Curtis Lubbe: Right place, wrong time? Hide in the soil – avoidant strategies in plants

In this new post, Curtis Lubbe from the Institute of Botany (Czech Academy of Sciences) presents his latest work ‘Winter belowground: changing winters and the perennating organs of herbaceous plants’, discuss the importance of plant storage organs in perennial plants and surprise us with his drawing talent.

About the paper

Curtis Lubbe

This paper is a review of our current understanding of how the belowground storage organs of perennial plants are affected by winter conditions, and what this means as winter conditions change.  This is not uncomplicated, and there are many sources of variation, such as structure type, traits, and where the plant is growing.  I had explored part of this topic in my Ph.D, and after an excited discussion one day with my current supervisor, Jitka Klimešová, we decided to put together the current knowledge on this topic.  She is an expert in belowground storage organs and we brought in my Ph.D supervisor, Hugh Henry, an expert in winter ecology.

Artistic interpretation of the devious nature of herbs. Ink on paper. (c) Curtis Lubbe

Below ground storage organs are an important adaptation for life in seasonal environments and thus winter conditions are very important for understanding plant ecology in these systems.  This is a really important paper to me, because it brings together two topics that have every sense being together but very rarely are.  They are both vital to plant life, yet frequently ignored, and here we see for the first time a cohesive discussion on the topic.  From years of research and observation, with some concepts dating back to Raunkiær and before, we bring into the discussion a lot of ideas and frameworks for these existing ecological concepts that I have never seen in print before.  If you care about plants in temperate systems, this is a good read.  But more importantly it is for anyone interested in herbs, storage, perennation, and of course, overwintering.

About the research

Artistic interpretation of plants overwintering peacefully belowground. Ink on paper. (c) Curtis Lubbe

I like to think this work highlights the importance of belowground organs and avoidant strategies.  I am fascinated about how plants use spatial and temporal avoidance.  Right place, wrong time?  Hide in the soil.  In terms of the current understanding, we brought in everything we could find, but there are still so many questions.  I think this is part of what makes it so exciting to work in this field.  There are a lot of options moving forward.  I think an important part is integrating the study and recognition of belowground storage organs into winter climate change experimental design.  My current goals are to try and understand the role of non-structural carbohydrate type and concentration. 

About the author

Curtis Lubbe planting

I think I really got interested in ecology because of form and stories.  I think that because I am so focused on the centre, the body of the plant, it is easy to see them like characters.  I want to know their personalities, their likes and dislikes, and their stories.  They probably don’t like when I dig them up, but that can’t be helped.  I am currently a postdoc at the Institute of Botany for the Czech Academy of Sciences and I am continuing to explore the questions surrounding belowground storage organ traits, especially in reference to storage allocation, storage carbohydrates, and turnover.  I am especially interested in storage carbohydrate type, concentration, and quantity, as well as exactly where it is being held in the belowground organ and why.  I try not to pick one thing I am most proud of because I always want to learn and expand my knowledge, but still appreciate where I have been.  I really love this article though, and I am really excited to see how some of my current projects can add to it and reinforce our understanding on this and related topics.

Before going back to university for science, I had gotten an art degree and had been doing art for quite some time.  I had extensive experience with ceramics but began working with just ink and paper for cost and convenience.  Recently though, I have begun working in ceramic again.  My work does frequently have plants and belowground structures, but I am also very interested in personality and trying to understand an expression something like a dream.  Maybe that is why I like dormant plants so much.  I wonder, do plants dream of herbaceous sheep?

Read the article in full here

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