…Paula ventures to take you on a plant adventure…

Farewell visit to Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

My project at the James Hutton Institute has officially ended with the last working day in April 2017. I shared farewell cake and best wishes with the people I met during my two years stay at the institute, but the real farewell from my closes collaborators took place two weeks later, when we visited Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. I’m so sad to leave the group, although I’m also looking forward to new adventures in Slovenia.

The team (from left to right): Paula, Jean, Jackie, Philip, Konrad, Gladys

The Botanic garden really is amazing and it reminded me again of the wonderful plant diversity. Here are some photos from the day, although I don’t think I can do justice to the plants or the day with my photos…

The day was warm and we were all keen on exploring the Garden
The amazing shapes of flowers amaze me every time
These leaves remind me of chubby hands clasped in prayer
The oldest plant in the garden: stone gate palm
The cross-section of the palm tree trunk (note: this is not wood)
Meshy-purple orchid
Stripy-pink orchid
Doesn’t this look like a snake?
Not all flowers have flower stems
The team minus I at the pond
Gladys challenged me to make a good photo of a drop – with good zoom, the camera is seen in it
These were, I think, seeds, not fern spores underneath the leaves
The pattern on this flower is awesome
Yellow water lily
I’ll scare you away by just staring at you!

Opening of the exhibition

As a student I worked in a gallery for 5 years and have been to many openings of exhibitions, but I have never been on the other side, setting one up. Therefore, last Friday was the first time for me to be an active part of an exhibition, which aimed to increase appreciation of the beauty and complexity of roots and to portray the essential roles of roots in environmental sustainability and food security. It is my please to say that it was great!

This was a collaborative approach of course, as anything in science is, and was supported by The Centre of the Knowledge Exchange and Impact of the Scottish Government. The force behind it all was Jean Duncan, a CECHR artist in residence, who is not only great artist but also an amazing person and I’m very grateful I could work with her. She created a beautiful set of root images using different artistic techniques (etching and printing, mainly) and produced paper form different plant fibres. Not much could be done without Prof. Philip White, my supervisor, but also the main actor in acquiring the funding and in writing the text accompanying the scientific images of roots exhibited and presented in the booklet we created for the occasion. Other collaborators comprised Dr Lionel Dupuy (The James Hutton Institute), Prof. Glyn Bengough (The James Hutton Institute and University of Dundee), Prof. Ian Bingham (Scotland’s Rural College) and Prof. Jane Wishart (University of St Andrews). Last but not least was excellent technical support, particularly from Gladys Wright, my second hand when it came down to designing the hydroponic system and all other small bits and pieces that needed to be worked out, Lloyd Crichton and David Laird from the institute’s workshops, who actually built the equipment for the hydroponic system, and Ralph Wilson and Jackie Thompson, who helped set the exhibition up. Thanks to Tracy for the time lapses of swede seed germination!

Here are some photos from the opening.

The venue and me explaining the roots to the youngest visitors.
Lionel (on the right) giving the welcome speech and introducing Jean. In the background: the hydroponic system (left) and the root cross sections printed on the plant paper made by Jean (right).
Glyn introducing the work on roots and their importance in environmental sustainability and food security.
Jean’s work on the wall – etchings of roots (whole root systems and root cross sections), printed on paper made from different plant fibres. Scientific images are on the right.
Selected scientific images representing the importance of roots.
Beetroot, swede and carrot in transparent, custom-made hydroponic system.
Handmade paper from kozo (paper mulberry tree) with seedling of swede incorporated.




The Beauty of Roots

It has been busy few weeks preparing the arts/science exhibition with Jean Duncan (Cechr artist in residence) and collaborators from The James Hutton Institute, Scotland’s Rural College and University of St Andrews. The opening event will take place on 17th of March and the exhibition will be staged until 30th March. This exhibition will comprise of photographs, plants and prints with the aim to increase appreciation of the beauty and complexity of roots and portray the essential roles of roots in environmental sustainability and food security. All are welcome to some along to see it (no entrance fee). I’m excited but also worried how it will go, especially as we are planning to exhibit plants with roots exposed…

Creativity plan(t)

Gladys, my co-worker, planned for a perfect Christmas gift for me and my family. As a former (semi)professional flower arranger, her every year’s gift are handmade wreaths. Last year she made one for us and at first, although I loved it, I thought it was a strange gift. In Slovenia, we make or buy wreaths 4 weeks before Christmas (this is our Advent time), we attach 4 candles (each candle represents one Sunday before Christmas) and we lit one candle every Sunday up to Christmas. Here in Scotland, it appears there is a different tradition. They have wreaths for time closer to Christmas and I assume this is more for decoration than for “anticipation” of Christmas.

