Thursday, December 17, 2015

What do insects have to do with eating, drinking and kissing this Christmas?

We don’t often associate insects with Christmas. However, without them, we wouldn’t have many of our Christmas foods, drinks and decorations. This is because many of the plants that produce our Christmas treats rely on insects pollinating flowers earlier in the year. Without these insects, we wouldn’t have bright red holly berries to decorate our Christmas puddings, mistletoe with its characteristic white berries to kiss under, cranberries to liven up our turkey, chocolate, marzipan or many of the spices and other goodies we associate with Christmas. This is because insects are needed by most plants for cross-pollination, which results in the production of fruits and seeds. Since plants cannot move to find mates themselves, they rely on insects to bring male and female together.

Holly (Ilex aquifolium) is unusual in the plant world because male and female flowers occur on separate shrubs. As bees drink nectar from male flowers, they get pollen on their bodies and when they move to a female plant to continue to feed, they deposit that pollen on female flowers. The pollen causes the female flowers to be fertilized, and to form fruits (or berries) containing the fertilized seeds.

A bumblebee visits a Holly flower in Co. Wicklow in
April to drink nectar. (Photo J. Stout)

Similarly, mistletoe (Viscum album) also holds its male and female flowers on separate plants. Plants are partially parasitic and live on the branches of other trees but still rely on insects (not just bees, but also flies, bugs and beetles) for pollination and thus berry production. In fact, both mistletoe and holly fetch higher prices at market if they have berries on them, and so insect pollinators are of economic value at Christmas time as well.

Cranberry bushes (Vaccinium macrocarpon) produce both the male and female structures not just on the same plant, but in the same flower. However, they still need bees to transfer the pollen between flowers, because those male and female structures do not mature at the same time.  Large bees, such as bumblebees, which can shake the flowers at just the right frequency to dislodge the pollen (producing a distinctive buzzing sound) are the best pollinators. This is known as “buzz pollination” and is important in other crops too (including tomatoes and blueberries).

Chocolate-producing cocoa trees (Theobroma cacao) produce small flowers on their trunks, and although flowers don’t produce a scent to attract pollinators, they produce a small amount of nectar and are visited and pollinated by tiny flies (midges). Although flowers contain both male and female structures, they cannot fertilize themselves, and these midges are needed for the production of cocoa fruits, which contain the seeds from which we derive chocolate. These trees grow in the tropics and flowers and fruits are produced throughout the year, although it takes 5-6 months for them to mature before they are harvested.

Marzipan (almond paste) is made of ground almonds (and sugar). Almond (Prunus dulcis) trees bloom in early spring and are visited by bees – both managed honeybees and wild bees. In fact, almond trees in California (where most of the world’s almonds are produced) produce better yields when both honeybees and wild bees are present in orchards. This is because they complement each other in their foraging. If there are no bees at all visiting flowers, fruit set can plummet by up to 90%.

Honeybees are important pollinators of
almond flowers (Photos J. Stout)

Many of our Christmas spices, including cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.), cloves (Syzygium aromaticum) and nutmeg (Myristica fragrans), essential ingredients in Christmas cakes, puddings and mulled wine, also need pollinating by insects. In the case of cinnamon and cloves, this is done by bees, but for nutmeg, it’s beetles that do the pollinating job.

So, as you enjoy Christmas this year, raise a glass to the insects that made all of this possible.

For more information on pollinators, their value and conservation, see the All Ireland Pollinator Plan

Posted: Professor Jane Stout

Originally published in the Independent supplement on the Science of Christmas 14th December, 2015


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

There are some things that you never get to hear about: The Botany Bake Off

There are some things that you never get to hear about.  The Botany Department at Trinity College is currently having a bake off competition inspired by the BBC TV series the Great British Bake Off.


One fascinating entry was this lovely chocolate cake of a pine stump.  Why?  Well it represents Botany PhD student Alwynne McGeever’s work studying fossil tree stumps and pollen grains to uncover when pine populations were rising and declining throughout Europe over the last 10,000 years.  It was presented at a recent departmental coffee break in the library and it tasted as beautiful as it looked.  Now you wish you did Plant Sciences at Trinity College Dublin!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

PhD student on plant collecting expedition in South East Asia

PhD student Dongwei Zhao, who is working with plant taxonomist Professor John Parnell, is currently on a plant collecting expedition in South East Asia.  He is working on Camellia species and is visiting various herbaria as well doing field work.  The image is from Loei in Northern Thailand and Dongwei is in blue.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Genetic variation in Irish perennial ryegrass: New reserach

Irish Perennial Ryegrass

TCD botanists Sai Krishna Arojju, Sarah McGrath and Trevor Hodkinson have publish a new paper on genetic variation in Irish perennial ryegrass in collaboration with Susanne Barth Teagasc, Oak Park Carlow.

