Tag Archives: Vegetation

Why are fungi considered neither plant nor animal?

Like plants, they have a cell wall, which is a durable framework that supports the cell, which animal cells do not have. Unlike plants, this cell wall is made of chitin rather than cellulose. Animals though use chitin to make hard shells, which is what insect exoskeletons are made of.

Fungi reproduce similar to how simple plants do, by spores. Yet they cannot synthesize their own food like plants can. Like animals, they have to take in food. However, they are also immobile for the most part, like plants. They rely on the environment to move around, where as even simple animal cells can move on their own power.

So they have attributes of both, but are not quite one or the other.

What determines if a plant is a fruit or a vegetable?

It depends on the context since different words mean different things in different contexts.

In botany, fruit refers the part of a flowering plant that has seeds. Things like apples and pears are botanical fruits, but so are tomatoes, cucumbers, legumes, and eggplant. The thing that makes them all fruit is they come from flowering plants and are contain seeds from that plant.

Vegetable is not a botanical term.

In cooking, fruit usually refers to any part of a plant that tastes sweet and is often eaten uncooked. A vegetable is usually any part of a plant that is savory and is often eaten cooked.

There are some legal classifications for foods too that may be different than the above definitions. For example, imported vegetables might be taxed differently from imported fruits and the law would just have to have a list of what counts as a fruit and what counts as a vegetable. Or it might matter for meeting nutritional guidelines.

So tomato is a fruit botanically speaking, but a vegetable in terms of cooking. On the other hand, jicama is not a botanical fruit, but it is a culinary fruit.

What part of marijuana causes the high? And how did humans discover it?

Most people believe that it is the leaves of marijuana that cause the high. The leaf isn’t what gets you high. It also doesn’t need to be dried. People dry it simply because it makes it last longer and not get moldy. It’s perfectly fine to smoke fresh weed.

The part of marijuana plant that contains the most THC and that people smoke is not the leaf, it’s the flower. That yellow stuff that people call keef, that’s pollen. It’s also very high in THC.

As for how people discovered that it got you high, animals have been doing drugs forever. Nearly all animals like to get high. Primates eat fermented fruit, deer eat shrooms, cats sniff catnip, horses eat a weed that basically has the same effect on them as nicotine does on us, etc. Humans also stumbled upon a few psychoactive substances in our history. The fact that we can control fire added to that. It’s likely that someone first ate marijuana and realized that it made them feel funny, then they realized  that the effect could be enhanced by burning it.

How do trees which don’t produce fruit disperse their seeds?

As said many trees have seeds that are not covered by something that tastes good, what we call fruit.

Pine cones are an example of a “fruit” which isn’t edible. It’s still a cluster of seeds which will fall, perhaps roll, and potentially end up far from the tree. Of course, it’s not as effective as a fruit that’s eaten/pooped elsewhere or buried by a squirrel, like a berry or acorn.

But many pine cones only open and “disperse” seeds in conditions such as fire. The seeds aren’t necessarily dispersed and grown while the “parent” is alive, but they’re very successful at recolonizing after fires.

Maple trees have “helicopter” seed pods which fall slowly and can blow further in the wind than if they simply fell.

Overall, trees grow slowly but last a long time, they can be successful doing many things slowly, such as dispersing seeds a smaller distance. Berries and other smaller plants are less likely to survive the winter and reproduce again, so spreading their seeds widely helps ensure their otherwise-uncertain survival.

Why are fruits sweet and vegetables not sweet?

There’s two different sets of meanings for fruit and vegetable.

Biologically, a fruit is the part of a plant that makes seeds while vegetable is just any part of a plant. Fruits can be sweet or not.

In a culinary sense, we call things that are sweet ‘fruits’ and other stuff ‘vegetables’.  In this sense, fruit is sweet because we call sweet stuff fruit.

What is the difference between fruits and vegetables?

If someone asked you whether a mango is a fruit or vegetable, what would you say? You would answer fruit, of course. And you would have no doubt about carrot being a vegetable. But what about tomato? Or pumpkin? Are they fruits or vegetables? Even though most of you would answer undoubtedly vegetables, they are not so, at least in a botanical perspective. While it does not matter to someone who is only looking for nutritional value, it will be astonishing to know that most of the foods we call vegetables are technically fruits.
 