To cut the long story short, this past week Gladys had a plan for us. The plan involved a lot of plant material, of course J. She brought all raw material needed for wreath making and invited us to make our own wreaths. Here is when 6-year-old’s creativity goes wild (and parents manage not to interfere too much):

This is were it all begins.
First, uncertain moves…
Not a wreath, but a tree.
Getting in shape – the colour selected: red.
Wealth of choice of greenery to feed the imagination.
Hard working for best outcome.
Choosing the decorations that fit best.
Going for too much?
The second wreath is colour coded mainly in white and blue.
Getting in shape to compete with any Christmas tree.
The person behind it all: Gladys.
Proud of our achievements!

It still amazes me what a bunch of twigs, some flowers, well-placed decorations and creativity can do. We had a great time and continue to enjoy our gifts. Thank you Gladys!

One year in 12 seconds

There is a beautiful (barley) field in front of my institute and a year ago, I decided to take one photo of it each month (from October 2015 to September 2016, early morning on the day). Although now I regret I did not take photos more frequently and that the shots do not overlay perfectly, I’m glad I managed to capture the changes in the field in this short time lapse.



Life signs

For the lack of activity, it might seem that I’ve abandoned my venture… let’s just say that I did lose some of my zeal due to very busy summer months. But, I’m back with renewed passion to share some of my plant-based stories.

Perhaps it would be best to start at the beginning of the summer and progress towards today. It means I need to tell you first of the conference I attended at the end of June in Prague, Czech Republic (the featured photo indicates the beauty of the city, which I visited for the first time). This was the Plant Biology Europe conference organised by EPSO (European Plant Science Organisation) and FESPB (The Federation of European Societies of Plant Biology) and it attracted around 800 participants. In the Macronutrient Section I had (in co-authorship with Philip J. White) a presentation entitled “The importance of cell-type-specific distributions of mineral elements for plant nutrition” with the following abstract:

Plants require seventeen mineral elements and five mineral elements are considered beneficial [1]. Other elements are taken up by plants, when they are phytoavailable in soils. Our knowledge of the distribution of mineral elements between organs (e.g. roots, shoots, leaves, flowers, seeds) has increased considerably over the last century. In addition, we are beginning to discover the distribution of mineral elements between specific cell-types within an organ. It is evident that the concentration of a particular mineral element can differ by an order of magnitude between cell types within an organ. This could be associated with the site of delivery of these mineral elements to the organ, sites of complexation or metabolism of the mineral element, or cell-type-specific uptake, efflux or sequestration processes [2]. Cell-type specific distributions of mineral elements have been documented in leaves of numerous plant species including plants that hyperaccumulate mineral elements [2,3]. However, a comprehensive overview of the cell-type specific distributions of essential, beneficial and toxic elements in plants remains to be undertaken. This talk will attempt to integrate information on cell-type specific distributions of mineral elements in different plant organs and discuss it in the context of the mineral nutrition of higher plants.

This photo was taken just after the talk and I’m in company of a PhD student Patrick Hayes, who works on localisation of mineral elements in plants as well.

Patty and I just after our talks on phosphorus and calcium localisation in plants.

Unfortunately, I cannot share my presentation as it includes too much unpublished data, but I can share few representative slides which show a co-localisation of phosphorus (P) in red, calcium (Ca) in green and potassium (K), magnesium (Mg) and sulphur (S) in leaf cross-sections of different plant species. I mostly focused on the exclusion of P and Ca in different plant species, which prevents the formation of calcium phosphate precipitates.





The conference was wonderful, especially as I also got to meet some of my former colleagues. Particularly I want to mention Prof. Charlotte Poschenrieder and Prof. Juan Barceló (from the Autonomous University of Barcelona,) with whom I spent 3 months in 2006. Also this was a great opportunity to meet with an Erasmus Student I worked with in the lab in Bayreuth, Martina Benáková, who, as a local, gave me an unforgettable night tour of the town. Also I met with some Slovenian researchers and I was updated with the current scientific situation in Slovenia, where, hopefully, I’ll find a job next year when we return to Slovenia.


[1] Conn S, Gillham M (2010) Comparative physiology of elemental distributions in plants. Annals of Botany 105, 1081–1102.