This study assessed the genetic diversity in 928 individuals from 40 diploid populations of Lolium perenne using nuclear simple sequence repeat markers, including 22 accessions of Irish ecotypes, seven European ecotypes and 11 released varieties. High levels of allelic and genetic diversity were determined, with intra-population variation accounting for the majority of the variation. The majority of the accessions deviated from Hardy–Weinberg equilibrium and had relatively high inbreeding coefficients. Two major gene pools of ecotypic accessions were defined by unweighted pair group method with arithmetic mean (UPGMA) and PCA analyses. One of these two gene pools accounted for two-thirds of the ecotypes and included most of the current Irish and Northern Irish breeding materials and about half of the European ecotypes included in this study; these European ecotypes performed well under Irish selection conditions. Population structure and differentiation analyses using Structure analysis and analysis of molecular variance confirmed the results found in the UPGMA and PCA analyses. These results will be useful for breeders who wish to exploit specific pools from ecotype collections.

More details:

Posted: Nick Gray

Monday, December 7, 2015

COP-21 Paris - Open sessions

COP-21 Paris - All hot air or an agreement to save the world from a climate disaster?

The COP21 conference is currently taking place in Le Bourget France with the aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate to keep global warming below 2 degrees.  You are invited to hear how the negotiations are going and for you to have your say during some open sessions organized by Professor Mike Jones. The Global Room in the Watts Building is booked for two sessions the first is today from 5-7pm and the second on Thursday 10th December from 2-5pm. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Visualization of methane emissions from cattle

A new imaging technique, developed by a team led by  Dr Magnus  Gålfalk at the Linköping University in Sweden and described in Nature Climate Change, allows us to see for the first time where it is being generated.  The video shows methane emissions (shown in purple and green) escaping from a vent in barn of housing 18 cows. This is a major step forward in our management of greenhouse gas emissions from landfill, agriculture, wastewater treatment and any other potential source of the gas.

 Find out more about methane at:

Friday, November 13, 2015

90% of global seabird population have consumed plastic

Photograph: Chris Jordan/Midway:
Our litter and waste has reached a new level of disbelief with a new study showing that upto 90% of seabirds will have ingested plastic items they have mistaken for food.  A report in the Guardian has highlighted their work link.  Their results can be seen in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

We still haven’t learnt as our production of platics in the past 11 years exceeds the amount produced since it was first produced  in the 1950s.But something is being done and new a new collection boom is hoping to start removing larger material soon.

You can help right now by picking up litter that will find its way eventually into the sea.

Posted: Nick Gray
Twitter @Nickgraytcd

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

New Close Wild-Relative Of Sweet Potato Is Discovered by Oxford Tea

The Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food is an interdisciplinary programme of research and policy engagement concerning all aspects of the food system, based at the University of Oxford. Link

 Ipomoea lactifera Wood & Scotland
a new endemic species of

 from Bolivia characteristic of humid
forest on the Andean foothills.
 Photo credit to Robert Scotland.
As part of an ongoing monographic study of the genus Ipomoea (morning glories) that contains the domesticated sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) Robert Scotland and John Wood from the Department of Plant Sciences have recently described 18 new species of morning glory from Bolivia with one species, Ipomoea lactifera, identified as a close wild-relative of sweet potato. This newly discovered relative may have implications for the conservation of the sweet potato crop as a genetic resource. 

Further details of the project can be found at and the publication can be accessed at

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

New coffee family species (Sommera cusocoana) from north-western Honduras

TCD botanists Daniel Kelly and Anke Dietzch have discovered and name new coffee family species (Sommera cusocoana) from north-western Honduras. It is considered to be critically endangered.  As shown in the image it has been described as a gorgeous tree with cherry-like fruits  about 10 metres (33 ft) high and covered with cream-colored flowers.

