Friday, June 30, 2017

June iSite: Virginia Creeper

{cross posted from moira albanase via facebook}

For my June iSite experience, I decided to make it a family event. A car full of sunscreen, snacks, and hats brought my daughter, sister and mother to Scenic Vista in Columbiana County Ohio. While the younger two got comfy in the hammocks, my mother and I ventured down the forest trails. It was a beautiful sunny day, but the paths were cool and the air was heavy. It was not long before we noticed that it was more than tree leaves that sheltered us from the sun. Creeping vines were making their way skyward, using the tree trunks as both foundation and highway.

We identified Virginia Creeper, Poison Ivy, Grape Vines, and some mystery plant, all with different strategies for getting height. Virginia Creepers would find crevices in the bark of a tree and situate themselves in the shelter of the cranny. This would create a chaotic upward growth pattern for the vine. Poison Ivy would create thick, hairy vines that shot straight up a tree regardless of the bark texture. The mystery plant was growing in a large circle around, but not touching the tree, only reaching out for support once it was too tall to support itself. This created the ghost of a hoop skirt and bodice around the well-dressed tree. Grape vines grew on everything they touched, even collapsing a tree that had grown top heavy with vines.

We were all interested in the different techniques the plants were using and what that might mean for its relationship to the supporting flora. But no amount of sunscreen could protect us from bugs, and the hammocks were becoming more like swings. It was time to head home, and start researching for the July iSite: process!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Another isite!

{cross post from Sally Jungblut via Facebook}

I was out kayaking this weekend in Cary when I noticed something bushy in the water. As I reached for the aquatic plant, it's form went from looking like a part of a pine branch to a squishy lump of green. 

This aquatic plant is called a Myriophyllum heterophyllum. It's name in latin means "ten thousand leaves". Though native to Florida, this plant has traveled through most of the eastern part of the states and lives in most waterways and small bodies of water. What I noticed as I drew the small sprig from the water is how the branches with all it's very fine bristles created a net - a net made up of hundreds of little nets.
  • How would you use this for human use?
  • What about spills - oil, chemical, hazardous waste?
  • Filtration both in air and water?
  • What if I wanted to capture with it? 
  • Dip the design into a product and withdraw and transport?
  • What about a new grocery/storage system?
  • Wouldn't it be cool if I could attach food containers to a branch and then have it collapse onto itself to create a protective net over it?
Remember, there's still time to go out and find your own organism for the Biomimicry isite Challenge!

Monday, June 19, 2017

June iSite: Purple Cone Flower

Walking the prairie yesterday, I came across a purple echinacae - or coneflower. This plant, while native to Illinois, is not that common in native habitats. In fact, most of the plants that grow in the wild are escaped cultivars. But do they ever stand out! Their delicate pink leaves are topped with a collection of small spines, which are packed closely in the Fibonacci spiral formation, allowing for radiating growth.

I started to wonder how this radiating growth pattern could be useful for us: could the seating arrangement in a restaurant, theater in the round, or other establishment fit more people into a small space? Could it grow and contract as needed? Would this pattern be relevant to temporary disaster shelter camps as well?

There are so many questions we can ask nature. Join us this month as we explore nature's forms - and get outside with us this summer!

I got outside!

The mental hurdle of "finding the time" to go outside can sometimes be huge, but the resulting relaxation is worth it. Last week I spent all day at a workshop. By the time I got back, my brain was fried and I had a headache. After going outside to do my Biomimicry Chicago June iSite, I felt so much better. Purposefully taking the time to sit down, relax, observe is not just good biomimicry practice, it's good for the body and soul.

I started by doing a five minute warm-up exercise from the book "Keeping a Nature Journal" by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth which got me in the observing mode.

Then I went into my June iSite and focused on the fern. An ancient species, the fern is well adapted to a forest's low light understory. I was amazed at how the form you see at a macro scale was repeated again and again to much smaller scales. Possibly an efficient way to gather as much light as possible? My mind of course went to the large broad leaves of the rainforest understory. Why are they different? But of course, I'm just doing a 20-30 minute iSite, so the answers to that question would be for another day. I'll tuck that question away in the back of my brain though for if there ever comes a time when I am working on a similar challenge. Then I'd dig deep.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Form iSite: the Cup Plant

Did you get outside this weekend? Share your experiences with us through our June iSite Challenge: Exploring Forms in Nature!

For example, this is the cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum L.), a plant native to our region that has leaves that join together at the stem to form a cup, holding water to attract birds and pollinators. So we could ask ourselves "how does nature attract collaborators?" or "how does nature store water?" and we could look to the cup plant for inspiration!

What will you discover? Check out our new website to learn more!

Monday, June 5, 2017

The fire resistance of the Bur Oak

Did you go outside this weekend and observe nature's forms? Join us for our June iSite challenge!

I (Amy) took a walk this morning through the The Morton Arboretum and loved seeing all of the gorgeous Bur Oaks. These native trees are naturally fire resistant because of their thick, corky bark with deep ridges that passively channel hot air up and away from the surface of the tree. This adaptation helped the tree to survive in the fire-adapted oak savannahs native to our area. Imagine if our buildings could learn from this adaptation to channel hot air up and away, passively cooling the structure?

Visit to learn how YOU can participate in this challenge! And find time to go outside today!