Tag Archives: Gould

Peaceful coexistence: Cistus monspeliensis– narrow-leaved rockrose. (And the biologist Steven Rose)

Peaceful coexistence* has been in short supply in a week which has seen protests against an anti-Islamic film no-one has watched reach murderous heights, and the continuing civil war in Syria. No,  I haven’t decided to make this a political blog – just that the theme of coexistence seemed to emerge from the content that I’d planned.

Firstly, the plant: Cistus monspeliensis. Like most of the many species in the Cistus genus, this is a low shrub mostly seen in the borderlands between the Mediterranean plain and the mountains, in the dry garrigue and the sauveplaine (wooded plateau).  The petals of the flowers look like crumpled tissue paper, and only last one day. This species, first described near Montpellier, is one of the smallest and lowest, and is distinguished by the long narrow leaves which give it its name.

The name Cistus comes from the same root as chest, meaning that the seed capsule is like a little box (not very like, in my opinion). Rose originally meant any beautiful flower, not necessarily like a member of the Rosa genus. So you have Corn Rose (=poppy) and Rose of Sharon (= a Hypericum species from Sharon in Israel). Keeping this connection to the Middle East, species of Cistus were among the first plants brought back from the Eastern Mediterranean to Western Europe in the 17th century by the early plant collectors (such as Pierre Belon), including C. creticus, which produces a fragrant gum called ladanum, one of the components of myrrh. I’ll come back to this topic with other rockrose species.

The production of gum or oil is just one of the clever adaptations of this species to very dry rocky hillsides. Many species develop associations between their roots and a truffle fungus of the Tuber family. This is mutually beneficial: the fungus gets the nutrients produced by the plant, and the plant benefits from the wide-ranging fungal threads and their ability to extract minerals from very poor soil. The fungus also produces a toxin which inhibits other plants from germinating, giving the Cistus a clear field.

One oddity of Cistus is that its seeds are very water-resistant, and so can’t absorb water to germinate unless they have been first cracked open by heat, usually from a wild fire. Thus after a fire when all else has been frazzled and cleared, the seedlings again have a clear field. In fact Cistus is so successful that the white-flowered species are often parasitised by another plant, Cytinus hypocistus, which lacks chlorophyll.

I’m also using the rose connection to present some of the ideas of a biologist I very much admire, Steven Rose, Open University Professor of Biology and Neurobiology.  He has been a longstanding opponent of the use of genetics as a simple explanation, for example in psychology, and was a co-writer of the radical book Not in our genes (1984). Why is he – a biochemist researching memory –  in a botany blog? Because I think that, like Stephen Jay Gould (a friend and colleague of Rose’s), he explains evolution and how all living things grow in a more convincing way than most (there’s a video of Gould doing that here). I wish that I’d been taught by Rose (born 1938) when I went to university to study physiology in 1970, since he answers many of the objections I felt then to reductionist science.

In his book Lifelines (1997) – which I recommend strongly –   he outlines his approach of seeing every organism, plant and animal, as having an evolutionary and developmental history – a lifeline – without which its present biology cannot be understood. He quotes the geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky: ‘Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution’. He views the genes as only part of the inherited DNA (a view amply borne out recently by the Encode project), and achieving expression only in cooperation with the biochemistry of the cell – and beyond that, with the wider environment. His analogy is that the DNA may be the sheet music, but the cell contains the orchestra which must interpret it. This puts him on a collision course with those he calls ‘ultra Darwinists’ such as Richard Dawkins (author of The Selfish Gene, among other titles), who view the gene as paramount, as if it were a CD and the body merely a machine for playing and copying it, like a CD player. This emerges in a video I found (here) of the two of them debating on a balcony poised high above Tate Modern’s turbine hall.

 

I watched, anxious that one might become so angry he would push the other off – particularly because in Lifelines Rose uses the metaphor of a cliff to describe reductionism (the idea that biology can be reduced to biochemistry, that to chemistry, and then that to physics) and imagines that Dawkins has wandered off this cliff.   Luckily Rose doesn’t try to demonstrate to Dawkins the literal truth of this image, and in fact what we get is peaceful coexistence between scientists.

To conclude by returning to the political dimension: Rose was brought up in a Jewish family, but says he became an atheist at the age of 8. He has interpreted the application of Marxist ideas to biology, and came to controversial prominence recently by calling for an academic boycott of Israel, arguing that Israeli universities discriminated against Israeli Palestinians and collaborated with the Israeli Army.