More information:

Full details:
Lorence DH, Dietzsch AC, Kelly DL (2015) Sommera cusucoana, a new species of Rubiaceaefrom Honduras. PhytoKeys 57: 1-9. doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.57.5339

Trevor Hodkinson

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Botany welcomes public as part of Discover Research Dublin

On Friday 25th September, as part of Discover Research Dublin, Botany welcomed the curious, both young and old, to an open evening to interact with and participate in some of the research currently on-going in the Department. The event ‘Saving the World’ introduced people to bees and pond beasties and showed people what happens in a herbarium and how a wetland works. We had honey tastings, mead, cider, cake and cocktails and we played some ecosystem jenga! We also encouraged everyone to become pollinator-friendly gardeners and citizen scientists.

Links featuring TCD Plant Scientists:
  • RTE
  • BotanyFacebook page 

 Dr Eileen Power

Friday, October 16, 2015

World Food Day - One good reason for being a Plant Scientist

Today is World Food Day

 About 795 million people are undernourished globally, down 167 million over the last decade, and 216 million less than in 1990–92. The decline is more pronounced in developing regions, despite significant population growth. In recent years, progress has been hindered by slower and less inclusive economic growth as well as political instability in some developing regions, such as Central Africa and western Asia.

Read more in the latest FAO Report The State of Food Insecurity in the World

Find out more about World Food Day Here

Posted : Nick Gray

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

It is possible to live a zero-waste lifestyle

It is not easy living sustainably but one of my personal hero’s, Lauren Singer, does just that…right in the centre of New York.  This video is by Alessandra Potenza who has made this video for The New York Times Upfront (issue Oct. 12th 2015).  I have tried but just  can't get anywhere near her fantastic achievement.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

New Book: Facing Up To Global Warming: what is going on and how you can make a difference?

Facing Up To Global Warming: what is going on and how you can make a difference?

This new book was published today and  explores climate change and how individuals can make a difference. 

Below is the Preface from the new book.

In 1972, a startling book was published called Limits to Growth . This book became hugely influential in the environmental movement, and while it alerted us to the fragility of our future on planet Earth, it also, inadvertently, helped to eventually undermine the credibility of environmentalism. The book predicted when certain non-renewables, including fossil fuels and metals, would become exhausted. The predictions were based on the best available knowledge at that time, but what it never envisaged in the early 1970’s, was that within a decade humans would be extracting oil, gas, and minerals in some of the remotest, extreme, and fragile places on Earth … a process that has continued and expanded to the present day. So the predictions proved incorrect in practice, but it reinforced the idea that all resources are limited and are slowly being exhausted.

This book became a driving force for many environmental scientists who realized that we have to act both collectively and individually to preserve our home, planet Earth, with its unique biosphere and which is home to millions of different living organisms of which we are just one species. For me personally, being an environmental scientist has been a long and often disappointing journey and at various times I have been shocked, scared, and often depressed by the unfolding of the current crisis which is so intertwined with global warming. But, to my surprise, in recent years I have begun to feel more hopeful that perhaps we can deal with our climate and resource problems to create a sustainable planet. So in this book, I have attempted to explain what the problems are and suggest some solutions. However, the book comes with a warning. During the 15 chapters that follow, I am going to make a lot of you really annoyed and possibly upset, I apologize in advance. I am not trying to shock; I am simply putting the facts before you so that you can make up your own mind. Neither am I telling anyone that their lifestyle is wrong, or alternatively, that they are better than the next person because they have invested in green energy or a hybrid car. The book is an overview; it is not a text on the theory of sustainability or population dynamics; it simply looks at what the individual should know and addresses some of the issues closest to our everyday lives.

There are hundreds of academic and specialist texts on sustainability, but they fail to link sustainability to tackling global warming, especially at the individual level. Adopting any form of sustainable actions in your life will cause significant effects both direct and indirect. Such actions will lead to changes that will influence economic and social norms … so sustainability if properly applied will mean socio-economic change. I begin the text by giving a brief overview of the problems of climate change and the real difficulties that having such a rapidly growing population is placing on the idea of a sustainable and equitable planet. Discussions on population is always a very emotive issue and so I have simply given some basic facts, and shown that as population grows our ability to live sustainably on planet Earth becomes more challenging. So this is not a comfortable book.