The general principle is that an edible plant has been categorized as a fruit if it has seeds, and is a vegetable if it contains no seeds. Believe it or not, but beans, peas and cucumber are all fruits. In botany, fruits are the parts developed from the ovary of flowering plants where seeds are stored. They also act as a way to spread the seeds around, ensuring the survival of the species. Based on that definition, even nuts and grains are fruits. Nuts are plant ovaries while grains are simply oversized seeds.
So what are vegetables? The all edible parts of a plant except fruits are vegetables. It can include roots as in carrot, leaves as in spinach, stems like in ginger or flower buds like cauliflower, tubers as in potato.
Considering this, why do we call the fruits still vegetables? That is where our traditions put a stop to the science. It does not matter in kitchen whether these are botanically fruits, where the laws are determined by taste. They are vaguer but supposed to keep it simpler. If we think, we will know that the foods we call fruits are generally sweet and are eaten as desserts. The vegetables, on the other hand, are less tasty, savory and served as part of main dish. The grocers also don’t categorize them according to complex botanical concepts.
The debates over the status of foods have a long and interesting history. There are even instances where law had to intervene in the issue. In the 1893, United States Supreme Court case Nix. v/s Hedden, the court unanimously ruled that the imported tomato should be taxed as a vegetable, rather than as a fruit. Even though the court agreed with the botanical classification, they decided to use the kitchen definition here.
The difference between a fruit and a vegetable is not something that affects daily life, even though botanists are always at loggerheads over the classification. Some scientists are even reluctant to classify them.

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Why are unripe fruits green and bitter while ripe fruits are colorful and sweet?

The answer lies in the theory of evolution. Like all the other organisms, the primary purpose of trees and plants, too, is reproduction so that their species continues to propagate itself. Since trees and plants can’t move around for reproduction, they have to depend on animals and birds. After an animal or bird eats the fruit along with the seeds within it, naturally the seeds travel in the stomach of the animal or bird who eat the fruit. This way the seeds travel far and wide and are released away from the place they originated at. This is how trees and plants reproduce.
During the process of digestion, however, the seeds have to endure acidic digestive juices. It is necessary for the seeds to have developed strong enough protective layer on the exterior so that they don’t get dissolved in the stomach’s acids. This protective layer is not formed overnight, but take days. In fact, that is the last stage of fruit’s growth. During this time the fruit should not be noticed by animals and birds. Hence, in order to camouflage with green leaves around them, fruits remain green in color. Their taste is also not enjoyable during this time. Only after the protective layer is formed around the seeds do fruits become colorful and attract animals and birds to eat them. They produce glucose and develop sweet taste as well as emit fragrance. All of this to attract animals and birds to eat them so that the now-ready seeds are dispersed.

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Why does fruit ripen? What causes the ripening process?

On one level, the answer is simple: a single chemical called ethylene, a gas produced by the fruit itself, is responsible for ripening process.
Some fruits ripen best on the vine or tree; others, such as avocados, don’t ripen until they fall. Most fruits soften as they get ripe. A few, though including coconuts, become harder. Ripening is heralded in many fruits by a marked increase in ethylene production. This seems to affect the fruit’s physiology. It begins to respire, to breathe ‘oxygen’, a process that rises its internal temperature slightly.
Respiration can increase three, four, or even five-fold, providing extra energy for the work ahead. Chlorophyll is broken down and the fruit loses its green, unripe color. The starch present in it gets converted into sugar. Acids (and thus sourness) decreases. The pectin that cements cell walls together begins to disintegrate, softening the fruit. A corky layer may firm at the base of the fruit’s stalk, causing it to fall. Finally, many fruits produce aromatic chemicals that impart to them an enticing aroma.
But why do many plants expend so much energy and effort surrounding their seeds with tasty fruit, only to have it fall to the ground and rot or to be carried away by bird, animal or man?
The key seems to be dispersal. Plants, forever rooted in one spot, take advantage of the mobility of animals. Fruit is bait, dangled temptingly for all to see. Once ‘taken’ by some hungry forager, the seeds within the edible exterior pass unscathed through the digestive tract and are deposited far from the plant that produced them.

Additional reading:
Ripening (Wikipedia)

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How does Strangler Fig squeeze its host tree to death?