* The phrase was coined by Khruschev, the leader of the USSR after Stalin, during a visit to Britain in 1956.  He said: ‘You do not like Communism.   We do not like capitalism.   There is only one way out – peaceful co-existence’. This was before the Cuban crisis – probably not the first example of the gap between words and deeds of politicians.

The music: I thought longer and harder about this than usual. I’ve decided on a track from the remarkable album Blue Camel, by the oud player Rabih Abou-Khalil. He was born and brought up in Beirut, then went to Germany and now lives in France. The musicians on the album include the Anglo-Canadian Kenny Wheeler on trumpet, Americans Charlie Mariano on sax and Steve Swallow on bass, and Puerto Rican Milton Cardona on congas, among others. It’s a really successful fusion, all players in touch with both their reflective and swinging sides: musical coexistence. I recommend the whole album, but here’s one of the more upbeat, jazzier numbers, Tsarka.

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The Toadflax Saga – episode two

In tonight’s episode: a long-lost cousin turns up, Lin gets called a monster by a Swede, Charles reverts to type, and alternative views of life battle for the Gould medal.

(If that’s all too much, skip to the end for a film on the dangers of wearing a large cardboard saxophone in public)

 

Before diving into the tangled story of Linaria again, here’s the cousin: a similar plant which has also been reclassified by botanists. It’s Misopates orontium, known in English not very flatteringly as Weasel’s Snout, also as Lesser Snapdragon – which is not a surprise because it used to be in the Antirrhinum (snapdragon) genus. These family and name changes remind me of soap-opera storylines: I can imagine the reclassified species crying:  ‘But I just don’t know who I am anymore!’

 Linaria and the snapdragons have had cameo roles to play in the long-running story of evolution (Beast-enders? Sorry). It all started with the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus  (1707-78, above), Professor of Medicine at Uppsala University, and perhaps  the most important biologist  of the 18th century.  In a colossal labour he brought together all that was known about plants in the whole world till that point, and if that wasn’t enough he included all animals as well in his great monument, the binomial system of names for all living things (i.e. genus  and species ).

In 1742 a botanical student named Liöberg  found, growing on an island near Stockholm, a plant whose flowers resembled those of Linaria vulgaris but which instead of being symmetrical either side of a vertical plane (known as zygomorphic), were radially symmetrical (or actinomorphic), having five equal petals and five spurs.  Here is a photo of a modern version, from a blog which tells this story too – well  worth a look here.

 

Eventually this conundrum came the way of Linnaeus, who was most discomfited by the discovery, since he believed strongly that all species were created separately by God and hence could not change.  He assumed it must be a hybrid with an unknown plant and in 1744 called the plant Peloria – the Greek for ‘monster’. The example was discussed by Charles Darwin over a century later, when he had  studied the snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) in detail : the members of this similar genus also hybridise easily and show occasional radial symmetry. Darwin showed that peloric flowers were not hybrids but bred true, and published his findings in 1868 in The variation of plants and animals under domestication .  He regarded it as a possible reversion to a previous evolutionary stage, describing it as:

… an actual, though partial, return to the structure of the ancient progenitor of the group. If this view be correct, we must believe that a vast number of characters, capable of evolution, lie hidden in every organic being. But it would be a mistake to suppose that the number is equally great in all beings. We know, for instance, that plants of many orders occasionally become peloric; but many more cases have been observed in the Labiatæ and Scrophulariaceæ than in any other order; and in one genus of the Scrophulariaceæ, namely Linaria, no less than thirteen species have been described in a peloric condition.  On this view of the nature of peloric flowers, and bearing in mind what has been said with respect to certain monstrosities in the animal kingdom, we must conclude that the progenitors of most plants and animals, though widely different in structure, have left an impression capable of redevelopment on the germs of their descendants.

(The variation of plants and animals under domestication [1868] , Ch. 13, available here)

Later still, when the science of genetics had developed, it was assumed that the ‘monster’ of radial symmetry or ‘pelorism’ was due to the mutation of a gene.  Recently it has been shown that in fact vertically symmetrical (zygomorphic) and peloric flowers have the same genes, and the difference is in how they are controlled by ‘an extensive, heritable methylation of the gene’( more detail here).

