43,000 year-old living
plant, ship-jet race, green eggs (no ham)
Q: What is the oldest plant living right now? — Ana, Flagstaff, Arizona
The 26-foot high King holly in Tasmania — the world’s
oldest living plant. [Tasmania Parks & Wildlife ©, used with permission]
A: The oldest living plant individual — King’s holly (Lomatia tasmanica)
— is 43,600 years old.
Determining that King’s holly is indeed the oldest living plant reads like a
detective story. In 1937, an odd-ball hermit, bushman, miner, scientific
collector, and generally neat guy, named Deny King discovered the plant while
mining tin by hand in the remote southwest of Tasmania. The plant was named in
Tasmania’s best botanist, Winifred Curtis, described the plant in 1967 and
had a hunch it was old. Scientists searched hard for other individuals but
didn’t find any.
The sole remaining individual straggles out in a line of 500 clone bushes,
nearly a mile long (1.2 km). It reproduces itself by dropping branch pieces that
take root. In the cold wet gloom of Tasmanian gullies, such propagation is slow.
The shiny-leaf plant bears pink flowers but neither fruit nor seeds. It can only
reproduce itself by cloning genetically identical bushes.
The plant has no choice. It must produce clones instead of seed since it has
three sets of chromosomes (a triploid) instead of the normal two and is,
therefore, sterile. When an old bush falls down, the individual lives on through
Investigators found fossil leaf fragments identical to the living bush 5.3
miles (8.5 km) away. University of Tasmania scientists carbon dated the fossils
as 43,600 years old. The fossil cell structure and shape are the same as the
living plant’s, which can only mean the ancient plant was triploid also.
Moreover, triploidy is so rare that it’s unlikely the trait occurred twice in
the same species. Thus, the fossil remnants came from the same individual as the
plant living now. Over 43,000 years ago (about the time Homo sapiens
displaced Neanderthal man), the ancient Tasmanian shrub suckered new shrubs that
eventually suckered the oldest living plant.
Tasmania Parks & Wildlife: Kings lomatia
Botanical Electronic News: The oldest living plant individual
LaTrombe University: King of the wilderness: the life of Deny King
University of Michigan, Art Cameron: Light and plant growth
Q: How much time will it take an ocean liner to travel from New York City to
London, England? Please answer the same question but for a military jet. — Bob,
New York City, New York
Above: Queen Elizabeth 2 steams past the Statue of Liberty
heading for Southampton, England.
Below: SR-71 is still officially the world's fastest jet-powered plane
even 40 years after it first flew. [Cunard Line (above), Aerospaceweb.org
A: The Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liner transits the Atlantic from New
York City to Southampton, England (a port about 90 miles [145 km] southwest of
London) in 6 days. Cunard is the only cruise line that schedules regular
QE2 can cross in less than 6 days at her top speed (37 mph, 60 kph). But she
usually glides along (31 mph, 50 kph) while passengers visit spas, take in a
movie, or dip in swimming pools (three of them), says Julie Davis of Cunard
Military jets (and commercial airlines) cut the time to about 7 hours.
Military jets fly at commercial-aircraft speeds to save fuel and go farther.
Fighters and bombers can and do reach supersonic speeds to outmaneuver the enemy
or reach a target swiftly. Routinely, however, they fly at about 80% of sound
speed (Mach 0.8) — about the same speed (560 mph, 900 km/h) as an airliner, says
Jeff Scott, aerospace engineer of
They can go faster, though. On Sept. 1, 1974, the SR-71 Blackbird high-speed
reconnaissance plane set a world speed record from New York to London: 1 hour
and 55 minutes, cruising at Mach 3 (2,000 mph, 3,220 km/h).
Aerospaceweb.org: WonderQuest question — how long does it take a military jet
to fly from New York to London?
Cunard: QE2 and QM2 transatlantic voyage details
Aerospaceweb.org: The SR-71 high-speed reconnaissance aircraft
Green eggs (no ham)
Q: Why do the yolks of overcooked boiled eggs become green? — Terry, Atlanta,
A: The yolks of overcooked boiled eggs turn green because the iron of the
yolk gets together with the sulfur of the egg white to form ferrous sulfide. The
result is harmless and doesn’t even taste bad but looks yucky.
Here’s the recipe for greenish-gray egg yolks: Start with not-fresh eggs for
extra alkaline. Overcook by boiling 45 minutes or longer. As you apply heat,
sulfur atoms break free of the egg-white protein, join free hydrogen atoms, and
form hydrogen sulfide gas. A whiff of "rotten eggs" wafts out. The gas diffuses
into the yolk and colors it green. The result — green eggs.
Western Culinary Institute: Hard-boiled eggs
(Answered Dec. 19, 2003)