Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Exploratory electron microprobing, Big Thicket carnivorous plants

It's been a busy, fun-filled, but intense past several days. On Friday, Rice EEB and ESCI hosted our 5th annual crawfish boil, which was a big success. Then, on Sunday Chris and went on a spontaneous drive out to the Big Thicket in hopes of some spring wildflower viewing, as well as a (pretty futile) hope of finding the small butterwort, Pinguicula pumila. See link with some info here: I was reminded of this fascinating carnivorous plant when I was flipping through my old botany notebook where I scribbled some notes on one of Steven Darwin's Tulane botany class field trips out to the pine savannas, where you can find weird plants like Pinguicula and Drosera (Sundews). Darwin took us through a thorn-infested traipse through brambly woods in search of the notoriously elusive Pinguicula, but we didn't find any, and he came back after another fruitless search with a torn and bloody white field shirt. These plants thrive in nutrient-poor, alkaline soils - they exploit insects as a protein source to survive in such environments. Well, we didn't find any small butterworts, but I did spot lots of sundews (see pics below), as well as tons of Sarracenia (pitcher plants), which were JUST starting to bloom! And on the drive out, the roadsides and highways were lined with spring wildflowers - Indian paintbrush, pink evening primroses, daisies, verbena, solidago... it was beautiful.

Sundews. The leaves have sticky mucilaginous stalks that entrap tiny insects.

This is how big the sundews are - tiny!

More Big Thicket photos, including the ephemeral blooms of Sarracenia to come later...

In other news, I just came back from an intense 2-day electron microprobe session up at TAMU, where I got a better idea of the mineralogy in these weird Sierran metasediments. One thing that was really interesting was seeing one of my quartzite samples in its entirety under crossed polarizers. The sample is so coarse grained that under the microscope lowest mag you gain little appreciation of the macroscopic qualities. If you look at the composite image below, where the top picture is plane-polarized and the bottom is cross-polarized, you can see how huge the quartz grain size is! Is it really a few huge quartz grains, centimeters in diameter, with incipient subgrains... or what? Hmmm... Anyway, I'm so tired right now I can't really think harder on it at the moment. But I have a few ideas..(Note the scale in the images below is an entire standard thin section)

Among the many other things I did up there, I also managed to CL image ~20 detrital zircon grains. Here are two of the more interesting ones. The bottom one was the biggest one I found - and it looks quite complex, possibly even being more than one zircon.

Isn't that wild? OK... I'm TIRED! Drove 400 miles in 2 days... and still have to go to the airport in half an hour to pick up a prospective Rice undergrad (friend from back home) who is staying with me for one night and attending "Owl Days." Keep looking back soon for more Big Thicket pics, and maybe a monarch butterfly caterpillar devouring a milkweed stalk.

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