Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Algae Biofuel 101

There has been a great deal of talk lately regarding the potential of algae biofuel.  I think that algae biofuel is one of the most interesting energy developments in recent years. It deals with two problems at once.  The first is obvious.  We now have $5.00 gas on Long Island and we are heavily dependent on foreign oil for our fuel.  We can reduce our dependence on petroleum, particularly imported petroleum, if we find new ways of powering our world.  Algae might just be a great solution.  Plus, algae can be grown pretty much anywhere at the surface of the earth.  The second problem algae fuels can solve is reduction of nutrient pollution of water.    We have a great deal of nutrient pollution entering surface water bodies that can be utilized for algae production.  Can we use the nutrients leaving sewage treatment plants to create algae energy farms?  What about utilizing nutrients in storm water pollution?

The algae also uses carbon dioxide in its production.  Thus, there are some benefits to locating algae production facilities near carbon dioxide emitters.  There are some small operators producing energy right now.  A larger question is how we can scale the production up to be a larger segment of the energy sector.  Might there be some benefit in co-locational energy production near carbon dioxide emitters and sewage treatment plants?

Take a look at the video with Dr. Stephen Mayfield from UC San Diego.  He explains many of the benefits of algae biofuel.

One of the critiques of algae and many of the emerging new energy sources is that they require significant investment to develop industrial scale production.  My only counter to this is that the current energy system we have is heavily subsidized by the government and we do not have a level playing field for many of these emerging technologies.

Regardless of what happens with algae, there is no doubt that we need to quickly move to new energy sources.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Click for photo credit.
I recently ran across the term "slacktivism" and had to share some thoughts on this concept with my readers.  Slacktivism is a relatively passive form of activism that has emerged in recent years to support various causes.  There are many examples of slacktivism, but the main way that slacktivism is characterized is that it doesn't take much effort by slacktivists to support a particular cause.  Thus, slacktivists may wear a wrist band, may retweet a particularly interesting and significant tweet, may buy products that in some way support a particular cause, or may post messages on Facebook.  Signing online petitions is a form of slactivism.

It is unclear whether or not slacktivism is particularly effective.  Some argue that it is not a very good way to make change and that higher risk activism is more important.  Others, however, point to the significance of Twitter and other social media in the development of the Arab Spring. 

I know that I have noticed a growth in slacktivism activity, but I never had a term for this phenomenon until now.  How are you an activist or slacktivist?  Can you think of any examples of slacktivism that has worked to produce real change?  Or is slacktivism a broader part of cultural education about particular issues?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Victory Chickens in New York City

Backyard chickens provide lots of fresh eggs
in urban areas.  Click for photo credit.
A friend of mine sent me this link to a company that provides full service backyard chicken supplies in New York City.  Believe it or not, it is legal to have chickens in your backyard in the city!  However, if you head out to neighboring Long Island, it is illegal in many areas, even though there is typically more backyard space.  I think that it is time for backyard chickens in Long Island.

If you pay $785 to Victory Chicken, you get a chicken coop, three hens, feed, a chicken run, and tons of support and information to raise your chickens.  You can also rent to own for $75 a month.  Note, I am not advertising or providing any sort of testimonial for this organization.  I am just noting that the urban agricultural system is alive and well in New York City.

What are the chicken rules in your community?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Brazil Goes Big With Science Education

Santa Catarina Brazil
Click for photo credit.
To many, the 2010 decade is all about Brazil.  Brazil has one of the largest economies in the world and the nation is booming.  They will soon be hosting the Olympics and the World Cup.  They have a 6% unemployment rate and many Americans are moving to Brazil to take advantage of many opportunities in the nation.  Of all engineers moving to Brazil, the majority of them are from the United States.  Hotel construction is way up, infrastructure and educational improvements are underway, and the nation is seeking greater visibility in global affairs.

One of the more interesting programs underway in Brazil is its Science Without Borders program.  Over the next five years, Brazil is sending 100,000 of its top undergraduate students abroad for 1 year to study science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).  Half of these students will come to the United States.  At the end of the year, the students are expected to return to Brazil to complete their degrees.