[2] White PJ, Brown PH (2010) Plant nutrition for sustainable development and global health. Annals of Botany 105, 1073–1080.

[3] White PJ, Pongrac P (2016) Heavy metal toxicity in plants. In: Plant Stress Physiology. Shabala S (Ed.) CABI Publishing; in press

Plants on Isle of May

We traveled to Isle of May to see the Atlantic puffins (Fratercula arctica), beautiful birds whose breeding plumage comprises white and black feathers, prominent orange beaks and feet. The island itself was packed with these birds, plus several other species such as guillemots, razorbills, gulls, turns and seals as well.

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The island is home to several salt tolerant plant species and it was an unforgettable vista. Almost the whole island was a covered in carpets of beautiful flowers and I hope I managed to capture it with these photos:

Sea campion (Silene uniflora Roth; Caryophyllaceae).
Sea thrift (Armeria maritima (Mill.) Willd.; Plumbaginaceae).
Sea thrift on the roof of the information centre on the island.
Nettle (Urtica dioica L.; Urticaceae).
A typical image of the island.
Sea campion with docks (Rumex sp.; Polygonaceae).
Sea campion, dock and umbellifers (Apiaceae).
Umbellifers (Apiaceae).
Beautiful cushions of sea campions and the horizon.

The visit to Isle of May is a must for anyone visiting Scotland between April and August, especially if you are on a hunt for an amazing floristic and/ or faunistic experience.


There are only three native conifers in Scotland. These are juniper (Juniperus communis), Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) and yew (Taxus baccata). Most of other conifers were introduced to Scotland by a Scottish botanist, famous David Douglas. Perhaps most known is a conifer that bears his name, namely Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Its name implies this is a fir, but this is not the case. Firs belong to genus Abies (for example silver fir (Abies alba) which is so very common in my home Slovenia). To amend somewhat for this misleading name, often the name would be written as Douglas-fir. Interestingly, the species epithet in the Latin name,  menziesii, is after Archibald Menties, a Scottish physician and rival naturalist to David Douglas.

Few weeks ago, we visited a place, where the first Douglas fir was planted by David Douglas in Scotland and where the tallest of them (>60 m) still grows. The Hermitage is a beautiful place and worthwhile visiting if you happen to be in Scotland. Here are some glimpses to the experience.

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A colourful invader and a toxic beauty

Whenever I see this plant I stare in wonder. It comes in variety of colours, it smells great and the bunches of its flowers are just beautiful. Rhododendrons, or as its name implies (in Ancient Greek) rose trees, are amazing spring treat for eyes. There are more than 1000 species in the genus, that belongs to Ericaceae family. I remember seeing rhododendron trees in a forest in West Virginia, USA.

Rhododendron in a forest in West Virginia, USA.

It came as a surprise to me, as I was used to see them in gardens and parks in Europe and in our forests we have a very different forest compositions.

On the path I take to work I am accompanied by numerous rhododendrons, which enables me to admire their luxurious colours every day (to be precise 4 times a day as I walk home for lunch). Here are some photos of these rhododendrons:





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Surprisingly, I just recently learned that a particular rhododendron species (Rhododendron ponticum L.) is invasive species in the UK. This means the plant is spreading uncontrollably in woodland areas replacing the natural understory. If you look carefully under this tree, you will see that nothing grows there – it completely destroys any vegetation around. Great number of seeds and suckering roots (meaning they have the ability to propagate, grow whole plants) make them a though pest. In addition, it was shown that its nectar contains grayanotoxin, a substance that, when consumed in a solution, makes honeybees 20-times more likely to die (read the study here: doi:10.1111/1365-2435.12588). This seems a considerable problem to me and it leaves a bitter taste from thereon whenever I see the plant.

Another toxic story involves nothing else but beautiful daffodils (Narcissus poeticus L.).

Daffodils near a local bus stop.

Again, just recently I learned that they are toxic and this was after my friend commented on my home-arranged bouquet of daffodils with: Oh, Paula you’ve treated us with a toxic pleasure. Discussion followed and yes, it is true, daffodils are toxic. As are tulips (Tulipa gesneriana L.), hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis L.) and lilies (Lilium sp.) and many other bulbous plants that flower in spring. Their underground bulbs contain toxic substances, most probably to deter a hungry animal in search for nutritious meal in winter time.

Suddenly, labels “do not eat” make sense!

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