Barley – the ideal food for mountain living?

New research in Science Magazine suggests that around 3600 years ago, farmers on the Tibetan Plateau started growing crops on slopes higher up on the Plateau, choosing to grow cold, frost-tolerant barley in favour of more traditional but less hardy crops such as millet.

Surprisingly, the expansion of agriculture on the Plateau seems to have occurred when the Tibetan climate was getting colder, suggesting that the switch to barley made growing crops possible at higher elevations, despite a worsening climate.

Archaeologist Kurt Rademaker calls it “a fascinating example of a cultural strategy to tackle a challenging place,”.

Click here to read more…


Top Ten Trees of the World: No. 7

At number 7 we have Liquidambar orientalis: the Oriental sweet gum – one of my favourite trees of all time!

Native to SW Asia, the name Liquidambar refers to its aromatic gum, previously described as ‘liquid amber’. Orientalis is Latin and means ‘from the East’ (Source: Davis Landscape Architects).

Deciduous, broad-leaved and often found in parks and arboretums in temperate zones (e.g. Kew Gardens, ANU Canberra), Liquidambar is famed for its show-stopping Autumnal display when its palm-shaped leaves turn from green to vibrant shades of orange, scarlet or purple.

Liquidambar produces beautiful round pollen grains covered with large pores – click here to see some photos.

The exterior ‘shell’ (exine) of this and other pollen grains are made of decay-resistant sporopollenin, enabling grains to be preserved for thousands of years in lake sediments, peat bogs and other depositional environments – providing a record of the types of vegetation that grew in the past.




Top ten trees of the world: No.10

At Number 10 on my list of top ten trees of the world is a true icon of Spring: the Cherry Tree.

The cherry tree sits within the Rose (Rosaceae) family, within the genus Prunus which groups cherries with other well-known plants such as plums, almonds and apricots.

Ancient cherry tree, Maruyama Park, Kyoto

Ancient cherry tree, Maruyama Park, Kyoto

Late March typically heralds the onset of Blossom Season in Japan, when the cherry trees come into full bloom, colouring the landscape with spectacular red, pink and white blossoms.

The Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto is an arresting sight in Spring. It is located along a canal lined with hundreds of cherry trees that burst into life with an impressive display of light pink blooms in early April. Marayama Park is home to some of the oldest cherry trees in Kyoto (such as the one pictured to the left), drawing large crowds during blossom season.

The celebrated Japanese flowering cherry (Prunus serrulata), also known as Sakura is native to northern and central China, Korea and Japan. It features prominently in Japanese culture and is popular in gardens and parks worldwide.

To see what the pollen of Prunus serrulata looks like, click here.