Ep.17 Plants: As Interesting As Animals - Joshua Styles (NWRPI)

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You're on the plants grow here podcast. I'm Daniel Fuller. Come along with me as we enter a hidden world of deep horticultural, ecological and landscape gardening knowledge with featured experts, industry professionals and enthusiasts. As far as I'm concerned, plants are every bit as interesting as animals, even if they don't move as quickly. A guest today feels the exact same way and has come on to talk about some of the incredibly interesting plants and environments that he works with. Joshua stars is an ecologist and science communicator from the UK. He's the founder of the Northwest rare plant initiative, as well as British botany training and I'm a huge fan of his YouTube and Twitter accounts, which are a constant source of inspiration and education. Just Can you please help me get this episode started off by explaining what is a lesser bladder work?
Okay, yeah, sure. So lesser bladder work is a really, really interesting plant. It's a member of a group of plants, the bladder words that are amongst the fastest on the planet. And so with with lesser bladder where it has these fantastic little blood light traps, and which have little trigger hairs. And what happens is an aquatic animal say a mosquito larvae will go past these trigger hairs. And then the bladder word trap opens in the speed of 110 1,000th of a second and sucks in its prey to jesting it for its for its own nutriment. And not only are the bloodwork super, super fast, but a single plant of blood work in one growing season in the UK can consume 10s of 1000s of animals. So that makes these bad words some of the most successful predators on the planet who needs a rubbish Tiger are alive? I think they're great. And what do they tend to eat? Well, in Britain, and all of our blood works here where I'm based on aquatic, but you also get some terrestrial species. So the prey sort of depends on the species and the size of the trap. And some species can have really, really minute bladder like traps, and some species can have really enormous ones. So yeah, it very much depends on the species really.
Okay, so you said that there are some large ones, are you able to give us an example,
who well in Britain, and one of the largest species we get here is greater bloodwork. And they'll be eating things like mosquito larva and bookbook. Some of the tropical species have really, really big traps, although I'm less familiar with with some of the things we get outside the UK, so my specialism is more on on our fantastical Flora here in Britain, as opposed to some of the tropical stuff we get. And that makes sense.
That's pretty cool. So can you tell us a little bit about some of the bladder warts that are growing in your area,
so not only are the bladder works super speedy, and super successful predators, and but unfortunately, a lot of them, at least here in Britain, again, where I'm based, are actually threatened. And so the bladder works have adapted these fantastic traps, because oftentimes, they are adapted in really nutrient deficient environments. And so to sort of compensate for the nutrients that are lacking in their environment. That's why they've turned to carnivory. And here where I'm based in Britain, in northwest England, there's one species less bloodwork And sadly, less blood work. It gone extinct through most of Northwest England and had been extinct for a really long time. So most sites had been lost over 150 years ago. And so what I decided to do is I decided to essentially grow on some lesser bloodwork found from some of the very last sites in the region, and reintroduce them to areas of restored habitat where these fantastic species have been extinct for so so long. And so what I did with all the relevant permissions in place is this area in Greater Manchester that was suitable for this plant once again after after such a long period. And so what we did was in 2018, I reintroduced 60 planets, and to these these areas of suitable habitat in 2019, there were an estimated 30,000, which is just incredible from the 60 plants, which which surely demonstrates that habitat restoration can have some really, really positive impacts in terms of the suitability for these rare plant species. And so in 2019, there was 30,000. And in 2020, the population estimate this year is 200,000 plants from extinction from extinction over 150 years ago. So they are super interesting and group of plants, they're super speedy. And also that there's a really nice conservation success story around less of bloodwork to be had in Greater Manchester in England. So yes, there you go.
So cool.
I think one thing with plants is very different to animals, obviously, you'll see a an animal bounding across a field, say, I don't know, a hair, or a rabbit or a kangaroo, or whatever it might be. And the interest and the appeal is immediately there, because it's big, fluffy animal that's moving. But with a plant, like less of bladder wort, the interest isn't always obvious, you look at it, and you'll just see a bit of essentially sludge in a pond. But then you'll find out that actually, it's a ferocious predator. And it's super, super fast. And then the appeal just grows, the more you know about it. And I think that's the same with all planets, there is so much interest and appeal around all of our planet species. However, it just takes perhaps a bit of digging into the information surrounding these species to make them perhaps more appealing. That's the way I look at it anyway.