This is the sort of half-chance that can be seized on by anyone with an anti-Darwin axe to grind.  For example, by Googling Linaria and evolution I came across a website apparently about Darwin, and on it a blog post for April 3rd 2011 (here),  in which the author recounts the Peloria story but concludes that since the genes are the same in peloric and non-peloric plants there is no mutation and hence ‘the foundational evidence for evolution is a legacy of facade and outright fraud.’ Despite the author’s  having a biological degree, this seems to be because he has confused the fact that one gene is identical in the two plants, with the idea that the whole DNA of the two forms is identical – well, that combined with misunderstanding of how science develops and some wilful bias. He concludes that: ‘The Linaria story highlights why evolution, while once a theory in crisis during the twentieth century, is now in crisis without a theory’.

Though in the story he tells he makes it clear he is nostalgic for the days of Linnaeus’s religious beliefs, the name of the site, the nature of the posts, and his account of himself appear scientific and do not mention a religious view. In his section about himself the author writes that his site:

….  presents the history of evolution with a time-line of discoveries, people, and ideas. With over a century of unprecedented biological research since the publication of The Origin of Species, now is the time to reflect on the scientific evidence of evolution. This blog is a forum for focusing on one of today’s hottest and contentious topics – evolution.

I can imagine a school student looking for essay material helping  themselves to a lot of this – I was a psychology lecturer and I know all about cut-and-paste essays.  The concealment of  the real purpose of  blogs like this seems to me to be both deliberate and  dishonest:  hoping to attract students and steer them towards unfounded opinions and wilful misinterpretations which masquerade as scientific evidence written by a scientist.

This author is not the only one – his ‘Reference Library’ gives a list of people who have published religious tracts dressed up as respectable science – I have come across some  before, for example a man who has put biology videos on Youtube which don’t mention his real agenda.

All this subterfuge is not accidental.  A couple of posts ago I mentioned Stephen Jay Gould and his unwavering campaign, together  with the American Civil Liberties Union, against the teaching of creationism in schools. Promoters of the literal truth of Genesis used to have American law on their side:  all teaching of evolution in schools was banned till as recently as 1968, when the proscription was overturned.  However, even then, as Gould notes in this article,  biology textbook publishers continued to cater for the religious market by not mentioning evolution in books aimed at schools – so that he himself, one of the theory’s most eloquent exponents, could not study it until he went to college.  From that point the only channel left open to creationists was to present their ideas as ‘science’ and to demand time on the science curriculum – a strategy tried in Arkansas and defeated in court in 1981 with the aid of Gould on the witness stand.  The battle is far from over and clearly this strategy of deception is still the path of a many producers of professional-looking internet resources.

I leave the last words to Gould:

The argument that the literal story of Genesis can qualify as science collapses on three major grounds: the creationists’ need to invoke miracles in order to compress the events of the earth’s history into the biblical span of a few thousand years; their unwillingness to abandon claims clearly disproved, including the assertion that all fossils are products of Noah’s flood; and their reliance upon distortion, misquote, half-quote, and citation out of context to characterize the ideas of their opponents. [Stephen Jay Gould, “The Verdict on Creationism”, The Skeptical Inquirer, Winter 87/88, pg. 186]

Now, that saxophone: I was overjoyed to find that the cleverly named Polish band Pink Freud have released a video which just seems made for this blog post:

Coming up next: a lovely flower, a short write-up, and a perfect song.

 

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Appearances can be deceptive: Eryngium campestre (field eryngo)

 

So this is another thistle in the garrigue, right? Wrong. It’s not a member of the thistle family at all – they’re with daisies, cornflowers and chicory in the family Asteraceae (used to be called Compositae), and Eryngium is, like fennel,  in the family Apiaceae (used to be Umbelliferae).  One clue is in the repeated branching of the stem into umbels (stalks or rays branching off from one point), and  another is in the stamens, which are not fused together as in thistles, if you look closely.

 

One name for this in French is the ‘herbe aux cent têtes’, due to the umbels, another is  chardon roulant, rolling thistle, and the similar l’èrba rotla means the same in Occitan.  Why? Because although the plant is a perennial, the stem can break off when it dries and blow in the wind to scatter seeds elsewhere.  But normally, the hooked seeds are dispersed by furry animals – it relies on mammals to spread.  Another characteristic is its long root system of up to 5 metres, which, like its leathery and spiny leaves ,is an adaptation to dry conditions. The root is also often  parasitised by a fungus, Pleurotus eryngii, which produces edible mushrooms, or by the parasitic flower Orobanche.   So it’s not just a solitary thistle in the wilderness, but a whole ecosystem.