Is the text political? I have tried not to be, but if you advocate changing people’s lifestyles, then it will appear to be political. Then, we have the concept that everyone on the planet matters and that the concept of global justice and human rights is important when assessing the sustainability of our own lifestyles. So trying to avert these climate-mediated crises by ensuring that everyone has enough for their needs without being wasteful is a good starting point. However, that starting point has to be an acknowledgment that all people are equal, and that we should all have the right to pursue happiness and well-being. Is this naïve? Of course it is, but what else are we to strive for in a truly global and fair society. Global warming raises serious social as well as economic questions and many of these are going to be very difficult to deal with in practice, and my aim is to try and make you think about these issues from a personal perspective. Can we have finite economic growth? Can we have finite consumerism? Unfortunately, the answer has to be no to both of these questions, which means that both economists and social geographers or planners have a lot of work to do and that we are going to have to eventually reinvent our economy and social environment to achieve these goals.

There are also many other important environmental issues that we also need to consider and many of these are also linked to global warming such as deforestation, exploitation of new fossil fuel reserves, intensification of agriculture, and overexploitation of water resources. However, many of these issues such as pollution, are less important in the context of global warming, as we now have them largely under control. We have made huge strides in dealing with air, water, and land pollution over the past 40 years, and there are scientists and regulatory bodies all dealing with these issues on an on-going basis. Such issues are predominately local or at worst regional, but rarely global, and what is important is that we have the technology and infrastructure to deal with them. But controlling carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions must now be everyone’s priority. If we have to reduce carbon emissions by 80 % by 2050 to avert a global crisis, this will mean using significantly less energy in the developed world than we currently use, and while this does not necessarily mean an immediate and huge change in our everyday lives, it does mean changes to our current lifestyles. This is not going to be easy and the burden has to be shared by everyone. However, the fact is that people feel very threatened by the idea of altering their lifestyle, even when change can be for the better. 

We also need to understand that some sectors of society are using more than their fair share of global resources, but that in the context of global warming everyone must act responsibly if we are to succeed in mitigating climate change. Those in developing countries also desire the technology, food, travel, etc. we enjoy, and to break this cycle we in the developed world need to begin to pull back from our current high-energy lifestyle while allowing the poorer nations to develop and become sustainable.

This book will never be welcomed by those who are pretty happy with the status quo and who have not become genuinely concerned, possibly scared, by the possibility of what global warming may do to our home, planet Earth. This is a very general text that looks at different aspects of our lives which we, as individuals, have control over. It is simple things like travel, food, recycling, using resources … all those things which we are all involved in on a daily basis; and how our actions affect the future of planet Earth and our ability to sustain that ever growing human population. I hope that this book will help you think and act from a position of knowledge and reassurance.

I hope that the majority of you will be reassured that we are beginning to tackle global warming successfully, but in order to succeed in stabilizing our new climate, and I believe we can, we need your help through direct action. You really can make a difference. This book is a personal journey and during it I will be asking you to do various things. Some are critical others will be just things that I hope you will try, but to work, I need a commitment from you. The journey is not free, it comes at a cost, and you have to decide just how much you are willing to pay for your planet.

This is about your future.

Nick Gray
Trinity Centre for the Environment

Friday, August 28, 2015

Six month free publishing - Agricultural & Environmental Letters

Agricultural & Environmental Letters is a new peer-reviewed online journal published jointly by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and the Soil Science Society of America to be launched in September. It’s aim is to publish broad-reaching, exceptionally interesting, transformative, and timely research on major scientific, policy, and economic issues that span the entire range of the agricultural and environmental sciences. The open access journal will be funded by a fee, normally $950 per paper, but for the next six months the journal will published all paper for free, then at a reduced rate for a further six months.  This is a wonderful idea and will help new researchers in particular to get their research published by this prestigious group of Societies.  Link to find out more.

 Posted: Nick Gray

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Today is Earth Overshoot Day

This year Earth #Overshoot Day falls on  August  This is when we have used up all our natural capacity.

Find out more and act on climate is what you do that makes the difference and makes tackling global warming possible.  For help in doing this go to 

Posted: Nick Gray

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Real time spatial wildfire data for the United States

Although we are all watching the current wildfires in California, a more serious situation is occurring in Alaska with thousands of hectares currently affected. 

The Geospatial Multi-Agency Co-ordination Group provides real time mapping of current wildfires throughout the United States.  Zoom onto the flame showing a wildfire for its perimeter and then click for full details of the size of the fire, exact location and the extent to which it has grown or shrunk over the past 24 hours and also details of how much has been contained.  With high temperatures and less rainfall this is the worst season for wildfires to date.

