Friday, August 30, 2013

When you want to understand an obscure part.... search for a diagram

Regular reader Remmij made an interesting comment in yesterday's discussion of the Tarweed flower, Hemizonia congesta.  She wrote: 

     Ray flowers 5–13; ligules 5–11 mm,

Now, I'm reasonably up on my botanical terminology, but I admit that I didn't know what a "ligule" was.  BUT... I do know how to find out.  

Here's what I did.... 

My first move was to do a define... like this:  

Note the little tag in the gray box?  It says it's "Botany"--meaning this is a technical term used in that field.  You'll see these from time to time whenever you're looking up a term that's strongly identified in a given area.  (They're part of the new release of the upgraded dictionary service, which I'm happy to say was one of the projects I worked on this year.)  Try looking up the definitions of amniocentesis, drupe, or fiduciary.  You'll see the tags there. 

But, while this is a perfectly fine definition, it's kind of lacking something.  After I read this, I STILL didn't really know what it was. 

So I did an Image search with: 

     [ ligule diagram ] 

And got these results.... 

I was looking for a diagram that shows the ligule in context.  What I especially like about this Images results page is that I can see a ligule in both a diagram form (with all the extraneous bits removed) and in an actual picture, so I can see the difference between the diagram and reality.  

I ALSO picked up that ligules are relatively common in grasses.  They appear on flowering plants as well, just not as often.  

To tell the truth, I learned more than that... I also learned that ligules exist in the first place.  I'd always assumed that they were just an extra little bit of the leaf sheath--I never dreamed that they'd be an independent part of the plant and used to pin down the identity!  

You never know what you'll pick up along the way.  

Search lesson:  Using the [ diagram ] trick is a great way to see how parts of a larger whole fit into place in context.  This is useful for bicycle parts-- [ bicycle derailleur diagram ], ships [ clipper ship sails diagram ], as well as plants [ plant ovary diagram ] 

Thanks, Remmij! 

Search on! 


  1. Thanks Dr. Russell and Remmij ! This is a great trick and very useful, thanks for sharing.

    This post also taught me more about Remmij. I didn´t know that she is a girl. It is great to know more about my fellow SearchResearchers and more in this case because she was my inspiration to learn to post in the way she doeas. Thanks Remmij.

    Finally, thanks Dr. Russell for your answer to my question in this week Challenge and for the post of the "in-depth" articles, that is very intersting.

    Have a wonderful weekend

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