So what are some of the other interesting plants that you work with?
Oh, well, just keeping on on the train of interesting plant species. So I'm actually working with a couple more really, really interesting plants. There's one plant called Marsh club moss, and it is really, really weird. And so Marsh club moss belongs to a group of plants called the liker pods. And the lyco pods evolved more than 400 million years ago. Well before the dinosaurs and animals we like to think of as ancient like the crocodilians, they are a really ancient group of plants. And anyway, as well as being ancient and Marsh club masa and the club mosses more generally are super, super weird. They essentially look like alien Christmas trees, and they reproduce by spores as opposed to flowers, like a lot of plants today. And not only are they weird looking, and they have some ancient ancestry, but the club moss is also used for some incredibly peculiar stuff. So club moss spores are used for things like dust explosions, in special effects, and also in things like condom manufacture. So they're really really crazy, really weird, really ancient, but unfortunately, a lot of them are really, really threatened as well to our club mosses generally are, generally they're quite uncommon plants. And here in England, at Marsh club moss is nationally scarce. So that means there's less than 100 places in the country where you can find it. And also, thanks to habitat loss, it's also an endangered species. So I'm actually working just like the lessor bloodwork to reintroduce these fantastical ancient groovy, ancient klant to some suitable habitats in the region of Northwest England. So that's one one other plant I'm working with. But there's also another really interesting plant and it's actually a relative of lesser bladder. It's called common butcher word and it's it's not actually common despite its name here in England, it's Bradley's vulnerable, which is one degree below endangered. It's carnivorous, but also common. Butterworth is one of the few plants we get here that also carries an STI, which I think is is quite weird and interesting. so common. booktuber carries a pathogenic fungus called micro bop troom pinguecula, or Butterworth smut is the English name for this pathogenic organism. And what this fungus duels is it infects the plant and then it travels up to the sexual bits the and this and then what it does is it replaces the pollen with fungal spores. And so in this manner, this pathogenic fungus is an STI and and then once it's infected and replaced all the pollen with spores pollinating insects will go into the flower and then take these spores and transport them to the plants. So there are they are just another couple of plants that I find super, super interesting that I'm also working with them in a conservation context.
I think a lot People would look at a fungus like that and just sort of think, Oh, that's a pest. But what you're saying is that you're looking a little bit closer and you're actually seeing something beautiful.
Absolutely smoke funghi. And plant pathogens are a really interesting group. And they tend to be demonized because they'll, in fact crop species and cause huge problems when it comes to crop productivity, and sometimes even human health. But actually, it's really, really important to appreciate these quote unquote, past species, because a lot of them, particularly the funghi, produce chemicals known as secondary metabolites, and that actually have a tremendous amount of pharmaceutical potential. And so if we are wanting to eradicate all of these species, whether they're they have negative effects on plants are not and two wars are not, we might actually inadvertently be eliminating the next antibiotic or the next major drug. And so I think that when it comes to any organism at all, it's really important to have at least some degree of respect for it, because you never know, it might it might carry the next cure for a various type of cancer or whatever ailment.
Yeah, I mean, it's also just evolved into some kind of a relationship with the ecosystem. Absolutely. Yeah. So are there any examples of sort of things that people might think of as pathogens that are actually benefiting the plant that they're on?
Well, that isn't actually very much study around plant pathogens as a whole unless it comes to crops and agriculture. And so they generally they're relatively understudied. But there's an observation that I have had in the field. And so there's a really interesting plant pathogen that infects a plant, a really pretty plant called bog rosemary. What it does is it infects the plant and causes it to produce these really big F thick, pink Barbie pink stems, which contain its spores. And but not only does it do that, I've also observed infected plants growing more vigorously than plants that aren't infected. And so it's Yeah, it is. It's they're relatively understood generally, but it's very likely that plant pathogens, some species at least also bring about some kind of benefit to host species. So yeah, that's very probable.
Cool. So what can you tell us about peat bogs?
