Time to get back on track with our popular science updates.  These two stories peaked my interest this week:

Scientific American’s Agriculture and Innovation

This slide show gives us a peek at agricultural tools used 150 years ago when more than half of the U.S. population lived on a farm.  Some inventions border on absurd (like the combination sheep feeder and shearing table), while others are predecessors for modern tilling and harvesting machinery.  I think the drawings (all featured in issues of Scientific American from 1863) are works of art themselves.

Scientific American 1863 InnovationPhoto credit: Scientific American

Rare Flower Smells “like a dead rat in the wall”

Wait, this is news?  It is when the plant is rare and rarely flowers in nature, let alone in a cultivated setting (once every 7 to 10 years if you’re lucky).  The Amorphophallus titanum (The Titan Arum), commonly known as the corpse flower due to its unique fragrance, is part of the teaching collection at UC Santa Barbara.  This specimen, dubbed “Chanel”, bloomed July 31 and the sulfurous odor could be experienced throughout campus. The smell is attracts pollinators such as flies but a flower as rare as this attracted other guests of the human variety, as seen in this live feed.  To promote successful pollination, pollen was brought in from another A. titanum, which happened to flower the week prior at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington DC.  Good timing!

UCSB Titan AramPhoto Credit: Julie Cohen

PS – A video of a Titan Arum that bloomed in 2006 at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, including time-lapse photography.

What have you been reading this week?