Fun Fact: Plant memory

June 2, 2022

Fun Fact: Your house plants remember when you left for holiday without watering them, and they are not happy about it.

Researchers at the University of Western Australia have shown that the sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica) can not only learn from experience but can also remember those lessons weeks later. M. pudica, is a perennial plant in the pea family (Fabaceae) and is native to the Caribbean and South and Central America. It is known for its rapid movement where it folds up its leaves as a defence mechanism when touched or otherwise suddenly stressed (nyctinastic movement). You can often find sad little M. pudica plants at nurseries that have been harassed by passers-by. Please rescue them.

The researchers from Australia found that the M. pudica they were studying for an unrelated research question quickly stopped curling their leaves in response to being ‘alarmed’ but not harmed. The authors suggest that this shows that they had learned that folding your leaves in this scenario was a waste of valuable energy. Furthermore, they found that their subjects remembered this lesson and didn’t close their leaves when exposed to the same “scary” situation a month later.

If you are interested in further reading on the M. pudica study, see their paper: Gagliano M et al. 2014. Experience teaches plants to learn faster and forget slower in environments where it matters. Oecologia, published online January 05, 2014; doi: 10.1007/s00442-013-2873-7

For a (satirical) discussion on its implications, follow this link:

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Fun Fact: Sailor’s Eyeballs

May 26, 2022

Fun Fact: The largest single-celled organism is an alga called Sailor’s Eyeballs.

Valonia ventricosa is found in tropical and subtropical ocean regions around the globe, and is one of the largest, if not the largest, single celled organisms. It is coenocytic, with several cytoplasmic domains, each with its on nucleus and set of chloroplasts, connected by cytoplasmic “bridges” of microtubules. Thanks to this structure, the single cell can grow up to 9 cm in diameter. Pretty impressive considering you need about 5 million cells to make a fly.

Because V. ventricose is such a large cell, it has been used by scientists to study the transfer of water and other fluids across biological membranes. These studies help us understand more about cellulose, the main component of the cell walls of algae and plants. It also has an unusually high electrical potential relative to the seawater around it, although no one is sure why.

And just in case you were wondering (because I know you are): yes, you can eat it, and no, it does not taste good.

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May 24, 2022

Warm welcome to Paragon’s newest additions: Michael Carson, Colin Krupnik, Felicia Larkin, Katharine Schultheiss, Tony Shao, McKayla Smith, and Haley Thun!

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Fun Fact: on Mountain gorillas

May 19, 2022

Fun Fact: Mountain gorillas live a near-constant state of flatulence because of their diet.

Eating 20 kg a day of salad could do that to anyone. A 2020 BBC documentary using animatronic cameras recorded a family of gorillas munching on leaves, twigs, and fruit. In addition to the intestinal orchestra, they also captured the gorillas singing for their supper. In an associated study published in PLOS ONE, older male gorillas were reported to be the most likely to sing and everyone was more likely to sing for salad (aquatic vegetation, flowers, and seeds) than for bugs.

You and me both.

If you’re interested in further reading, see their 2016 paper:

For a video of the “chorus”, follow this link:

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Peatland Restoration Workshop

May 18, 2022

CLRA is offering a peatland restoration workshop on June 23-24, 2022 in Manitoba.

Click on the link for more details:

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Canada Ukraine Foundation

May 12, 2022

We have raised $2,314 for the Canada Ukraine Foundation to date, which will provide aid and assistance in Ukraine and to Ukrainians seeking refuge in bordering countries. Paragon will be matching donations made at the link below to the end of May, up to $5,000, so please share with your friends and family and help provide humanitarian support to those in need.

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Fun Fact: about Sphagnum moss

May 12, 2022

Fun Fact: Sphagnum moss was so important for wound dressing during World War I that someone wrote a poem about it.

The Flanders poppy (Papaver rhoeas) thrived in the battlefields of the Western Front after exploding shells brought its dormant buried seeds to the surface. It has been the symbol of remembrance for war veterans in several countries ever since, but maybe we should also be wearing sphagnum pins in November.

Sphagnum moss was used for centuries to bind wounds suffered in battle. Warriors wounded in the battle of Clontarf (1014) stuffed their wounds with moss, and there are also records of its use from the Highlanders in the battle of Flodden (1513), and both the Crimean (1853 to 1856) and Franco-Prussian (1870-1871) wars. During the first world war, the collection and production of sphagnum moss dressings began on an industrial scale. Initially, collections were made by Scottish women and children (often boy scouts and girl guides), working for long hours in cold, wet bogs. By the end of the war, collections were being made throughout Ireland, England, Canada, and the US; Britain alone was producing 1,000,000 sphagnum dressings per month.

The process of collecting, drying, and preparing dressings for WWI soldiers was pioneered by Charles Walker Cathcart, a surgeon in Edinburgh. They were very effective. Dried sphagnum can absorb up to twenty-two times its own weight of liquid, including blood, pus, and lymph, before it starts to drip. It was far superior to inert cotton wool dressings, which were both expensive and increasingly difficult to source – cotton was used to manufacture gun cotton or nitrocellulose explosives.  The preferred species for wound dressings were S. papillosum and S. palustre. Because of their ability to absorb and hold liquids, sphagnum could also be used as surgical swabs and cushions that kept beds dry while wounds were being irrigated. Under field conditions, I can imagine that a dry bed was a good bed.

In addition to its absorptive power, Sphagnum also has antiseptic properties thanks to the pectic polysaccharides (sphagnan) contained in their cell walls. Recent research from Scandinavia (where sphagnum is used to pack fresh fish), suggests the antiseptic properties are driven by the ability of sphagnum cell walls to lower the pH of their environment sufficiently to inhibit the growth of bacterial colonies.

The following poem was written by Mrs AM Smith (1917), a member of the Edinburgh Ware Dressings Supply Organisation:

The doctors and the nurses

Look North with eager eyes,

And call on us to send them

The dressing that they prize

No other is its equal—

In modest bulk in goes,

Until it meets the gaping wound

Where the red life blood flows,

Then spreading, swelling in it’s might

It checks the fatal loss,

And kills the germ, and heals the hurt-

The kindly Sphagnum Moss

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Welcome to the team!

May 10, 2022

Join us in welcoming Olawale Talabi, Kristen Annand (back for more), Kiera Comeau, and Will Hockley to Paragon Soil!

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Fun Fact: Plants and stress

May 5, 2022

Fun Fact: Your distressed house plants are living out a silent horror movie.

A team of researchers at Tel Aviv University has recorded “high frequency distress sounds” emitted from tobacco and tomato plants. After stressing the plants by cutting their stems and depriving them of water (rude), the researchers recorded their responses with a microphone. In both cases they found the plants emitted ultrasonic sounds between 20 and 100 kilohertz, which they suggested conveyed their distress to other plants and organisms in the immediate vicinity.

The plants seemed to respond with different intensities of sound to different sources of stress. The team observed that tobacco plants “screamed” louder when they were deprived of water than when they had their stems cut. They believe that listening for sounds emitted by plants could help with precision agriculture and identify problems with crops.

If you’re interested in more reading, their paper can be found here:

But take it with a grain of salt… or a tablespoon because it was not published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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Texturing Lab

May 2, 2022

We’re ready to get our hands dirty! Here’s a peek at Konstantin Dlusskiy leading an internal soil texturing lab to keep our staff updated for another busy summer season.

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