So peat bogs? Oh, God, yeah. So peat bogs. They cover about 3% of the earth surface yet, despite their minimal coverage, really, and peat bogs as a whole contain more than twice the carbon that then is locked up in all of Earth's forests. combined. They are the world's best carbon sinks. They're amazing habitats as well. And so I've actually been involved in a lot of stuff around peat bogs, in particular, plant reintroductions. And so that is one other thing I've been involved in where I've been with with loads of different partners and reintroducing key species back to these peat bogs in England, which are being restored back to favorable condition. And, and so that is something else that really really takes my fancy and only thing is also super, super important. In England, we've lost about 94% of our peat bogs, whilst degraded peatlands across the world contribute to about 10% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. So peatland restoration is something to be really, really concerned about and involved in if, if possible. peat is essentially a substance and that is about million to 7% carbon it is it's carbon heavy, and it forms in really, really damp a wet environments where oxygen is low in the in the soil and in the environment. And and so because oxygen is so low, bacteria can't really get into all of the dead and decaying plant material and break it down and release that carbon into the atmosphere. And so what just happens on a peat bog essentially is over time this dead and decaying plant material just degrades into the substance. We know it's peat, which is the same It is really really carbon heavy. And so to get these peat bogs back into a reasonable condition, one critical critical step is to re wet them if they've been drained or dried out. And because that way if you re wet these areas, then peat can continue to form and plants can continue to pull carbon from the atmosphere and lock it up into peat. And so keeping peatlands wet something that is so so critical for the climate aspect of things.
Yeah, absolutely. And I'd heard it was actually quite difficult to rehabilitate peatland after it had been damaged. Is that right?
And it depends where you are in the world really, and peatlands they can differ in terms of their ecology, that plant composition, and depending on where you are in the world, but really where I am in the temperate zone in in England, and oftentimes, it will just be a case of sort of putting in mounds or blocking up ditches to keep that water in. And sometimes you can adopt different and strategies. So sometimes, well, in fact, a lot of what has happened in England, as I say we've lost about 94% of our peat bogs. What has happened a lot of the time is that topsoil has been put on top of the peat after it's been drained and dried out so that these areas can essentially be used for agricultural purposes for growing crops. And so sometimes what might need to happen is that agricultural soil needs to be stripped off, and then you think about rewetting, the peat so that vegetation can establish that can essentially pull in so much carbon from the atmosphere and lock it up in the form of peat. Yes.
And does that Spagna moss that you have there?
Yes. So Magnum is often again, depending where you are in the world is oftentimes a really, really a super important plant. When it comes to peat bogs. There are loads of different Spagna mosses, but sphagnum moss generally forms the majority of biomass when it comes to peat on a lot of our bugs here. So yes, is the answer to that really, really important plant?
Can you tell us a little bit about some of the horticultural practices that are a part of your ecological work?
Sure, so sure, okay. Um, so when I graduated from my undergraduate degree in 2017 hours, I was really, really fortunate, in that I was given a scholarship, over 2000 pounds, and I felt like a millionaire momentarily. But after I was given the money, it took me about a week to decide what to spend it on. And one thing that always irked me as a child growing up was learning about and seeing some of our rarest plant species go extinct. And so what I decided to do with that 2000 pounds in 2017, was begin something called the North West wrap plants initiative, whereby I essentially took about 40 target species that are really super super threatened in the northwest of England, my goal there was essentially to grow on these target species, and reintroduce them as suitable sites in the region so that these plants are not threatened or not as threatened anymore, and so that their future in my region in northwest England is secure. And so that's something that that I still do today. In fact, I've just completed my 45th reintroduction program involving some really, really rare plant species. So that's a little about me, and what I do.
Okay, that's interesting. So how do you harvest the plants? Do you take cuttings or
Oh, well, it depends on the species really. And so for example, there's a wonderful endangered carnivore called greet, swingy and greet Sundew, at least in northwest England only tends to grow in really, really small populations. And so of course, if I was to dig up any plants there, or even take seeds from, from these really, really tiny remnant populations, and then that might have a detrimental impact upon those very last populations that we've got left. And so what I did there was yes, I took some cuttings. I took some leaf cuttings from a few plants left in the region, and from those cuttings and now I have well over 100 plants and I've reintroduced back 60 across across the region 60 plants across a few different populations. And then there are other species to where you'll might want to dig up the plant at a plant or a few plants or take some seeds but it really really depends on the patient. plant itself and individual ecology of that species, as some species that I work with are actually legally protected as well. And so one thing I have had to do for one really rare plant called June Wormwood, there are four plants left for the whole of Great Britain. And so one one thing I had to do there was actually get a license to allow me to take some cuttings from this incredibly rare June Wormwood to grow on in cultivation. So it depends is the answer.
