Thursday, July 19, 2012

Watch Out for that Plant!

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Watch Out for that Plant!

The 1960 movie Little Shop of Horrors became a cult classic, and in 1986, it became a Broadway musical by the same name. Audrey 2, the featured creature, was modeled after the famed North Carolina plant, the Venus Flytrap.

Any child who has ever examined the Venus Flytrap will convince you that the plant has a demonic mind that makes it capture insects and eat them. The fictional Audrey 2 re-enforced that concept when she could only be fed with blood in order to survive.

In reality, the Dionaea muscipula is classified as a carnivorous plant that catches and digests animal prey through the use of sensitive hairs that trigger the plant to close its leaves. Digestion provides nutrients that the plant needs.

The native plant is found only in North and South Carolina bogs and wetlands within a 60-mile radius of Wilmington, NC. Other places have managed to cultivate the flytrap which thrives where the nutritional poverty of the soil is severe. They are generally difficult to grow and take up to five years to mature into a healthy plant.

Other plants have human characteristics that are intriguing. Ancient Greeks studied these types of plants, and during the 19th century, scientists actually thought the some plants had nerve and muscle tissue similar to that of animals.

We were visiting the Farmers’ Market in Raleigh a few weeks ago. Full of vegetables and plants of all types, it is one of my favorite places to visit. I always learn something and never leave empty handed.

My husband reached over and touched one of the small plants sitting on the shelf where we were browsing. Instantaneously, the plant folded its leaves toward each other, seemingly in an effort to protect itself from the invader. I was startled. The plant was a Mimosa pudica or mimosa plant which had leaves similar to those found on the mimosa tree.

Other species known by names such as the sensitive plant, tickle-me-plant, touch-me-not, and the humble plant fascinate people with their ability to move. Although we were taught that only animals can change location, some plants seem to move when stimulated by touch, light, or gravity.

Some plants have a survival reaction that causes them to droop, therefore making themselves look unattractive when stimulated by a possible predator that might want to eat them. Phototropism is growth toward light which occurs because the tips of the plant have a pigment that is sensitive to light.

Simply put, the cells in plants undergo changes because of a plant hormone which activates modifications in the plant cells themselves, or they move because of sensors in the plant.

If you would like to study more diagrams and explanations, Bernie’s Basics at has lots of detailed information about the plant movement topic.

Watch out for those plants because they might be watching you!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager


Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote about being on a ship surrounded by water, but not being able to drink it in his poem “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.” Although that is a work of fiction, for many people of the world, the water that is around them is unfit to drink.

That situation is impossible for most of us to imagine. We might complain about our water bill or prefer bottled over water from the tap, but the acquisition of water is not on our list of concerns. We treat water as if it were an unlimited resource. It’s not.

For 1.1 billion people, access to safe drinking water is only a dream, and by 2025 by some estimates, two thirds of the world’s population will live in countries with moderate to severe water shortages. Currently more than 5 million people per year die from water related diseases. Eighty percent of diseases found in third world countries are related to the lack of safe drinking water.

Earth rarely looses or gains water. The same water that was here millions of years ago is still present today. Water is a finite resource whose usage is increasing with population growth.

In Mozambique, the average person uses less than 10 liters of water per day, while an American uses 575 liters per day. A woman in some countries spends an average of four hours per day moving 100 kg of water over many kilometers to meet the needs of her family.

Time spent in fulfilling basic needs takes away from time that could be used for education or cultural advancement of the society.

In the United States, forty percent of the waterways are unsuitable for fishing, bathing, or drinking. Even worse, in developing countries ninety percent of sewage is dumped untreated into bodies of water.

Eight-five percent of Americans depend on public water sources while fifteen percent get their water from private sources such as wells. It seems incomprehensible that it takes 2,400 liters of water to make a single hamburger from the birth of the steer to the serving of the meal.

Likewise, we put golf courses in the middle of deserts and then pipe water out to meet their needs. In bottling 89 billion liters of water each year, we throw away 1.5 million tons of plastic, while studies show that water from the tap is just as safe as bottled water.

What can be done? Will the planet’s water issues eventually lead to violent conflicts? Will water take the place of oil as the most sought after commodity? Can we do anything to stop the problems that have been identified?

Clearly, we all must act more responsibly, or the fate of the human race may be in danger. If you would like to understand the problems, organizations like One Drop ( and All About Water ( will amaze you with information you can use.

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