Think of the positive impact this program will have on Brazil and the host nations, particularly the US.  We will have 50,000 Brazilians visiting us over the next five years.  These students will develop friendships, business connections, and skills that will carry them through their entire lives.  Assuming most of them have a positive experience, they will be informal ambassadors for the US in Latin America.  Over the long term, the connections will certainly enhance American and Brazilian business and economic development.

One of the challenges over the next decade for Americans interested in conducting business or exploring educational opportunities with this emerging powerhouse will be language.  While there is a great deal of work done in English in Brazil, most Brazilians speak and conduct business in Portuguese.  This is similar to our own nation where we speak and conduct business in English.  Thus, Americans and Brazilians need to find ways to improve English and Portuguese language training to enhance business and educational opportunities.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Images of Spring Photo Contest

Click for photo credit.
Spring!  Has it sprung in your area?  If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, is fall on the way?  What does spring mean to you?  What images of nature or of your activities most represent spring to you?  The images could be of nature, or of cultural representations of spring.  Is it a daffodil or a St. Patrick's Day Parade?  Is it cleaning up the yard or the sight of baby rabbits?

Please send your images to me by April 30th at If you send multiple entries, I'll post up to 5 of my favorites and I'll pick one for the photo contest.  I will ask one or two of my meteorlogist/geography friends to select the winner.  The winner will get either a cool bat t-shirt or a Hofstra t-shirt.  Please describe your photos and why they represent spring to you.  I will include your descriptions in the posts. 

Please share this contest opportunity with your networks so we can have lots of great images to enjoy.

Happy almost spring!!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Winners of Photo Contest and New Contest Hint

I am pleased to announce the winners of the photo contest.  A big thanks to noted artist Barbara Roux for selecting the top three winners.  Each winner will receive a bat t-shirt from Gomez Fashion.  I am asking each winner to let me know the t-shirt size they want and I'll send them out.  All of the entries were amazing and I was so glad to feature all of the images.  They were beautiful.

Without further ado, here are the winners.

In first place, A Cardinal Grows in Brooklyn submitted by Chris Eliot.

 In second place, Artemis submitted by Patty Sohns.

In third place, Squirrel Love submitted by Carol Ellebracht.

Congratulations to all of the winners!

I will formally announce the next contest tomorrow, but here is a hint:  images of spring from 2012.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Another Wisconsin Environmental Leader: Francis Hole

Given yesterday's post on Aldo Leopold, I thought I would dedicate another post to another significant Wisconsinite who was important to the evolution of environmental science, Francis Hole.  He literally wrote the book on soils of Wisconsin.  He was a prolific writer, as you can see from this list of his work.

When I was studying soils, geology, urban ecology, archaeology, and physical geography at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Francis Hole's writings were required reading.  He had the most amazing reputation.  People I knew who had courses with him at UW-Madison loved him.  He also led many field trips and he was rather famous for playing the violin and telling stories and singing songs.

He is probably best known for his work in developing ideas connecting soils, landscapes, and ecosystems.    He was passionate about teaching others about soils.  He wrote music, poetry, and even a puppet play about soils, and the environment in general.

He was a great advocate for the state of Wisconsin to have a state soil, and due to his lobbying efforts, the official State Soil is the Antigo Silt Loam.  He even wrote a song about the soil.   The video with this blog post showcases the song.  While Hole claimed that the soil was selected due to its significance in the state, I suspect it is partly because it is a soil type found near where Aldo Leopold was inspired to write A Sand County Almanac.

I met Francis Hole once when he came to give a colloquium at UW-Milwaukee after his retirement.  I can't remember the year, but I suspect it was when I was finishing my Masters in the mid 1980's.  While I don't remember the date, I remember the topic distinctly.  The talk was on a type of soil he called a vibrasol.  The idea was completely out of the box.  Near the end of his career, he explained, he became interested in how animals, including humans, impacted soils due to their daily activities.  He believed the vibrations animals made in some way had an effect on soils.  It is too bad he never got a chance to complete research on this topic.

