Playing In The Dark

This has been sitting in my blog entry list for a long time--I wonder why it never got posted? Well, here it is, folks!

On Monday, 3 August, I went on a moonlit tour of the National Arboretum. This was a very special tour. Visitors can pay to go on a moonlit tour three times each month during a full moon period (they are all filled up for the rest of the year, too), but the tours have never before been run in July or August, because it's always too hot. Our tour was also a small group formed only of National Arboretum volunteers. We had a picnic together near the koi pond, ate dessert, and then started on our six-mile-or-so tour as the sun started setting. I had never been around the Arboretum before (when you volunteer, you don't have much time while you're there and little energy when you're done).

It was an awesome, unique pre-birthday experience, even if I didn't know almost anyone there. I guess that didn't matter, much--the tour guide, Lynn, told us at the start that talking was not allowed. It messes up the magic that is the Arboretum by moonlight.

We got to feed the koi with little food pellets. At first, they were slow to come to our sprinkled bits, but then masses of multicoloured monsters came gaping up out of the depths, sliding their slimy scales over one another, contorting themselves to be the one to gulp down the tiny glob of sustenance. Like, they were totally jumping all over each other.

The capital columns for some reason reside at the National Arboretum. Lynn told us the story about them, but to be honest, by the end of the hike I had forgotten. They have been there for a few decades--I think the capital building or whatever was renovated and the government for some reason decided that the Arboretum would be a good place to put the old columns. It is in the middle of a meadow. It looks oddly out of place and towers over the wildflowers.

Lynn explained to us what a blue moon is--it is the second full moon in the same month. It happens every two and a half years or so, and the next one is this New Year's Eve, during with the Arboretum will be having special tours and a celebration. This moon is only 93% full.

This is Dawn Redwood, a species thought to have been extinct. The Arboretum has a small grove of them, about 60 years old if I remember correctly. These trees are ancient in lineage and related to the famed redwoods in California. I have a fascination with overly large plants, of course, so growing redwoods has been a dream of mine for years. The wrinkling of the trunk apparently means that the tree is starting to become mature--it's hard to think that only in the past few years has this tree reached adulthood!

Here is a more indicative picture of the Dawn Redwood's growth habit. It is hard to take pictures in the dark, but if you click on the photo, you can see better detail.

These are aerial roots of... Um... Some sort of tree. Lynn explained what is happening here--basically, the tree is (intentionally) so close to a pond that the roots that would grow in the dirt there would have no oxygen (oxygen diffuses poorly through water--that's why loose soil is better, it lets air in with the necessary gaseous compounds plants need). So some plants have adapted to have roots that can grow up to acquire oxygen for growth.

But, wait, what the heck? Oxygen for plant growth? The roots use oxygen to produce energy by breaking down sugars via cellular respiration. It's the same everywhere else in the plant, but I guess I just focus on the "plants make their own food" so much that I forgot it's really breaking those photosynthetically produced sugars down via cellular respiration that gives the plants energy. I clearly need to brush up on my plant biochemistry--but, never having had a class focusing on that, I don't feel too bad about having to Google why roots need oxygen.

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2 Responses to Playing In The Dark

  1. Does the Arboretum have any baby Dawn Redwoods?

  2. I don't think they do... I remember the guide saying something about that, but I can't recall the reason why not. I think the seeds aren't viable or something. Rooting stem cuttings should be possible... But seeds and plants are also available online, if you want to dig around for them!


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