The Real Reason Peppers are Spicy

SciShow’s hot take: Peppers don’t produce that spicy goodness for the reason you think!

Hosted by: Hank Green

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Sources:
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092867402006372
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00442-006-0496-y#page-1
https://www.nature.com/articles/35086653
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9035246?dopt=Abstract https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2093168?dopt=Abstract https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3311884/ https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10886-005-9017-4
https://www.theguardian.com/science/grrlscientist/2011/dec/22/economics-red-chili-peppers
https://www.acs.org/content/dam/acsorg/education/resources/highschool/chemmatters/archive/chemmatters-dec2013-pepper.pdf http://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/105/33/11808.full.pdf https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/whats-so-hot-about-chili-peppers-116907465/

Images:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Habanero_peppers.svg#filehistory
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:California_Red_Chili_Peppers.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Microconidia_and_Macroconidia_of_the_fungus_Fusarium_sp.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anaheim_Chili_Peppers.jpg

Why Do Tumbleweeds Tumble? | Deep Look

The silent star of classic Westerns is a plant on a mission. It starts out green and full of life. It even grows flowers. But to reproduce effectively, it needs to turn into a rolling brown skeleton.

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DEEP LOOK is a ultra-HD (4K) short video series created by KQED San Francisco and presented by PBS Digital Studios. See the unseen at the very edge of our visible world. Explore big scientific mysteries by going incredibly small.

Tumbleweeds might be the iconic props of classic Westerns. But in real life, they’re not only a noxious weed, but one that moves around. Pushed by gusts of wind, they can overwhelm entire neighborhoods, as happened recently in Victorville, California, or become a threat for drivers and an expensive nuisance for farmers.

“They tumble across highways and can cause accidents,” said Mike Pitcairn, who tracks tumbleweeds at the California Department of Food and Agriculture in Sacramento. “They pile up against fences and homes.”

And tumbleweeds aren’t even originally from the West.

Genetic tests have shown that California’s most common tumbleweed, known as Russian thistle, likely came from Ukraine, said retired plant population biologist Debra Ayres, who studied tumbleweeds at the University of California, Davis.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture employee, L. H. Dewey, wrote in 1893 that Russian thistle had arrived in the U.S. through South Dakota in flaxseed imported from Europe in the 1870s.

“It has been known in Russia many years,” Dewey wrote, “and has quite as bad a reputation in the wheat regions there as it has in the Dakotas.” This is where the name Russian thistle originates, said Ayres, although tumbleweeds aren’t really thistles.

The weed spread quickly through the United States — on rail cars, through contamination of agricultural seeds and by tumbling.
“They tumble to disperse the seeds,” said Ayres, “and thereby reduce competition.”

By bouncing and rolling, a tumbleweed spreads out tens of thousands of seeds so that they all get plenty of sunlight and space.

Tumbleweeds grow well in barren places like abandoned agricultural fields, vacant lots or the side of the road, where they can tumble unobstructed and there’s no grass, which their seedlings can’t compete with.

— Where does a tumbleweed come from?

Tumbleweeds start out as any plant, attached to the soil. Seedlings, which look like blades of grass with a bright pink stem, sprout at the end of the winter. By summer, Russian thistle plants take on their round shape and grow flowers. Inside each flower, a fruit with a single seed develops.

Other plants attract animals with tasty fruits, and get them to carry away their seeds and disperse them when they poop.

Tumbleweeds developed a different evolutionary strategy. Starting in late fall, they dry out and die, their seeds nestled between prickly leaves. Gusts of wind easily break dead tumbleweeds from their roots and they roll away, spreading their seeds as they go.

— How big do tumbleweeds grow?

Mike Pitcairn, of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said they can grow to be more than 6 feet tall in parts of the state like the San Joaquin Valley.

— Are tumbleweeds dangerous?

Yes. They can cause traffic accidents, and they can be a fire hazard if they pile up against buildings.

—+ More great Deep Look episodes:

How Ticks Dig In With a Mouth Full of Hooks
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IoOJu2_FKE

This Giant Plant Looks Like Raw Meat and Smells Like Dead Rat
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycUNj_Hv4_Y

Upside-Down Catfish Doesn’t Care What You Think
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eurCBOJMrsE

—+ See some great videos and documentaries from the PBS Digital Studios!

Above the Noise: Why Is Vaping So Popular?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9zps5LsVXs

Hot Mess: What Happened to Nuclear Power?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jEXZZDU6Gk

—+ Follow KQED Science:

KQED Science: http://www.kqed.org/science
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—+ About KQED

KQED, an NPR and PBS affiliate in San Francisco, CA, serves Northern California and beyond with a public-supported alternative to commercial TV, radio and web media.

