was place there to measure the amount of light and quality (ie: what colours or wavelengths) that reach the seagrass....these were placed at all my sites and are Diego's babies (he made them!).
As an aside, at this site we had a "plague" of jellyfish (big and small). At one point, I looked up from my work and counted 25 that I could see in front of me...they were dive buddy and co-worked Jess and I got repeatedly stung on the only exposed skin we had...our lips!
Here are 4 large ones tangled on a line we had in the water. Their bell (the round part) was about 25 cm in these were pretty big and had very long trails of stinging tentacles! Here their tentacles are entangles in the line (I set them free) but some of the stingers stayed behind and stung our boat person Kate as she hauled up the line...this was a hilarious (and somewhat painful) day!

Now, back to eelgrass...Since they are flowering plants, they do produce small flowers to reproduce sexually! Some species of seagrass have both sexes on the same plant (monoecious), while other have seperate male and female plants (dioecious). In the case of eelgrass, from what I understand (correct me if I am wrong) they are on the same flower. The flowers look like small white/yellow chevrons (or v-shapes) on the leaves (see image below).

Image by: Josef Ackerman; From the webpage of the Botanical Society of America (

Similar to flowering plants that let the wind carry their pollen, seagrasses let the water transport theirs and the shape of the flowers encourages pollen settlement by altering the water flow
around it. Each flower produces one seed.

Copyright © 2006 Jan Holmes; From Washington State University (

Sexual reproduction is the mechanisms by which the plants can expand their range and potentially colonize new areas within estuaries and beyond. The seeds can travel tens to hundreds of kilometers. It is also an insurance against disease and other disturbances that can cause catastrophic loss of a bed. Many of the seeds fall within the bed and form what is called a seed bank. So, if large scale loss happens and conditions remain suitable (this is the most important part) then the seeds can recolonize and area. In the 1930's "wasting disease" reduced eelgrass populations along the Atlantic coast of North America and in Europe by 90%. This disease ended the traditional harvest of eelgrass for insulation in houses as well as for use in matresses and pillows. It took the beds until the 1960's to recover in many areas but in others they never recovered because the conditions in that area changed preventing recolonization. Wasting disease is cause by a slime-mould like organisms called Labyrinthula zosterae. It continues to affect eelgrass in North America and Europe but no events have been as catastrophic as in the 1930's.
Image of the symptoms of wasting disease. From: OceanLink (

We even saw evidence of the wasting disease at many of our study sites (see photo below and the one above with the short leaves)
. But this was on outer leaves (ie: the older ones that are going to be shed) indicating that it was not getting ready to take over and destroy the beds.
Like most diseases, they often stay at a background level in populations (and in this case the water too) and only affect the older weaker leaves unless another stressor affects the plants ability to fight the disease then it takes over.

Stay Tuned for The Eelgrass Story Part I b: Where is it found? For more fun and interesting facts about these very versatile plants! :)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My Life Lately....and the ultimate slacker!

I am stuck at home with a nasty head cold and thought this would be a good time to catch you up on what has been going on in my life lately. I know I have been the biggest slacker in the world...teasing you all with promises of weekly science-y posts and I have yet to post one... for that I apologize...I hope you can all forgive me! :)

Let's just say it has been a fun filled and very productive (home and work) few weeks!
I wanted to share with you another of orchids in bloom. I love that two of the petals surround its sensitive reproductive organs.

I took this photo a couple of weeks ago so now it is in full bloom with 4 large flowers! I also bought myself some gorgeous tulips a week ago...

...and late last week Diego came home with a dozen daffodils!

I have been surrounded by beautiful colours and scents which has kept me cheery even in the snowy and rainy days we've had since I last posted.

Diego and I are in the midst of re-decorating our bedroom. He promised that we would paint ( I can't wait to get rid of the faded and shabby light blue colour!!!!) and build a few shelves for my jewelry box and plants and we have come up with a creative idea for a headboard! We have an antique one that doesn't suit our tastes but also bangs around a lot...not so great when you have neighbours downstairs if you know what I mean!! :)

So, we started the re-deco tasks by re-organizing our closet (it desperately needed it!!!) and building a beautiful shelf for some vines.

The hope is that we will string fishing line across the ceiling for the vines to grow on and have a living ceiling! We decided to put the shelf up right away to see if we like it before making holes in a freshly painted painting will be our next task...maybe I can convince him that this weekend is a good one! It will be nice and warm so we can open the windows! I will keep you posted on our progress!

Happy Wednesday!!