Posted by Nick Gray

Sunday, July 26, 2015

What do climate scientists really think about global warming!

This remarkable video explores how Australia’s top climate scientists personally feel about global warming induced climate change.  They were asked t respond to the question, “How does climate change make you feel?” by Joe Duggan who has compiled their handwritten responses in an exhibition to be shown in August.

posted: Nick Gray

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

US Ecological Deficit Day

Today is US Ecological Deficit Day...for those of you who know all about ecological footprints then you know that we in the developed world are all guilty of exceeding our personal one planet allowance.  Today is the day  when the US exceeds its national biocapacity and goes into the red (i.e. deficit). Each year it gets earlier and today is that point in the Nation's ecological footprint balance.  More information  Should we adopt this in Ireland?

Nick Gray

Friday, July 10, 2015

Practical Course in Botanical Art

There is a unique opportunity to be a part of  a two-day course in botanical art hosted by
well-known botanical artist, Ms Holly Somerville (see The two-day practical course will be based at the beautiful Trinity College Botanic Gardens at Dartry, Dublin 6 (nearest Luas Station, Milltown) on the 9th and 10th September.  All sessions start at 10.30 a.m. and end at 4.00 p.m. Tea and coffee will be provided (but not lunch) and materials will be supplied.

Holly is a trained botanist and illustrator, and will give drawing and layout guidance before getting you started with detailed watercolour painting using the rich variety of subject matter available at the gardens.  All abilities will be catered for, as each participant will receive individual tuition. 

To apply contact Sophia – but please be quick as there a limited number of spaces.

The course will cost €70 per day or €130 for both days.

Full payment in advance is essential and required to secure your place. Please note that all monies are non-refundable except in the event of course cancellation. Cheques should be made payable to ‘TCD no. 1 account’ and sent to The Executive Officers, Discipline of Botany, Trinity College, Dublin 2. Cash payments can be made in person during normal office hours to The Executive Officers at the above address.

Friday, June 5, 2015

TCD Botany Launches Citizen Science Project: Count Flowers for Bees

Dr Eileen Power, a researcher based in Botany at Trinity College Dublin is creating a flower map of Ireland to help conserve pollinators. This will involve sampling as many locations in Ireland at different times of the year to gauge the species and density of flower plants that are to be found.  This is a massive undertaking and while Eileen is carrying out surveys of her own she has created an online resource to encourage people from around Ireland to help her get as a complete map as possible.

The Citizen Science Project is asking everyone who has either a camera or smartphone to take some photos of flowers while out walking and upload them to her Flickr Group Page Count Flowers for Bees:

In order to identify which  habitats provide the best food for pollinators she needs you to follow the following rules:

  1. Take a photo of roughly a 1 metre squared patch of ground or hedgerow
  2. Take 1 photo every 10 metres until you have 10 photos. One metre is equivalent to one long stride.
  3. Upload photos to Flickr 
  4. Tag the photos FLOWERMAP 
  5. Say where you took photos. You can click 'add to map' in your personal photostream.
  6. Add the photos to this group
Remember only to take images from Ireland.  So please take part in this important research project.

Posted: Nick Gray

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

TCD joins the World Flora Online Consortium

Professor Fraser Mitchell, Head of the School of Natural Sciences and also member of the Botany team at Trinity College Dublin, has signed a memorandum of understanding on behalf  of Botany’s world famous herbarium with the consortium who are undertaking the enormous task of preparing a World Flora Online.

This international project links together the top Systematics Institutions in the World. All are working within the UN Convention on Global Biodiversity to produce 'An online Flora of all known plants' by 2020. The consortium is formed via invitation only and the TCD herbarium is the only Irish member of the consortium and one of only 26 members Worldwide. It joins overseas institutes such as, for example, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Professor John Parnell who is Director of the Herbarium will represent TCD on the Council of the World Flora Online Consortium.