Regardless, he was a giant of the past and someone who should be remembered for not only his contribution to the field of soil science, but also for his contribution to the broader culture.  He helped to educate the public about the significance of soils and the environment through his research, poetry, music, and outreach.

Monday, February 20, 2012

America's First Professor of Game Management

Aldo Leopold.  Click for photo credit.
I ran across this article today from the Long Island Press about new Sport Fishing regulations in New York.  For the most part, the regulations are in place to protect the species of fish to ensure that there are populations available for sport fishing in the future.  The article led me to reflect on the life of Aldo Leopold, who I have mentioned before in some other posts.

If you are not familiar with his work, Aldo Leopold wrote The Sand County Almanac, one of the more influential environmental books of the 20th century.  In it, he outlined the idea of a land ethic, or the notion that there needed to be an ethical framework around the protection of the planet.  Without such an ethic, ecosystem collapse and the future of human civilization would be at state.

Leopold was the one of the first graduates of the Yale School of Forestry.  He worked as a forester in some of the National Forests in the west and eventually wrote the first management plan for the Grand Canyon.  He developed long-standing ideas about game and fish management in public lands.  Eventually, he became this nation's first professor of game management at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  His work was extremely influential in the development of land management and ecosystem research.  His work also set the stage for the development of many of the environmental rules we have in place today.

The fact that we have healthy populations of fish and wildlife on many of our private and public lands is the result, in part, of Aldo Leopold's work.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Eagle Webcam in Wisconsin

Click for photo credit.
My sister sent me a cool link to a webcam of an eagle nest that was just completed. I thought I would share it with you. Click here for access.  My sister's email described the cam perfectly so I am quoting her email below:

"I think you might enjoy a look at this site.  It's a site where they have a camera on a bald eagles' nest in Blair, Wisconsin which is in Trempeleau County in the west.  We were watching today, and it looks to me like they are about ready to lay their egg(s).  The giant nest of branches looks sturdy, and now they have put soft grasses in the middle.  It really gets fascinating when the eggs hatch.  I've watched other eagles' nests and it's a lot of fun to see the whole process unfold.  By the end of the summer, the babies are bigger than the adults.  They don't have the bald eagle coloring though for a couple of years.  The babies are black and look like giant crows by the time they leave the nest.  This year I decided to watch Wisconsin eagles.  This site is kind of extra fun because it's done by a class of little school kids (and their teacher of course), and they write updates and there are photos, etc.  You have to just click around to see everything that is there."


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Green Streets

Bioswale used for storm water management in
Portland, Oregon.  Click for photo credit.
I've been noticing more and more discussion of green streets programs in the academic literature.  If you poke around some of the academic article websearch sites, you'll find plenty of info.  If you want some background on green streets, this website has a great deal of information that you might find useful.  Green streets are roadways that are designed in concert with nature, particularly local hydrology, to reduce storm water pollution and promote ecosystem health.  In addition, they are designed to provide space for pedestrians and bikers along with automobiles.

Most early highway and roadway construction did not take into account issues like storm water management.  Therefore, expensive infrastructure to deal with water running off of streets was developed in the form of storm water sewers or drainage ditches.  If roadways are designed with local hydrology in mind, there is less of a need for such heavy handed engineering approaches to move water from place to place.  This article provides quite a great deal of information about the benefits of green streets and green infrastructure initiatives.  It highlights the importance of saving money and reducing carbon emissions in the development of green streets programs.

Friday, February 17, 2012

How Not To Do Economic Development

Pathway on the USF Campus.  One
legislator is seeking to cut the USF
budget by 60%.  Click for photo credit.
I've been following with some sadness the developments at my former workplace, the University of South Florida, where a single legislator is holding a budgetary ax over the university, largely, it is thought, due to the reluctance of USF to grant autonomy to a very small branch campus in that legislator's district.  The backstory of the issue is here.  The bottom line is that USF is scheduled to receive nearly a 60% budget cut in one year with other Florida schools receiving around 25%.  I wish all the best to USF President Genshaft and her team in navigating these difficult waters.