Right? So it sort of depends on the species.
Yeah, so as I say, each plant has sometimes really, really different ecology to the next, for example, great Sundew that I mentioned this same danger Carnival, it likes really, really wet PC soils, whereas Dune Wormwood and dimensions is a plant of really quite dry sand dune habitats. And so these different ecological requirements, mandates sort of a different strategy when it comes to growing them and different sort of setups that you establish for them.
And Josh, I don't think that you're actually saying that it's okay to just go and take a plant sample from wherever you feel like it, ie.
Yeah, so I mean, I'm talking about some of the reintroductions that I've been involved in. But really, although I still consider myself young, and I've been doing this for well over 15 odd years, and there were loads of guidelines that you have to follow. And so for the conservation work that I do, and even the cultivation aspect of things, and I always adhere to the IUCN translocation guidelines that are available. And so that is a really detailed procedure, when it comes to cultivation, loads of things have to be considered including things like biosecurity, if you do go per plant from a site that also has invasive species, the last thing you want to do is to be whacking that somewhere else and transferring the invasive species with it. And so what I'll have to do there is, if I'm taking a plant out of the ground with soil, I'll keep it in cultivation for between six months and a year just to make sure if there are no bodies that are growing with it. And so yeah, that there are loads of guidelines that you have to follow. And it's, it's certainly not as simple as just collecting seed or material from a really, really rare plant, growing them and just sticking them somewhere else. And that there's a lot of thought and consideration that has to go into it,
which is true for any reintroduction. So maybe it's a little bit more complicated than what people might think. If there are some of our listeners out there right now who are sort of listening and looking to do some conservation work of their own, where would you send them
if people want to become involved in plant conservation, and but perhaps, they might not know very much about plants or, or plant conservation or the right processing processes and guidelines to follow perhaps one thing that everyone can do is support their local conservation organizations. So over here in England, we have people like the wildlife trusts, who are doing an incredible amount for some of our rarest wildlife, including plants. And so one thing that I found is improved my knowledge and skills base incredibly is helping out these organizations volunteering for them. And so that's something that anybody and everybody can do. And if if people want to help and learn more about our threatened plant species,
yeah, that's some great advice. So is there anything else that you'd like to let the listeners know about before we wrap up this episode?
I think as a finishing remark, I would just say to anybody listening that I didn't know the key thing that I really want to get across to people in general is that plants are not static, or organisms that they're just as vivacious as any vertebrate, any koala, any lion, any tiger. And so yeah, I just I just absolutely love plants. And I don't see how anyone can't is that there's such incredible group of organisms that of course, they're fundamental to the fundamental basis of almost all life on earth. And they play such a vital role in human health as well. Not 40% of our pharmaceuticals in the West anyway, come from plants, their plant derived and estimates suggest as well, just on the topic of pharmaceuticals that we're losing and major drug every two years attributed to global plant extinctions. And so we need to have an appreciation of plants. And we need to realize that they need our help. And about two in five of the world's plant species are threatened with extinction. And so plants are really, really important. Yeah.
Thank you so much, Josh.
All right, Daniel. Well, thank you very much for having me. I mean,
if you'd like to hear more from Josh and I don't blame you. There's a link to his YouTube profile where you can learn more about subjects like sexually transmittable plant diseases in the shownotes. There's also a link to his Twitter account at Joshua l 951. And I definitely recommend you following to get an insight into ecological topics that are being discussed in the UK right now. It can be tricky to find the show notes depending on the podcast app you're using. But if you go to plants grow here.com and click on the podcast tab in the home menu. You'll be able to see them by hovering your mouse over the player and clicking the information eye. If this is the first time you're hearing the plants go here podcast welcome. I hope you enjoyed this episode. And I encourage you to stick around and go through our back catalogue of episodes for more plant related goodness. If you're a returning listener, on behalf of Ben and myself, I want to thank you and say welcome back.

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