 

Pleurotus eryngii

It’s that kind of shift in view which characterises the work of one of my favourite writers on natural history, Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002). A New Yorker who became Professor of Geology and Zoology at Harvard, he is best known for his long series of monthly essays which appeared under the heading ‘This view of life’ in Natural  History magazine, and which he collected in many books. He wrote little on botany but his overall approach to the history of life on earth offers much to those seeking to understand plants, and to those who appreciate good  prose style.  At their best his essays are at the same time intricate and clear, profound and entertaining, personal and research-based.  In his collection Bully for Brontosaurus he distinguishes two sorts of nature writing: the Franciscan (after the saint) which produces a kind of nature poetry, and the Galilean which takes a ‘delight in nature’s intellectual problems’. He put himself firmly in the latter group.

 

Stephen Jay Gould

His relevance to botany? His consistent desire to understand how evolution works, rather than being satisfied with the formula ‘If it exists, it must be adaptive’. With the biologist  Richard Lewontin, he coined the term ‘spandrel’ in evolutionary theory, after the triangular gaps between arches he noticed in St Mark’s Cathedral in Venice: a feature which might have no function or evolutionary advantage, but might arise as a consequence of other structures (arches and a dome, in the case of St Mark’s).  Male nipples might be one example, existing only as a developmental relic of the necessary female equivalent, as he explained in his essay ‘Male nipples and clitoral ripples’. A botanical parallel might be some colours in flowers which are not visible to the insects the flowers attract (insects detect more ultraviolet than we do).

He appreciated just how plain weird many living things are, often resulting more from contingency or ‘happenstance’ than adaptation or design. Why else does the fern Ophioglossum reticulatum need 630 pairs of chromosomes (that’s right, 1,260 per cell)? As he explained in the essay ‘The ant and the plant’, some polyploidy or doubling of chromosomes can encourage variation, but in this fern the mechanism has gone beserk.

 

Ophioglossum reticulatum – Adder’s tongue fern

He realised that evolution was not a gradual process of accumulating small variations as Darwin had proposed, but sometimes ran very fast,  producing radical changes, while at other times there were long periods of stasis: the theory known as ‘punctuated equilibrium’ (proposed by Gould and Niles Eldredge in 1972). This remains a major explanatory hypothesis for animal evolution, though it may play a smaller, if still significant, part in the evolution of plants.  To illustrate his style, when objectors called his theory ‘evolution by jerks’, he replied that gradualism was ‘evolution by creeps’.

I also admire Gould for the breadth of his interests and for his awareness of the social context of science. He understood how religious beliefs had hindered the interpretation of fossils, for example, and this is a major theme of his fascinating book Wonderful Life. He was a committed campaigner against creationism and its attempted inroads into American education. He knew that science cannot be ‘value-free’ and his book The Mismeasure of Man is a passionate but also scientific explanation of why the concept of IQ testing is flawed and inherently racist. Does this apply to plants? Of course. Just as the word ‘intelligent’ can be a useful adjective, but can also parade as an objective phenomenon to be studied and measured scientifically, so too a plant can seem a biological organism to be described and understood as an individual, though it never exists on its own. To the farmer, Eryngium campestre is an invasive weed, to the mushroom hunter it’s just the food source for what he wants to collect, to an animal it’s an annoying burr, to the botanist a good example of a xerophyte adapted to dry conditions.  And plant, fungus, animal, climate and soil (maybe even botanist) are all developing together in an evolving ecosystem. In another example of putting genetics in context, Gould’s colleague Lewontin campaigned against genetically modified crops, seeing them as an advantage to agribusiness rather than to the farmer or consumer.

Gould and Lewontin were both members of what was known as the ‘radical science movement’, together with the American psychologist Leon Kamin and the British biologist Steven Rose.  There’ll be more of their radicalism to come in future posts, including reference to their 1984 manifesto Not in our genes, and Rose’s stimulating book Lifelines.