I don't want to get into the politics of the situation at USF or the issues between USF and the Lakeland campus.  Much has been written about the situation in the press.  Just do a Google search for "USF Budget Cuts" and you'll get plenty of background.

However, I would like to discuss this issue from a purely economic development standpoint.  Across the country, teams of leaders are developing regional economic development plans to try to find a way out of the current economic malaise that we find ourselves in at the present time.  In reviewing these plans, one thing stands out as a key determinant for success:  an educated workforce.

As we face the mounting issues of globalization in our post-industrialized nation, we have to find ways to compete in the global market.  All research on economic development points to the significance of developing strong skilled labor markets in order to attract innovation.  Industries need engineers, scientists, writers, artists, and innovators. Even in tough budget times, it is important to make decisions as to how to develop an educational system that will meet a region's needs in the future.

In Long Island, for example, many educational leaders are focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math education through the Empire State STEM Learning Network and through a new partnership with Long Island universities and institutions to develop new technology firms in the region.  This effort, called Accelerate Long Island, is part of a broader economic development plan for the island that has the full support of political leaders, educational institutions, the state government, and key stakeholders.  This effort is happening at the same time that many educational institutions and governments are facing really tough budgetary decisions.  The point is that everyone is rowing in the same direction.

The message from Long Island is clear: We are working together for the greater good of the region in tough times in order to create a better future.

Let us return to Florida.  The Tampa area has a 10% unemployment rate.  Florida has an economy that is highly dependent on low-paying service jobs. The state ranks dead last for per capita state government expenditures for education.  The state ranks 41st in SAT scores.  It is a region that has a strong need for both economic development and an educational emergency room.

Ever since the state legislature dismantled the Board of Regents in 2001 over issues of affirmative action and local control, each state university has acted largely as an independent entity that had to react to a highly politicized and largely anti-education legislative body and governor.  Chancellor Adam Herbert got it right when he said in 2000 that "eliminating the Board of Regents and establishing separate boards at each university would create a dog-eat-dog situation, with annual battles over higher education dollars."  I am not sure that Chancellor Herbert could have predicted that the situation would eventually pit branch campus against main campus within the same local university.

The latest legislative shenanigans over Florida's educational system suggest that it's time to bring some independence to the University system in order to restore credibility to those seeking to develop an educated workforce in Florida.  I do not know if the Florida legislature understands the national and international damage their politicization of higher education does to the potential economic development of the region.  Tampa's former popular mayor, Pam Iorio gets it and wrote about this issue in a recent op-ed.

It seems that there are two logical paths.  USF could seek to become an independent university completely off the state dime.  Given that the budget cuts are nearly 60%, the headaches of being beholden to a hostile partner hardly seems worth the 40%.  However, if cooler heads prevail, it may be wise for leaders to work together to bring back an independent university system within the context of a non-politicized Board of Regents.

It really is up to the people of Florida.  Where do you want to be in 25 years?  If you want a future with high-paying jobs and a strong economy, you need an educated work force and a credible higher education system.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Reforestation of the American South and New England

Click for photo credit.
For a number of reasons, I've been thinking about sustainable forestry recently and I was reflecting on John Fraser Hart's piece in the Southeastern Geographer about the reforestation of the American South.  Indeed, there has been a great deal of reforestation of many areas of North America, particulary in the American South and northern New England.  Much of the reforestation is in the form of monoculture of trees grown for timber or paper manufacturing, but there are some areas that are part of broad wildlands that have grown over abandoned agricultural fields. 

As the North American population becomes more and more urban, I expect we will see a continuing trend of wildness across many former agricultural landscapes.  I think that this is particularly true because we are seeing greater productivity on corporatized agricultural lands and a significant growth in intensively farmed small operations in cities and suburban landscapes. 

One of the challenges for these new wildlands will be their development in concert with the many exotic species that have come into North America from all over the world.  For example, we have seen animals like the boa constrictor already have an impact on the Everglades and there are many examples of exotic plants that have transformed many landscapes.  Plus, these wildernesses are developing on places that are cut with roadways and power lines and that have altered natural systems due to the supression of fire, changes of hydrology, and soil erosion. 