Posted: Nick Gray

Saturday, May 30, 2015

New paper on Insect-Flower Interactions and Rhododendron ponticum

A new paper published by Botany researchers Erin Jo Tiedeken and Jane Stout has been published in the journal PLoS ONE.  The paper entitled: Insect-Flower Interaction Network Structure Is Resilient to a Temporary Pulse of Floral Resources from Invasive Rhododendron ponticum can be downloaded from:

Fig 5. Quantitative insect-flower interaction networks Networks represent insect-flower communities at four Irish woodland sites during (a, c, e, g) and after (b, d, f, h) R. ponticum flowering. For each web, upper bar widths represent pollinator guild abundance while lower bar widths are determined by the interaction strength with insect species. On the lower bars, the number 1 corresponds to R. ponticum and is circled in gray; remaining species codes and pollinator guild abbreviations are listed in S1 & S2 Tables. Linkage width indicates the frequency of the interaction. One network was calculated for each site during each round of sampling.

Posted: Nick Gray

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

It's the 22nd of April and its Earth Day!

Why do we need Earth Day?

Because it works!  Earth Day broadens the base of support for environmental programs, rekindles public commitment and builds community activism around the world through a broad range of events and activities. Earth Day is the largest civic event in the world, celebrated simultaneously around the globe by people of all backgrounds, faiths and nationalities. More than a billion people participate in Earth Day events and campaigns every year.  This year it's your turn to celebrate.

Read more about the Earth Day movement, its history :

To celebrate Earth Day we are releasing details of a new book:

Facing up to Global Warming
What is going on and how you can make a difference

Written by Professor Nick Gray, who is the Director of the Trinity Centre for the Environment and a member of the Botany team at Trinity College Dublin. The book  is  published by Springer (New York)  and is due out this summer.

To find out more about the book, look at its new website

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Funded studentship on organic contamination of groundwater

Emerging organic contaminants arising in rural environments: investigations in karst and fractured bedrock aquifers

The aim of this project is to investigate the occurrence of synthetic organic compounds arising from rural activities in Irish karst and fractured bedrock aquifers. The primary focus will be on the loss to groundwater of veterinary drugs used in Irish agriculture, particularly anti-parasitic drugs including anthelmintics, coccidiostats and pyrethroids, which represent the most widely use veterinary drugs in Irish agricultural production. The project will investigate the frequency of occurrence of different compounds and the relationship to their chemical characteristics. It will aim to determine both source factors (e.g. animal waste storage, landspreading, grazing and feeding locations) and pathway factors (e.g. characteristics of soil, Quaternary deposits and bedrock) involved in contaminant detections. 

This is a joint project between Trinity College Dublin and Teagasc through the Walsh Fellowship Scheme and it forms part of the Groundwater Spoke of the Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences (iCRAG) ( The iCRAG Centre is funded under the SFI Research Centres Programme and is co-funded under the European Regional Development Fund together with industry partners.

Requirements: Applicants should have a good primary degree (II1 or I) or M.Sc. in an appropriate discipline (Environmental Chemistry, Environmental Science, Agricultural Science, Earth Science, Hydrogeology etc.). Chemical analytical experience is essential and experience in chromatographic techniques and mass spectrometry would be highly advantageous. A full EU driving licence is required.

Starting date and funding: The project will start in September 2015. The funding is for a four year structured Ph.D. project, to be completed by end of August 2019. The project is open to EU students only (students who have been resident for 3 out of the last 5 years in the EU) and includes fees and a tax-free stipend of €18,000 per annum. Final appointment of the successful candidate is dependent on funding being finalised.

Further information on the position and application procedure can be obtained by emailing Prof. Catherine Coxon, Trinity Centre for the Environment, School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin, email: for further details.  Closing date for applications:  8th May 2015.

Post: Nick Gray

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Pint of Nature for St Patrick's Day

This St Patrick's Day, make yours a pint of nature. 

The Irish Forum on Natural Capital (IFNC) has created this infographic to illustrate just how important natural processes are in making a pint of beer, but the same logic applies to every commodity in our lives: from staples like bread and milk to luxuries like lipstick and laptops, nature is at the root of everything. 

So let's make it count!

Check out their website and find out what the IFNC are all about:

Happy St Patrick's Day !!

Posted: Jane Stout

Monday, March 16, 2015

Anna Atkins: Pioneering Botanist

Carix (America)
Today Google is celebrating  the 216th birthday of  Anna Atkins, botanist, with a special banner.  

Atkins is perhaps one of the most important pioneers in the use of photography in science, learning directly from Fox Talbot, she started taking images of plants as early as 1841 and was the first person to publish a book containing real images (Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions) in 1843.  