On to some music, and the radical poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron with one of his earliest and most influential songs, The revolution will not be televised, from his first album, Small talk at 125th and Lenox. Yes, radicals, revolution and rolling thistle – you were there before me.  But there’s another parallel. The song gets its power from the two ways of looking: our familiar and comfortable trappings of life suddenly seem ridiculous when the streets erupt.

 

 

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Aristotle, ladders, and plates: Echinops ritro – globe thistle

 

This lovely thistle is nearing the end of its flowering period now, but still looks perfectly adapted to a hot dry summer: strong stems, leaves reduced in area by divisions and spines, and a waxy surface and hairs to reduce evaporation.  It likes grassy, stony habitats, such as this iris-covered bank. My guide says it is absent from the islands apart from Sicily – other thistles are only on islands, and this should make us think about evolution.

It would have been known to Aristotle (384-322 BCE) when he conducted his studies of nature in Athens – but perhaps not when he studied animals on the island of Lesbos.  He wrote much more about animals than about plants, and it was his pupil Theophrastus who really deserves the title ‘Father of botany’ if such appelations have any meaning.  So what were his contributions? In my view, two positive ones and some hindrances which still persist today.

 

Aristotle

Firstly, Aristotle made one step toward science when he insisted on observation (including dissection of animals) as the basis of knowledge. Secondly he began to classify the natural world, to distinguish similarities and differences and give species both family and individual names.

But Aristotle made some errors: for example believing that some animals and plants could arise spontaneously from decaying matter.  This idea lasted well into the 19th century, when epidemics were often attributed to ‘germs’ arising in warm and damp conditions.

His other, greater, but equally misleading idea has also proved persistent: that of a progression in which all living things were arranged in order in an ascending series from minerals, through plants, then animals and finally human beings.  Aristotle used his classifying principles to explain this: plants could grow and reproduce unlike minerals, but could not move or sense like animals. Trees were seen as ‘higher’ than herbaceous plants. Sedentary animals such as clams and oysters could touch and taste but not move, see or hear. Man, the ‘rational animal’ was at the top.

This idea fitted naturally into Christian theology, and became known as the scala naturae  –  ‘ladder of nature’- or the ‘Great Chain of Being’, with Man on a special rung between animals and angels, with the gift of a soul.  Even today, I would bet that a majority of Westerners would subscribe to a version of it.  Why is it wrong? Because, as Darwin showed, species are not fixed on their rungs but have arisen from other species, many of which are now extinct. OK, it might be argued, lots of us have ladders in the shed with missing or repaired rungs. But it’s the idea of climbing, progress that’s an error: how should we estimate ‘success’ or ‘higher evolution’? Grasses are more recently evolved than oak trees, and orchids more recent still: should they be highest? In terms of numbers of individuals, algae and plankton outnumber other plants: are they the most successful?

It is becoming clear as we know more about the changes in climate, geology and the history of the Earth including meteorite collisions and glaciations (‘ice ages’) which have made for mass extinctions of species, that what exists today is the result of many accidents.  The paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould says repeatedly that if we re-ran the history of the world like a rewound tape, the outcome would be different, and that it would be extremely unlikely that human beings would feature at all.  So this leads me to the history of the Mediterranean, involving a timescale and set of concepts such as plate tectonics which were unknown to Darwin, let alone to Aristotle.

The continents 70 million years ago

50 million years ago, just as herbaceous seed plants were getting going, the Mediterranean did not exist. The gap between the European/Asian tectonic plate and the African/Arabian plate was filled by the ocean Tethys until the northward movement of the African plate sealed off the eastern end.  Species could now move out of Africa into Europe.

About 35 million years ago the Italian land  mass was crunched into the European plate, raising the Alps, and the same movement eventually sank the land to the west (the present day Gulf of Lion) so that the sea reached the foot of the Larzac plateau some 100km inland from the present coastline. Throughout this Tertiary era, partly as a result of the mountain-building, the climate became cooler and drier.  Around 5 million years ago the moving African plate closed the western end of the Mediterranean, and since loss by evaporation exceeds inflow from rivers, the sea dried up, leaving salt lakes in eastern and western halves of the basin. After several hundred thousand years, the Atlantic broke back in, but not before elephants had crossed to Cyprus and Crete. In the Pleistocene, starting about 1.8 million years ago, a succession of ice ages produced thick ice sheets in northern Europe, locking up the Earth’s water and lowering the sea level by around 100 metres, so that the Gulf of Lion and Gulf of Sirte (north of Libya) became dry.  Within the last million years continued plate movement has raised volcanic peaks around the Mediterranean basin – my own village has three, and others include the Mont St Clair at Sète and Mont St Loup at Agde.  Black volcanic basalt is a common building material in the area.

