No need to panic: it’s just the first few panicles of fall


Welp, it’s the middle of October and the first few panicles of the muhly grass in my front yard are beginning to show up, right on schedule:

For those of you who may have forgotten your graminological terms, a panicle as defined by Walter Kingsley Taylor is

A compound inflorescence consisting of branched racemes; the flowers are on stalks that branch off larger stalks.

Got it? OK.

What that means in this case is that the flower (you do remember that grasses are flowering plants, right?) divides and divides again, sort of the way a compoundly pinnate leaf […]

Equinox moon with rays


On the morning of the equinox, as I was fruitlessly attempting to capture an image of Mars near the waning crescent moon, I did manage to create a small mystery for myself with the digiscoped image of that crescent moon:

This is Day 25 of the lunar cycle, which means there are only 4 days until new moon, so there isn’t a whole heck of a lot to look at in this picture. From top to bottom, the most prominent features are the sunlit craters Pythagoras and Babbage (the latter has sunken walls and a prominent crater overlying […]

More action on the passionvine: Zebra heliconian


Florida’s state butterfly is supposed to be the Zebra Longwing:

So designated by the 1996 Florida Legislature, it was written into the Florida statutes under the Executive Branch (Title IV), Secretary of State section (Section 15) as follows:

15.0382 Official state butterfly.—The Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius) is designated the official state butterfly. History.—s. 1, ch. 96-153.

Section 15 also designates other key state symbols established over the years, including the state pie (Key Lime, of course), state soil (Myakka fine sand), and state beverage (“The juice obtained from mature oranges of the species Citrus sinensis and hybrids thereof […]

Florida Word of the Day: Hastula

Today’s word is a botanical term, hastula, which I […]

Pro(toc)tista redux: the Phaeophyta

I’d already been planning a follow-up of my recent post on that oddball eukaryote kingdom, Pro(toc)tista, just to discuss a couple of phyla that interest me [the brown algae, which include kelp and seaweeds, and the Bacillariophyta, which include diatoms (if you were in and around swimming pools as much as I was when I was younger, you’d probably wondered what diatomaceous earth was made of)], but before I got very far on the draft, I actually received my second nonfamily nonfriend comment, this time from a student in Canada who goes by the name Psi wavefunction* and obviously knows […]

Florida word of the day: patronym

A reader commented on yesterday’s post about the use of the word patronym, which prompted me to look into the matter more closely. In my day job, I would have used the word “eponym” where the committee on ornithological names used “patronym.” After all, not only is there a problem with the etymology (patronymic, “Of, relating to, or derived from the name of one’s father or a paternal ancestor,” according to the American Heritage team), but, being gender coded, it seems not to describe those wonderful birds who code as female, like those southwestern warblers that I hope one day […]

Florida word of the day: Red-shouldered Hawk

Yes, I know it’s more of a bird of the day than a word of the day, but bear with me. My recent post about raindrops led me to venture into the realm of the compound word. With any such venture comes the inevitable discussion of the hyphen. And hyphens are a real bugaboo in bird names, as any birder can tell you. Audubon, for example, spelled Sturnella magna‘s common name with a hyphen: “Meadow-lark.” We know it as “Eastern Meadowlark.” In this instance, the dropping of the hyphen seems to be a result of overwhelming popular usage over the […]

Florida word of the day: pickerelweed

In my day job, I spend a lot of time with my nose in dictionaries and style manuals. And today, while thumbing through Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition* (you see why in the trade we call it MW11), I ran across a headword (MW11 calls them “guide words”) that I actually know something about, and, what’s more, is on topic for a blog about nature in south Florida: pickerelweed.

Here is what the MW team has to say about the plant:

pick·er·el·weed \-,wed** n (1836) : a shallow-water monocotyledonous perennial plant (Pontederia cordata) chiefly of the eastern U.S. and Canada […]

The gen(i)us of family names

Now that we have the 5 kingdoms of life straightened out (Bacteria, Protoctista, Animalia, Plantae, and Fungi), it’s time to move on in my explanation/exploration of scientific nomenclature. One of the things that had always puzzled me about the naming of things was how many different levels of organization there are. This burgeoning complexity is the result of the recent rise in cladistics and phylogenetics, which has forced biologists to rethink the good old modified Linnean system that had served us so well until, say, the 1960s. That system, with its easily memorized hierarchy (King Philip Came Over For Good […]

Complexity of organization

As human knowledge grows ever more vast, it becomes more and more difficult for the nonspecialist to keep tabs on such basic things as the classification of life. Remember back in junior high, when you “learned” that there were three basic categories of “thing”: animal, vegetable, mineral? (Actually, you probably learned to make this distinction by playing Twenty Questions, old school style–that is, out loud, with other humans, instead of on a computer.) Well, unfortunately, this distinction is now out of date.

Dealing with purely biological organisms, there are a bewildering array of classificatory schemes. At the species level, the […]