These new evolving wildernesses are certainly a welcome addition to the North American landscape.  It will be interesting to see how they emerge in the coming decades.  The wilderness won't be the same as it was prior to development.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Human Trafficking on Long Island and New York

My old friend and school chum Beth Larson, who is on the faculty at Arizona State's School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, posted information on her Facebook page about human trafficking work being done in Arizona.  It reminded me of a study that was done at Hofstra about human trafficking in our neck of the woods by Sociology Professor Greg Maney and his students.  Some of that work is discussed in the below video.  And you can listen to a brief discussion about the research here.

According to the report, there are over 11,000 survivors of human trafficking in the New York metro region and over 1,600 seek assistance every year.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Camellias for My Blogoversary

Happy Valentine's Day!  It's also my blogoversary.  So, in honor of both, I have lots of photos of camellias for you to enjoy.

The camellias in the camellia greenhouse at Planting Fields Arboretum are in the full peak of bloom.  Camellias are native to Asia and are treasured in Japan and China as landscape plants.  They were introduced as exotic plants to Europe in the 18th century.  Interestingly, the tea we all like is a variety of camellia.

In the United States, camellias are used as a landscape plant mainly in the southeast where there is abundant moisture and acidic soils.  They do particularly well in moist areas of USDA zones 7-9, although there are cold hearty varieties available.  I've seen a number of them planted on Long Island.

The American Camellia Society website probably has more information about camellias than you could ever imagine, but here is a link in case you are interested.  They even have great advice for photographers of camellias, which I probably should have read before taking the pictures below over the weekend.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thanks for visiting and being part of my blog.  Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Interesting New York Storm Water Lawsuit Decision

Storm water running off our homes can pick up pollutants
on its path to surface water bodies such as Long Island
Sound.  Click for photo credit.
Check out this decision (I know, it's long and full of legal jargon) from the New York Supreme Court on storm water pollution.  For those of you who don't know, storm water pollution is difficult to manage because it is essentially non-point pollution that comes from multiple sources into water bodies during rain or snowfall events.  There are a number of ways to manage storm water pollution such as watershed management, pollution reduction, treatment facilities, and water retention ponds.

The case in question focused on the ability of New York state and local governments to meet the requirements established by the Clean Water Act to reduce pollution in surface water bodies.  The courts found that there were three current problems that needed to be rectified.  They noted that there was a lack of oversight of local storm water plans to allow for the effective certification of results.  In addition, they noted that where there have been set targets for total maximum daily loads of pollutants (TMDL's) that there was not enough scheduling and benchmarking of reduction targets.  Finally, the courts ruled that there was not enough of an attempt to seek public participation in the development of community storm water management schemes.  For a more detailed review, click here.

Storm water pollution reduction is a difficult undertaking.  It has been done with great success in many communities, but it requires a total watershed approach to developing approaches to meet pollution reduction goals.  On Long Island, one of the barriers to total watershed management is that there are many local governments throughout the region with widely different forms and capacities for environmental management.  Nevertheless there are many organizations working on storm water pollution issues in the region that are striving to develop region-wide approaches to storm water management.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Barbara Roux's Environments on Exhibit at Hofstra Museum

Barbara Roux describing one of her installations at
the Emily Lowe Gallery at Hofstra University.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
I had the pleasure of taking my class to the opening of Barbara Roux's new show, Environments, at the Hofstra Museum's Emily Lowe Gallery.  Ms. Roux uses a variety of media in the show, but the work is largely an exhibit of photography and sculptural elements.  The work includes poetic pieces.

Her photographs are not manipulated by computer processes or programs.  They are not cropped or digitally enhanced.  Instead, she works within her location to obtain images that have meaning.  Most of her photographs are of the North Shore region of Long Island.  For my readers outside of the area, this is a highly developed portion of Long Island on the Long Island Sound that contains a number of small towns separated by scattered estates, parks, and preserves.  Finding nature is not easy.  Thus, her photographs show a selected landscape that is hanging on, that is under stress, and that is special.

