Picture this: a gardener hears a humming sound in a garden full of flowers. What is the source of the noise? It might be a hummingbird! These tiny creatures fly so fast that they can be hard to see. Listen to hear a scientist describe the unique features of a hummingbird, including extra fast wing speed and a quick metabolism, that make them expert flyers, and learn how to attract them to a garden.
Can talking to a plant make it grow faster? In the past, scientists studied the effect that human speech has on a plant’s growth. Those results were inconclusive. But here is another question to ponder: can plants talk to each other? If so, what’s the result? In this audio story, a scientist shares information about the world of plant communication. Listen to hear how plants communicate with each other -- and humans!
Current Event June 10, 2020
Scientists are stumped by a mystery involving rolling glacial moss. The green, fuzzy balls move slowly across the surface of glaciers and are known as “glacier mice” because they resemble rodents. What amazes scientists is how the unusual rolling plants manage to coordinate the speed and direction of their movement, similar to a herd of animals. Listen to hear more about scientific research on these mysterious moss balls and why one scientist thinks of a “Star Trek” episode when she sees them.
Current Event June 3, 2020
Many scientists isolating at home during the pandemic have taken their study subjects with them. The researchers want to keep the plants and animals that they study alive and continue their experiments. Bringing spiders and even sunflower seeds home can have hazards, however. Listen to learn what scientists are doing to protect their study subjects during a health crisis and hear how one scientist’s roommates responded to the unusual critters in the house.
Pollinators are animals that help plants reproduce by carrying pollen from one flower to another. Many plants that benefit from the help of pollinators bear fruit or nuts, providing healthy foods for people and other animals to eat. A variety of pollinators carry powdery pollen on their bodies from one flower to another, but bees are pollination superstars. Bees live in well-organized colonies and work quickly and productively. Their populations are in decline, however, and scientists are trying to understand why. Listen to hear how queen bees keep hives running smoothly and learn what can be done to help bees survive.
Current Event January 22, 2020
A crunchy new apple has hit supermarket shelves. A cross between Honeycrisp and Enterprise varieties, the new Cosmic Crisp apple is the result of years of genetic cross-breeding by plant scientists at Washington State University. Listen to hear the lead scientist describe the mouth-watering qualities of the new variety, and why she hopes it is a hit with consumers.
Current Event November 20, 2019
What does corn sound like when it grows? How does a cactus respond when you touch its spines? A new exhibit at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden allows visitors to hear the sounds plants make and answer those questions for themselves. Listen to find out what we can learn by paying attention to what plants are saying.
Current Event September 11, 2019
When a vacant lot in Sacramento was up for sale, one neighbor had an idea for what it could become. She envisioned an urban farm, so she bought the lot and invited a local nonprofit group to help turn it into an “edible art garden” after gathering input from other community members. Listen to learn what this once bare lot looks like today and how it benefits the neighborhood surrounding it.
Current Event July 17, 2019
Would you eat a scarred, lumpy carrot or an apple that is oddly shaped? Grocery stores do not typically sell these types of “ugly” produce, but some new companies aim to reduce food waste by selling fruits and vegetables that are rejected by stores. Listen to learn about the benefits of these efforts and find out what else you can do to reduce food waste.
Current Event May 29, 2019
The air thousands of feet high in France’s Pyrenees Mountains should be some of the cleanest on Earth. However, recent research revealed that the air at the top of the mountains actually contains microscopic plastic. Listen to learn more about the experiment that revealed this surprising fact, why it matters, and what researchers plan to investigate next.
Current Event April 18, 2019
Would you like to eat apples that never turn brown? Scientists hoping to genetically modify plants for crop development think they may have found a solution to a major problem they have been facing. The cell walls of plants make it difficult to insert genetic material into plant cells to change how those plant cells work. The solution–carbon nanotubes–was discovered by accident. Listen to learn about the discovery and implementation of this nanotechnology solution and how it could change the way scientists breed new crop varieties.
Current Event January 23, 2019
Photosynthesis is the process that is foundationational for all life, in which plants use sunlight to change water and carbon dioxide into food and oxygen. Scientists have now genetically modified plants to perform that process more efficiently, thereby increasing agricultural productivity. Listen to this story to learn how researchers “hacked photosynthesis” and why it matters.
Many schools now have gardens where students grow and harvest food that they cook themselves in class. The “Let's Move Initiative,” a program created by former First Lady Michelle Obama in 2010, has generated awareness about school gardens and teaching cooking skills that enable students to learn about healthy lifestyle habits in an effort to fight the national obesity epidemic. Listen to learn more about how a gardening and cooking project at a school in Maine is a rewarding way to learn about nutrition and healthy lifestyle skills through hands-on class activities.
The apples we are used to seeing in the supermarket are the same basic size and shape and they have familiar flavor profiles. But there are more apple varieties than you might imagine. There's a whole world of biodiversity in apples, but these apples don’t make it to the supermarket. Listen to learn more about America’s history with apples and the apple Renaissance taking place today!
While humans need food and water to survive, plants are able to get their energy from the sun through a process known as photosynthesis. Engineers are now trying to replicate this process of converting sunshine to power through artificial photosynthesis. They are trying to create an artificial leaf. Listen to learn how these problem solvers are approaching the challenge step by step.
Heirloom seeds are more than 50 years old and are not genetically modified. Jere Gettle, author of "The Heirloom Life Gardener," is particularly fascinated by heirloom seeds and he noticed they were being dropped by seed catalogs in the 1980s. The plants they produce are typically different from what we see in the grocery store. Listen to learn more about Gettle’s fight to bring heirloom plants back to our dinner tables.
Thomas Jefferson’s vegetable garden at Monticello contains over 300 varieties of more than 90 different plants, demonstrating the diversity of Earth’s ecosystem. The former President and founding father prided himself on his diversified and rare collection of plants. And he never failed to record his gardening achievements in his famed “garden book." Listen to learn more about the history of Jefferson’s garden and its current state following restoration.
Even beautiful plants can sometimes be detrimental to the environment. This public radio story takes place in Michigan where the sale of Japanese knotweed has been outlawed following unchecked growth of the large ornamental plant. Japanese knotweed is fast-growing, aggressive and hard to control. It can destroy pavement and even houses and it is unlikely to be eradicated any time soon.
The system we use to organize life is called the Linnean system, named after Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. The name of every living thing has a place because of Linnaeus. But now new DNA technology is changing the way to think about the classification system. Scientists are debating whether it is possible to change a system that has been strictly followed for the past few hundred years. Listen to learn how scientists discovered this change in the system.
Fungi play a crucial role in decomposition. As they follow this process, fungi release nutrients that the trees around it absorb. Eventually, the fungi attach itself to the roots of the nature around them and begin the cycle of giving and getting to keep the environment in balance. Listen to learn how fungi first colonized land and what would happen if fungi were not able to spread.