Friday Flora: I’d like to sell a vowel Pat

Occasionally after I arrive home from work, I turn on WCCO to watch Wheel of Fortune. It’s nice to unwind after a long day and likely delayed commute via public transit to the sounds of the rat-i-tat-tat of a spinning wheel and random people enthusiastically shouting letters of the alphabet.

Lately my days prior to watching “The Wheel” are spent entering descriptions for the scanned images of thousands of lantern slides in the Ned L. Huff Lantern Slide Collection in the Department of Botany records. Each lantern slide is numbered and the description for what each slide depicts is found in a partially typed, partially hand-written catalogue. The majority of the slides are images of plant life (ferns, flowers, etc.) and the catalogue entries include the scientific and common names of the plant depicted, which I record as the title(s) of the image. Here are some examples:

Conocephalum conicum

  • Daedalea unicolor
  • Ithypallus impudicus
  • Polyporus cinnabarinus (Pycnopous cinnabarinus)
  • Calvatia caelata
  • Coprinus comatus
  • Pontederia cordata
  • Mianthemum canadense

Notice any commonalities? If you said “VOWELS,” you solved the puzzle. In addition to recording scientific name, we are also recording the FAMILY of each plant depicted in the images (5,549 and counting). You guessed it – more VOWELS!

  • Boletaceae
  • Tremellaceae
  • Morchellaceae
  • Phallaceae
  • Polyporaceae
  • Pezizaceae
  • Fomitopsidaceae

I cross-check the corresponding scientific names listed in the catalogue against a myriad of databases based on the type of biological material. For the majority of plant life, to include your average Larix laricina (Tamarack), Typha latifolia (Cattails), or Taraxacum officinale (Dandelion), I go to Tropicos. Huff, who was a an instructor and professor of Botany at the University for 39 years (1906-1945), not only covered plants, but also captured fungi and algae, which falls into the disciplines of Mycology and Phycology, respectively. For all my fungus needs, I turn to MycoBank, and for every kelp and lichen, Algaebase is my go to guide on current species nomenclature.

After a particularly heavy vowel-laden data entry filled day last week, as I watched Sandra from San Diego ask if she could buy a vowel to solve a “Before-and-After,” I thought, “I’d like to sell a vowel Pat.” I have thousands of them…

Speaking of The Wheel, if you haven’t heard about the amazing final puzzle solve from Wednesday night, read about it and view a clip here.