One feels this stress in her work.  She highlights the unusual--a tree fallen in a small landslide, a seasonal vernal pool, a crane caught in an awkward moment of flight.  All of these glimpses are fleeting.  There are several sculptural elements in her show as well that are manipulated found natural objects.  My favorite piece was of a series of apple tree tops that she found in an orchard.  She turned them into a series of what appear to be hoop-skirted headless women doing a tragic gavotte.  The reference to the brokenness of nature is evident in this piece.  But other sculptural pieces speak to the resilience of nature.  My students enjoyed a piece that Ms. Roux described in the opening as representing Roman armor.  She described the way that trees and nature build protective layers.  I think this exhibit speaks volumes about nature in a threatened landscape.

If you get a chance to see the exhibit, stop by!  It's worth going for inspiration and ideas.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Entries in Photo Contest and Update on the Judging

I got some amazing photo entries in the photo contest.  Here they are in all their splendor.  I really appreciate the time folks took in sending in their images.  I received photos from as far away as Australia, and as close as Brooklyn.  All of the photos represent nature near where the photographer lives.  It is really a lovely collection representing a variety of environments and I am very pleased to be able to have them all here on my blog as a collection.

I was struggling over how to vote for the winner, given the nature of online polls.  However, I made an amazing new friend, the noted conservation photographer Barbara Roux, who has kindly agreed to select the winner.  I am going to do a post on her work soon.  She currently has a show on at the Hofstra Museum of Art.  Given that I am changing the rules, I am asking Barbara to pick three winners.  One best in show, and two others in any category she wishes.

So, without further ado, here are the entries in order they were received.  Click on the title for a backlink to where they were described.

Pine Lily

Squirrel Love
Baby Cardinals
Pink Sky

Nature Reclining

Gastro Korda
Pink Tabebuia
Cardinal in Brooklyn

Thursday, February 9, 2012

New York Tidal Wetland Classification

The Hudson River shoreline is home to unique freshwater
tidal ecosystems that extend to Troy, New York.
Click for photo credit.
In follow up to yesterday's post about the wetland mapping tool from the National Wetlands Inventory folks, I am providing this link about tidal wetlands classification in New York State.  What is unique to me about some of the wetlands ecosystems in the state is that there are a number of freshwater tidal wetlands.

I am used to Florida and Gulf Coast tidal wetlands that are mainly saltwater or estuarine in nature.  The salt marshes and mangrove swamps edge almost the entire coast of Florida.  However, New York is home to a variety of different freshwater wetlands along the Hudson River and its tributaries where they are impacted by tidal variations.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wetlands Mapper

I have been having lots of fun playing with this Wetland Mapper tool from the US Fish and Wildlife's National Wetlands Inventory.

You can zoom into your area and examine the kinds of wetlands that are in your neighborhood or almost anywhere else in the United States.  The image below shows wetlands near where I live in Long Island.  Try it out for yourself!

Click image for larger size.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Space Age Conservatory

A mid-century modern conservatory.
(photo by Bob Brinkmann)
Since a recent post focused on the gilded age conservatory, I thought I would do a quick post about one of my favorite places in Wisconsin--a space-age conservatory that is part of the Milwaukee County Park system.

The height of the domes allows for the growth of large
plants.  (photo by Bob Brinkmann)
The conservatory, known formally as the Mitchell Park Conservatory and informally as The Domes, was constructed to replace an older conservatory that existed on the site.

An architectural competition was held and the winning design was a significant departure from designs used for previous greenhouses and conservatories.  Instead of square or rectangular structures, the designer used a space age circular floor plan and beehive dome greenhouses.

The "Domes" opened in 1967 with Ladybird Johnson in attendance to dedicate the Floral Show Dome.

The design is clearly among the highlights of mid-century modern public architecture.  The three domes consist of a desert habitat, a tropical habitat, and a floral show dome with changing displays.

