Tag Archives: xylem

How giant pumpkins got so big: A Q&A with Jessica Savage

Biologist Jessica Savage answers a few of our questions about her research on the physiology behind giant pumpkin size.

In October 2014, a giant pumpkin grown by Beni Meier of Switzerland tipped the scales at 1056 kilograms (2323 pounds) and set a new world record for the heaviest pumpkin ever weighed. Modern competitive pumpkin growers have been imposing very strong selection on pumpkin size for decades. Pumpkin fruit size keeps climbing, and old records are broken every year or two (Savage et al. 2015).

Beni Meier with his 2014 record-winning 2323-pound pumpkin, presumably a specimen of the Atlantic Giant variety of Cucurbita maxima. Photo from here.

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Maple syrup mechanics: xylem, sap flow, and sugar content

It’s maple syrup making time in the Northeast.  Jeanne explains the mechanics of sap flow, collecting sap for syrup making, and why maples are special in this regard.  

Proctor maple research field station, Underhill, VT

Proctor maple research field station, Underhill, VT

I had the great pleasure last weekend to visit the University of Vermont’s Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill, VT, where the sugar maple (Acer saccharum, Sapindaceae) sap is flowing.  Sugar maple trees all around the northern hardwood forests in the Midwestern and Northeastern United States and southeastern Canada can now be “tapped,” fitted with a hollow tube in the sapwood, out of which sap flows and is collected and boiled down to maple syrup.

Tapping sugar maple to collect sap

Tapping sugar maple to collect sap, Proctor research station, Underhill, VT.

Maple syrup might be the oldest agricultural product in North America. Early 17th-century written records from Europeans exploring North America describe Native American use of sugar maple sap.  We of course can’t know how Native Americans discovered sugar maple sap, but it may have been by sampling a “sapsicle,” icicles made from frozen maple sap that forms at the end of a broken twig.  The evaporation of water during ice crystallization partially concentrates the sugar in the sap, making the sapsicle particularly sweet.  To understand how that sap got to the end of the twig in the dead of winter and why it’s so sweet, we need some basics about plant vasculature and carbohydrate storage and must figure out what makes maples so special. Continue reading