The image here shows one of her cyanotypes, an early form of photograph invented by her friend Sir John Herschel.  She went on to produce three volumes in the series.  Only 17 copies of the book in various states of completeness have survived, but her images are still widely available.  She died in 1871.

Posted: Nick Gray

Friday, March 13, 2015

Frost flowers

Courtesy of
Many people contact the Department of Botany for help in identifying plants or for advice.  A recent enquiry from Majella O’Sullivan, the Southwest correspondent of the Irish Independent, was very interesting as it was about frost flowers.  She had some wonderful images of this phenomenon captured by a walker  in woodlands near Lough Key Forest Park in Co. Roscommon during January. Frost flowers form by ice being extruded from the pores of plant debris or soil.  The conditions for their formation have to be very precise, which is why they are rarely observed.  The air temperature has to be below freezing while the ground temperature is not. When these conditions occur  water, which expands when frozen, can be drawn out of the decaying wood through small fissures and pores by capillary action.  As this happens long thin filaments of ice form creating this phenomenon. 
Courtesy of

Post: Nick Gray

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

International Fascination of Plants Day!

May 18th marks the 3rd International Fascination of Plants Day! 

Zoë  Popper is the National Coordinator for Ireland and she wants to get you involved. university/botanical garden. Please see the following pages for information on previous years events please don’t hesitate to contact her at if you’d like to get involved in any way.

Zoë  is also organising at the National level a photo competition. This is open to everyone in Ireland (the prizes are tickets to Bloom) so get clicking right now!

Post: Nick Gray

Friday, January 9, 2015

Professor Daniel Kelly Retires

Over the past months the Department of Botany at Trinity College has been celebrating the work and contribution to College of Professor Daniel Kelly who has recently retired.  As young as ever, it is hard to believe that Daniel has been a lecturer in Botany for 35 years.  In some respects Trinity and Daniel are inseparable.  He attended the Department as an undergraduate achieving scholarship in 1968 and graduating in 1970.  After a PhD he moved to Jamaica as a lecturer at the University of the West Indies returning to Trinity as a lecturer in 1979.  He is a plant ecologist of the highest calibre and has fascinated and inspired innumerable students and staff (myself included).  I shall always remember seeing a crowd of botany students with hand lenses examining his car which seemed to be the home of an embarrassing large number of mosses and lichens. Daniel’s expertise covers the entire range of plants but in particular trees and of course mosses and liverworts.  He is an exceptional scientist and a very generous person who is always willing to help and advise students, so we are all delighted that he will continue his research in the Department and continue to be such an inspirational presence for all of us.
Details of the symposium held in his honour can be found at:
Post: Nick Gray

Monday, January 5, 2015

New research on the genetic diversity and floral width variation in Rhododendron ponticum published

TTrinity College Dublin plant scientists Jane Stout, Karl  Duffy, Paul Egan, Maeve Harbourne and Trevor  Hodkinson have published a new paper  in the online Oxford  journal AOB Plants.

Genetic diversity and floral width variation in introduced and native populations of a long-lived woody perennial

Abstract: Populations of introduced species in their new environments are expected to differ from native populations, due to processes such as genetic drift, founder effects, and local adaptation, which can often result in rapid phenotypic change. Such processes can also lead to changes in the genetic structure of these populations. This study investigated populations of Rhododendron ponticum in its introduced range in Ireland, where it is severely invasive, to determine both genetic and flower width diversity and differentiation. We compared six introduced Irish populations with two populations from R. ponticum's native range in Spain, using Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism (AFLP) and Simple Sequence Repeat (SSR) genetic markers. We measured flower width, a trait that may affect pollinator visitation, from four Irish and four Spanish populations by measuring both the width at the corolla tip and tube base (nectar holder width). With both genetic markers, populations were differentiated between Ireland and Spain and from each other in both countries. However, populations displayed low genetic diversity (mean Nei's genetic diversity=0.22), with the largest proportion (76-93%) of genetic variation contained within, rather than between, populations. Although corolla width was highly variable between individuals within populations, tube width was significantly wider (>0.5 mm) in introduced, compared with native, populations. Our results show that the same species can have genetically distinct populations in both invasive and native regions, and that differences in floral width may occur, possibly in response to ecological sorting processes or local adaptation to pollinator communities.  The paper can be download for free from the Oxford Journals link:

Find out more about this project and all our research at:

Professor Nick Gray