Seeing the other habitat domes from another dome adds
to the space-age feel of the conservatory.
(photo by Bob Brinkmann)
What is interesting about the experience of visiting the Domes is that one does feel like one is in a habitat.  Because the construction uses no supports other than the dome form itself, there are unobstructed views of landscapes.  Plus, the height of the dome allows the display of tall plants such as large cacti and tropical trees.

The tropical habitat. (photo by Bob Brinkmann)
The show dome has changing exhibits and is home to competitive flower shows, holiday and seasonal displays, and a variety of other activities.  During my visit over the weekend, the Domes hosted an interesting and fanciful model train display.  Model trains in botanical gardens seem to be a trend.  There is even a magazine you can purchase that focuses exclusively on model trains in botanical gardens.

The design and content of the Domes clearly speak to a different time compared with the gilded age conservatories that were built just a few decades earlier.  Instead of ornate details and spaces that focused on individuals plants, the focus is more on habitats and landscapes.  The built places feel more like refuges than collections.  The concentration is away from the exotic and to the natural.

The show dome has changing displays.  During my recent
visit it housed a model train show.
(photo by Bob Brinkmann)
The interior places also feel very different from collections greenhouses.  They feel more like plant zoos that seek to display the plants within a distinct natural habitat and setting.  While there is certainly a great deal of important education and plant preservation taking place at the Domes, the intent is to place the plants within the context of their environment.  The Domes do not display every variety of a particular type of tropical or desert plant as is done in many collection conservatories.  Instead the Domes provides an understanding of how different plants work within their environment.

Even the information that is displayed is different from most other conservatories.  Of course there is information about plants.  But significantly there is a tremendous amount of information about climate conditions and ecosystem function.  Thus, the Domes are indicative of the importance of ecosystems within the scientific community in the 1950's and 1960s.

It must be noted that Aldo Leopold was from Wisconsin and his work on ecosystems must have informed the discussion of the times.

If you are ever in the Midwest, it is worth taking a trip to Wisconsin to see the Domes at Mitchell Park.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Cardinal Grows in Brooklyn

Colleague Chris Eliot sent along this image of a cardinal near his apartment in Brooklyn for entry in the photo contest.  It is a lovely image.

There is something very Brooklyn about the image.  I don't know if it is the fence the lighting, or the vegetation.

There are only 4 days left in the photo contest so if you've been thinking about sending one in, now's the time.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Pink Tabebuia at USF Botanical Gardens

Good friend Laurie Walker, the Director of the USF Botanical Gardens, sent me these two images of the pink Tabebuia tree that is in bloom at the  Gardens.  It is one of my favorite trees on the garden grounds.  To read more about the Tabebuia, follow this link.  I asked her if I could enter one of the photos in the photo contest and she agreed.  So, I am entering the close-up of the pink flowers.

If you haven't been to the gardens, they are a gem.  You can read about their new children's activity area here.  The gardens is one of the centers of sustainability education in west-central Florida.  One of my favorite things that they do is offer bee-keeping workshops.  If you live in Florida, and want to be a bee wrangler, you can take a workshop and learn the craft.  They have trained hundreds of bee keepers.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Australian Entry In Photo Contest

Noted Australian botanist and friend Peter Jobson sent in four photos for entry in the photo contest.  He provided descriptions of them in two groups below.  I love them all, but I pick Gastro Korda for entry in the contest.

This is the famous Pilbara region where Australia is being the powerhouse for China in supplying tons & tons of iron ore every year. These spectacular ranges – The Hamersley Ranges have rocks that are around 2.2-2.4 billion years old & are some of the oldest rocks on the planet.

MineTP is a typical sight – low spinifex grass, open patches between plants & sparse shrubby to low tree overstory. These ranges are also the home or refugia to a number of rare & threatened plants & animals. Eremmag is one such photo; Eremophila magnifica subsp magnifica is restricted to about 2-3 mountain ranges, there are at least 4 plant species unique to these ranges. Bye Bye! Thanks man’s greed.

