Scientist in the garden: purple cauliflower & other cool photos

I’ve been gardening since I was a kid and I guess I’ve been a scientist that long too so now it’s time for another installment of “scientist in the garden.” You can see past such posts here, which usually include various cool photos. Purple cauliflower

Today’s post is focused on unusual things in the garden. Getting out in the dirt is a good place to experiment with growing all kinds of unusual things. Arguably the most scientific looking plant is broccoli romanesco, which I’ve grown successfully in past years (see photo here) and am trying to grow this year, but the plants have stayed relatively dinky over the winter. Meanwhile my broccolini, cauliflower, and fava beans have been growing steadily. Why? Who knows. Every year seems different.

Speaking of different, this year I tried growing a new variety of cauliflower and on those little tags at the nursery it look bright pinkish-purple. I thought, “What the heck, but I bet it won’t turn out that bright.”

I’ve seen purple or orange cauliflower in the grocery store, but somehow I thought it wouldn’t turn out that bright if I grew it. Wrong! While the heads aren’t ready to harvest, man are they neon bright (see above).

So what makes them so bright? They must be a GMO, right? Wrong again…at least, I think that’s wrong. Apparently from some reading on the web (which of course is always accurate), purple cauliflower arose from some naturally occurring mutation.

A little more digging found a paper suggesting at least some purple cauliflower arise from a MYB mutation (MYB is a transcription factor, not to be confused with the MYC transcription factor family that my lab studies) leading to increased pigment expression.California alligator lizard garden

As usual with this kind of color, the colorful action comes from anthocyanin. This is the same pigment molecule that gives us wacky looking black-blue tomatoes. I’ve tried growing those tomatoes in recent years too and they are pretty cool. You can see some examples of blue tomatoes here.

As much as I grew lots of interesting plants last year, probably the most interesting thing I saw in my garden last year was the ginormous alligator lizard (see above). What a tail, right? I hope s/he made their home in the garden and I’ll see more of them along with their kids. I figure they must be eating tons of annoying insects too.

One of the coolest things I ever saw was in my neighborhood even if not in my garden and that was jumping oak gall and you can see my video of it here.

Seen anything interesting lately in your garden or back yard?