Funding for Deep Look is provided in part by PBS Digital Studios. Deep Look is a project of KQED Science, which is supported by the Templeton Religion Trust and the Templeton World Charity Foundation, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation, the Vadasz Family Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Fuhs Family Foundation Fund and the members of KQED.

This Giant Plant Looks Like Raw Meat and Smells Like Dead Rat | Deep Look

With rows of Dr. Seuss-like flowers hidden deep inside, the corpse flower plays dead to lure some unusual pollinators.

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DEEP LOOK is a ultra-HD (4K) short video series created by KQED San Francisco and presented by PBS Digital Studios. See the unseen at the very edge of our visible world. Get a new perspective on our place in the universe and meet extraordinary new friends. Explore big scientific mysteries by going incredibly small.

* NEW VIDEOS EVERY OTHER TUESDAY! *

For a plant that emits an overpowering stench of rotting carcass, you’d think the corpse flower would have a PR problem.

But it’s quite the opposite: Anytime a corpse flower opens up at a botanical garden somewhere in the world visitors flock to catch a whiff and get a glimpse of the giant plant, which can grow up to 10 feet tall when it blooms and generally only does so every two to 10 years.

A corpse flower’s whole survival strategy is based on deception. It’s not a flower and it’s not a rotting dead animal, but it mimics both. Pollination remains out of sight, deep within the plant. KQED’s Deep Look staff was able to film inside a corpse flower, revealing the rarely-seen moment when the plant’s male flowers release glistening strings of pollen.

It’s not that the corpse flower is the only plant to attract pollinators like flies and beetles by putting out bad smells. Nor is it the only one that produces male and female flowers at the same time.

“The fact that it does all of this at this outsized scale – all of this together – is what’s so unique about it, biologically,” said Pati Vitt, senior scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

When a titan arum is ready to flower, a stalk starts to grow out of the soil. Once it has reached four to 10 feet, a red “skirt” unfurls. Though it has the appearance of a petal, it’s really a modified leaf called a spathe that looks like a raw steak.

The yellow stalk underneath is called the spadix and it gives the plant its scientific name, Amorphophallus titanum, or roughly “giant deformed phallus.”

In its native Sumatra, the corpse flower opens for only 24 hours. In captivity, it often lasts longer. With just a day to reproduce, the stakes are high.

— How many chemicals make up the smell of the corpse flower?
More than 30 chemicals make up the scent of the corpse flower, according to the 2017 paper “Studies on the floral anatomy and scent chemistry of titan arum” by researchers at the University of Mississippi, University of Florida, Gainsville, and Anadolu University in Turkey:
http://journals.tubitak.gov.tr/botany/issues/bot-17-41-1/bot-41-1-6-1604-34.pdf

Some of the chemicals have a pleasant scent. But mostly, the corpse flower at first smells like funky cheese and rotting garlic, as a result of sulphur-smelling compounds. Hours later, the stink changes to what Vanessa Handley, at the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley describes as “dead rat in the walls of your house.”

—+ Read the entire article:
https://ww2.kqed.org/science/2018/01/23/this-giant-plant-looks-like-raw-meat-and-smells-like-dead-rat/

—+ For more information:
Great illustration on the lifecycle of the corpse flower by the Chicago Botanic Garden:
https://www.chicagobotanic.org/titan/faq

University of California Davis Botanical Conservatory:
http://greenhouse.ucdavis.edu/conservatory/

—+ More Great Deep Look episodes:

This Mushroom Starts Killing You Before You Even Realize It
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bl9aCH2QaQY

A Real Alien Invasion Is Coming to a Palm Tree Near You
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6a3Q5DzeBM

—+ See some great videos and documentaries from PBS Digital Studios!

It’s Okay To Be Smart: How to Figure Out the Day of the Week For Any Date Ever
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=714LTMNJy5M

Above The Noise: Can Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Help Fight Disease?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CB_h7aheAEM

—+ Follow KQED Science:
KQED Science: http://www.kqed.org/science
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—+ About KQED

KQED, an NPR and PBS affiliate in San Francisco, CA, serves Northern California and beyond with a public-supported alternative to commercial TV, radio and web media.

Funding for Deep Look is provided in part by PBS Digital Studios. Deep Look is a project of KQED Science, which is supported by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation, the Vadasz Family Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Fuhs Family Foundation Fund and the members of KQED.