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Sherwin Carlquist in the field.

PLANT DISCOVERIES

...have been fun for me-I just wanted to see how adaptations worked, like:

The Hawaiian silverswords: could these spectacular plants really be strange relatives of the Californian tarweeds? Evolutionary products of a dispersal event between North America and the Hawaiian Islands, more dramatic even than Darwin's Finches?

The world's first known wind-pollinated plant with underground flowers-why wasn't this Australian plant discovered earlier and what is the cause of this adaptation?

Welwitschia-the weird Namibian plant that forms only two leaves even though it can live over a thousand years-and its equally strange relatives Gnetum and Ephedra: respected opinions said these were ancestral to the flowering plants. But the wood anatomy said that the relationship was with conifers. Which was right?

Shrubby mustards of the Canary Islands, tree lettuces on the Juan Fernandez Islands, palmlike lobelioids in Hawaii-were these forms survivors from earlier ages or were they really the products of recent evolution?

How does wood show sensitive adaptations to the ecology of where plants grow? Why and how did ecological wood anatomy begin in 1966, with a study on wood of the sunflower family (Asteraceae)?

In 1685, Nehemiah Grew published pictures of woods, showing the larger conductive cells, the vessels. In his pictures, some plants have vessels scattered throughout the wood, some with vessels in groups. What is the significance of solitary vessels and grouped vessels, and why did this question have to wait for 300 years to be asked and answered? 

Don't be tempted to think that the really interesting discoveries have all been made, or that scientific discoveries must require big money and complicated equipment, not true...

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