It was only 10,000 years ago that the melting ice raised sea levels again to about their present position, and washed in the sediments in which coastal plants now grow.  What does all this mean for the evolution of plants? Firstly, they have had to adapt to cooler, drier conditions, and hence the rise of the grasses and of the typical Mediterranean ‘sclerophyllous’ vegetation: plants with spiny leaves such as Echinops, or thick or waxy leaves, all to reduce water loss. Secondly, the land connnections meant that plants could more easily arrive from Africa – these could include the spurges and palms. Thirdly the isolation of pockets of plants by the ice meant that plant communities could evolve separately and diversely – maybe one reason for the Mediterranean richness of flora.

So during the ice ages the Mediterranean vegetation was more like Siberia , dominated by grasses and with few trees, unrecognizable to Aristotle ( a steppe-ladder of nature?).  Even now the plants round my village are completely different from the range that was here before the Romans, which must have consisted mainly of oaks and whatever could survive beneath them and in clearings.  No vines, no olives, no fruit trees. The current Mediterranean landscape, which reminds us so much of age-old civilisations, is just a still from a moment in a movie.

Or a video. And since this is a ‘bassics of botany’ post, here’s a clip from the outstanding young bassist Esperanza Spalding playing live in San Sebastian (Donostia).  It’s from a Spanish TV broadcast, and all the parts are worth watching. This show may seem to start a bit slowly and the star saunters on stage with a cup of coffee about two minutes in, but then the excitement just builds…

 

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The Blues: Campanula rapunculus – Rampion bell-flower

I hope you like the new header, which I think better illustrates the blog title.

Campanula of course means a lttle bell, but the other part of the name is more interesting, because the Brothers Grimm may have taken the name Rapunzel from this plant, for their tale of a maiden locked in a tower. In French, it’s raiponce and in Occitan reponchon (it’s among five other plants which are often called this), both from the Latin rapa or rapum (turnip) which signifies any edible root.  Geoffrey Grigson says that ‘In the 16th century Rampion was commonly known as rapunculum, quasi parvum rapum,  ‘as if a little turnip’, and it was identified with the wild turnip of Dioscorides.’

The Campanulas generally were often cultivated in the potager in France for their roots, and the leaves were used in salads.  According to Richard Mabey, the wild Rampion, a biennial,  was used in the same way, which has now made the plant very rare in Britain, so it doesn’t seem to have been widely cultivated there. He says that the fleshy parsnip-like roots were chopped, boiled, and served with vinegar  (rather like15th century soggy chips, I suppose).  I’m just thinking that ‘Parsnip, Parsnip, let down your hair’ doesn’t sound so good.

I found this flower hard to identify because there are so many similar species which differ in the degree of branching of the stem (this is branched, C. rapunculoides  and persicifolia are not), the exact size and orientation of the flower and the size of the sepals. There are at least 500 species of Campanula. It is difficult to imagine how a botanist can see such variety and not think of how small variations can accumulate to result in new species – an illustration of Darwin’s gradualist model of evolution.  Nowadays we know that climate changes, catastophes such as meteor strikes and changes in other flora and fauna can produce rapid and striking evolutionary change with many entirely new species arising (known as radiation): this is Stephen Jay Gould’s theory of punctuated equilibrium, to which I’ll no doubt return.  But for now, the varieties of the Campanulas are a reminder to me of Darwin.

Now for a earful of blues. I thought it was about time I found something more obviously based on the blues chord changes, and this fits the bill.  It’s.the Thelonious Monk Quartet and Blue Monk, for no other real reason that I like it and a friend recently reminded me of it (what he really said was, ‘you know that Monk tune that goes Dah dee di dah, dah dee di dah?’).

Next, we interrupt this series to bring you another series: Any list will get boring if it goes on too long, so I’m going to mix it up with a few posts on early naturalists and jazz bass players: the bassics of botany.  I’m starting with Asclepius – OK he’s a god, and neither a botanist or a bassist, but anyway…..

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