Saturday, February 18, 2012

"Lower" Plants, Not

When I was a kid, we used to play a game called "20 Questions."  One player would think of some item - a dog, a tomato, a nail, etc. - any item that he thought others would have trouble guessing.  Then, the other players got to ask 20 yes-or-no questions and try to narrow it down to being able to guess the item before using up 20 questions.  The first question was almost always "Animal, vegetable, or mineral?"  So, when I was a kid mushrooms were vegetables, quarks and black holes hadn't been discovered, and since then many things have been discovered that cannot be properly called animal, vegetable or mineral. 
The three photos above are of things that were once considered "lower" plants, as compared to flowering plants, or even cone-bearing plants like pine trees.  The top two photos are of lichens, which are symbiotic pairings of fungi and algae.  The fungi are now in their own kingdom, co-equal with the animal and plant kingdoms.  Most taxonomies classify them according to the fungus component, but they are no longer considered plants.  Beatrix Potter of Peter Rabbit was actually a well-trained botanist and one of the first to suggest that lichens were what we now know they are.  The male scientists of her day wouldn't let her into the club, so she became an author of children's books.  The bottom photo is of a moss and it shows both gametophyte and sporophyte generations.
My spell-check feature doesn't like either of those two big words, and perhaps neither do my readers.
So, tomorrow or Monday, I will post some drawings that will attempt to explain how mosses reproduce.
On a trip this morning with my nature journaling class, I decided not to bring my camera.  It was rather cold and foggy, and we were short of time, so I didn't sketch these lichens or the moss on site.  Instead, I brought them home and photographed them against a manilla envelope.  Explanatory sketches will appear soon.


  1. I'm betting that you could teach this artificially intelligent 20-questioner a thing or two.

  2. Hi Sierrosmith: I got interrupted in the middle of this post. You can probably guess where I'm going with it. Regarding the animal/vegetable/mineral paradigm, where do we put fungi, black holes, and quarks?