[Editor's note: For the month of May, 13.7 Billion Years takes a look at what April showers bring. Through the process of photosynthesis, flowers create simple sugars, which feed ants, bees, butterflies, beetles and a whole range of other insects essential to the food chain. Without flowers, many plants that are crucial to the Earth's food supply would become extinct. They are also critical to the changing of seasons and provide critical habitat for a host of microorganisms.]
Wolffia is a genus of 9 to 11 species of rootless, stemless, floating aquatic plants that includes the smallest flowering plants in the world. Two full grown plants could fit inside this "o." Naturally, they produce the world's smallest flowers -- each with one stamen and one pistil, formed in a depression in the upper surface of the thallus. The flower rarely blooms.
Resembling specks of cornmeal floating on the surface of marshes, ponds, lakes and slow-moving streams, these tiny oval-shaped plants are commonly known as "watermeal." Individual plants often float together in pairs or join in large groups with related species (such as the genus Lemna in the duckweed the family, with which it is often confused) to create green mats floating on sheltered waters.
Watermeal is an important food source for fish and waterfowl. In Africa, India and southeast Asia, it has been used to feed cattle and pigs. And historically, it has been harvested and eaten by humans in Burma, Laos and Thailand, where it is known as "Khai-nam" (Thai for "water eggs").
According to Making Aquatic Weeds Useful: Some Perspectives for Developing Countries, a 1976 publication by the National Academy of Sciences, "The calculated annual yield is 265 tons per ha fresh weight, or 10.5 tons per ha dry weight, which means that Wolffia arrhiza produces more dry matter than conventional vegetable crops grown in Thailand."
Havesting this non-invasive, fast-growing plant isn't a bad idea: With the same protein content as soybean (around 40%), Wolffia is an excellent source of nutrition. Like legumes, watermeal contains high levels of all essential amino acids (except methionine).
In the case of watermeal, it seems smaller really is better.
- Sign the Fair Flowers for Human Rights petition
- Take a free wildlfower walk at Wave Hill (May 10-13, New York City)
- Create a cut flower garden
- Search for organic flower growers on LocalHarvest.org
- Donate to the Millennium Seed Bank
- Analyze and reduce your impact on the environment with the National Grid Floe
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- Say NO to Nevada bills AB329 and SJR5 seeks to re-define the meaning of wildlife to no longer include wild horses and burros and will not mandate that water be provided to them. SJR5 opposes the creation of wild horse sanctuaries and the expansion of wild horse habitat and populations in Nevada, both of which are alternatives to roundups and are currently under consideration by the BLM. SJR5 bill has passed the Senate Natural Resources Committee and must now pass the Senate before becoming official. These bills are subsidized and supported by and for the special interest groups of the livestock industry. Currently, wild horses are tormented during roundups via helicopter , killed and sterilized- ALL supported by the same special interest groups. If AB329 passes, it will be legal for the state to withhold water from wild horses and burros (Care2)
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- June 1: Solar Eclipse (2nd of 4 partial solar eclipses in 2011)
- June 5: New York Requiem Ceremony for Earth's Non-human Animals
- June 8: World Oceans Day
- June 15: Lunar Eclipse (1st of 2 total lunar eclipses in 2011)
- July 1: Solar Eclipse (3rd of 4 partial solar eclipses in 2011)
- November 25: Solar Eclipse (4th of 4 partial solar eclipses in 2011)
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image: The smallest species of vascular plants in Europe – Spotless watermeal, Wolffia arrhiza – on human fingers. Every single speck of less than 1 mm length is an individual plant. (Worldwide, only a few other species of the genus Wolffia might be somewhat smaller. (credit: Christian Fischer, Wikimedia Commons)