Before the European explorers set their feet on Africa, this giant landmass was known as the Dark Continent by the people of Europe. Actually, Africa wasn’t a dark continent at all. Instead, the Europeans were in the dark since they had no knowledge about Africa. In the 15th century, some Portuguese explorers reached the shores of Africa for the first time. During their exploration, they came across a variety of birds, animals, insects and plants species which they had never seen before. They jotted down about strange creatures in their diary, and shared their experiences when they came back to their respective homelands. The narration, course was spiced up with a bit of exaggeration In order to make it sensational. Among many fairytale like stories they narrated, one was that of a tree which devours humans!
Today, we know that no such trees exist in Africa — or any part of the world. What the 15th and 16th century explorers said about the so-called man-eating trees was more of a fiction than a fact! Nevertheless, their narration cannot be completely ignored. As a matter of fact, certain species of plants and trees do exist in the world which though do not devour human beings, yet feast on other species of plants and trees. These trees creep around the trunk of other trees and alter reaching a particular height, they actually strangulate them. Once the tree is ‘victimized’ it is reduced to nothing.
It is hard to digest the fact that one tree actually kills another, but it is true. A species of tree, aptly called strangler fig, exists in Africa and all tropical rain forests of the world. It belongs to the category of Ficus and is similar to the banyan and peepal trees. The only difference is that the strangler fig initially grows in the form of a creeper and grows into an actual tree with the help of another tree next to it. Once Stranger fig grows in full, it destroys the very tree around which it had crept and grown. After the strangler fig ‘strangulates’ its victim, it blooms to its fullest and bears fruits. The fruits are consumed by birds, squirrels, monkeys and other creatures along with the seeds. They cannot digest the hard seeds, but the outer shell of the seed is dissolved in their stomach during digestion. The ‘uncovered’seeds are then excreted by them.
The seeds germinate in new grounds in a few days. A shoot erupts from the seed and it starts growing by climbing around the nearest tree. Gradually it starts sucking the sap from the victim and gains extra strength along with the nourishment it receives from the ground through the roots. This double whammy situation of the strangler fig tree creates double trouble for the victim and leads to its faster death. Firstly, due to the presence of the strangler fig, it is deprived of proper nutrition from the soil. Secondly, whatever food it photosynthesizes for itself is also sucked away by the strangler fig. To further add to its crisis, the strangler fig tightly strangulates the tree which further prevents the water and other important minerals from reaching every part of the tree. As a result,the leaves dry and wither away and finally the entire tree dries up. The place where it once grew in full bloom reduces to nothing but a hollow space.
The strangler fig grows in this place and bears fruits which are then eaten by birds, squirrels and monkeys. They spread the seeds in another area, and so, more trees fall victim to strangler fig. There is little sunlight and water on the tropical rainforest ground, so the strangler fig has found a way to avoid being deprived of solar energy and water by growing on other trees — and then killing them too!
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Where did onions originate from? And how did they become popular around the world?

Onions were initially cultivated 4,000 years ago in the regions of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.
The word onion has been derived from the Latin word unio. Due to the natural composition of onion with many layers bonded together, the Romans had named it unio, which means oneness. Onions are commonly used in all types of cuisines. However, onions have not always been so popular.
For instance, most of the Indians did not consume onions due to certain religious beliefs that insisted people to refrain from its use, as it was believed to create evil qualities that lead one to become angry, resentful, arrogant and destructive. While on his visit to the 110 states and provinces of India from 629 AD to 645 AD, the Chinese traveler, Hiuen Tsang (picture, left) witnessed that people who consumed onions were asked to stay at the outskirts of the town and were not allowed to mingle with other people. After the ancient Indian physicians like Charak, Vagbhatt and Shushrut mentioned about the exceptional medicinal qualities of advantages of onions in Ayurveda, it slowly started getting popularity among Indians.
For many years the British, too, had shunned onions from their menu owing to its pungent smell. It was the outbreak of plague in 1350 that transformed their disliking towards onions. It so happened that during this epidemic termed as ‘Black Death’, thousands of British lost their lives. Surprisingly, onion traders were somehow miraculously saved from this epidemic. This incident established a strong belief in the minds of the populace that onions were actually good for health. Gradually, onion was added as an ingredient in various cuisines worldwide.

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