The mine.
GastroKoorda & MatchstickBanksia were taken last spring in the lower quadrant bethind Perth known as the wheatbelt. Ancient river systems – that were the same when Australia broke off from Antarctica have now become a series of salt lakes & drainage systems that only connect during extreme weather conditions. Altho the soil is poor – various Cretaceous or older sands – this area is very dry & ideal for wheat & sheep production. This region is one of the most botanically rich regions on the planet and all that remains are narrow road side easements (reserves) surrounded by massive pasture. This pea is not threatened, but there are many species that are. One such species is the Miatchstick Bankisa (final photo). I too this pic for a virtual pew coutage for friends who were eloping & one of them with bone marrow cancer. A special couple. Anyway, this species is known from about 10 populations. All small – usually 10-30 individual plants & almost all along narrow road easements. This one was found in the remains of a gravel scrape. The soil here is awful – laterite gravel or rock & thus the species diversity.

Gastro Korda

Matchstick Banksia

Friday, February 3, 2012

Green Bronx Machine

A colleague of mine sent me a link to the video below of a great TEDx talk.  It focuses on an educational program in the New York School system focused on gardening and farming.  I love the energy of the presenter and he is certainly an inspiration.  The statistics he quotes about the success of the program provides evidence to the value of these types of applied, hands-on programs.

The video demonstrates that food is the key to getting folks involved in the new sustainability movement. As I've mentioned in an earlier post, there has been a five-fold increase in the number of young adults in New York State identifying themselves as farmers over the last ten years.  I believe that much of that growth comes in the form of small urban and suburban gardens and farms that employ people to grow local and healthy food.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Groundhog Day, Imbolc, Candlemas and the Environment

February 2 is a day we note as Groundhog Day in American culture.  The roots of it come from Germanic traditions in Pennsylvania.  Today, the largest celebration is in Punxsutawney.  Supposedly, if a groundhog comes out of its burrow and sees its shadow we will have six more weeks of winter.  I know that I have many readers from outside the US, so here is an article from the Washington Post to explain Groundhog Day a little bit more.

Does Groundhog Day foretell the start of spring where
you live?  This is a photo of my garden fountain in
Florida taken in January a few years ago.
Growing up in Wisconsin, I never really "got" Groundhog Day.  We ALWAYS had six more weeks of winter after February 2.  When I moved to Florida, winter was pretty much over by February 2, so the idea of six more weeks of winter made no sense and I didn't pay any attention.  All the hoopla seemed silly and out of step with modern life.

What is evident to me in reflecting about Groundhog Day is that it is a celebration tied to a particular climate.  The roots of it have been traced to northern Europe where there were pre-Christian pagan celebrations tied to Imbolc.  With the advent of Christianity, Candlemas took the place of Imbolc in the calendar and, not surprisingly, there are similar meanings and symbols associated with the two celebrations.

Imbolc probably emerged as a celebration to mark the first stirrings of spring.  This is the time of year in many northern climates where winter has peaked.  Farm animals start to become more active, and the earliest plants emerge.  If you look at the climate averages for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the closest weather station near Punxsutawney, you will see that February is warmer than January.  It receives less snow.  And, it has fewer very cold days compared with January.

So in many ways, Groundhog Day is a day to celebrate the nadir of winter.  We only get warmer from here.  It is a time to plan gardens, plot summer vacations, and look for the emerging signs of spring.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Update on Photo Contest and Plastic Eating Fungi

A photo from your garden would be a good
entry in the photo contest.  This is one from
garden in Florida.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
We have ten days left in the photo contest and some of you have inquired how/where to submit photos.  I am looking for any photo representing nature near where you live.  The photo can be recent or older.  You can send the photo to my personal address at  All photos must be received by February 10.  After that date, I will set up a voting system for viewers of the blog to vote on the best photo.  The winner will get a cool bat t-shirt.

Also, Terry Brock sent me this interesting article about students discovering a plastic eating fungus in the jungles of Ecuador.  Hopefully, we can develop a way to bioremediate plastic to keep it from lasting an eternity and ending up a stratigraphic marker for the anthropocene.  You can read Terry's interesting blog here.  He focuses on archaeology, higher education, leadership, and life in general.