Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas Tree of Life does not need a little correction

Christmas Tree of Life Greeting Card
(c) blaghag on Zazzle, fair use.
Here is a cute little Christmas Tree of Life Greeting card designed by 'blaghag' for sale on Zazzle (link) , depicting the evolutionary relationships between reindeer, elves, Santa, and the four plants fir tree, poinsettia, holly and mistletoe, all accurately depicted and with nice scientific names.  Santa and the elves got new fictitious scientific names, nice! The description of the card includes this justification why this is a great card to buy:
"From mistletoe to reindeer, we're all share a common ancestor! Great card to send to your scientific and freethinking friends for the holidays."
I love this card.  It is innovative, fun, and for any science and reason-minded person, a great card.

Phylogenetic trees are read from the root to the tips. In this card, the root (the common ancestor) is at the top, and the branches to the different organisms are branching downwards.  Santa is most closely related to Elves, and reindeers are related to Santa+Elves, since they are all animals, all three of these groups.

Fir trees are conifers, and conifers are part of gymnosperms that are the sister branch/group to flowering plants (such as poinsettia, holly, and mistletoes).  Poinsettia is in the family Euphorbiaceae with spurges and they are placed in a bog group of plants called rosids (near roses, walnuts, birches, and many other plants). Mistletoes are in the family Santalaceae with lots of other parasitic plants, which are placed on another branch, sister to a giant group of plants called asterids.  Holly, an asterid, is in the family Aquifoliaceae. Other asterids are carrots, sunflowers, viburnum, and artichokes, the coffee plant, milkweeds, mint and potatoes.

[This post was updated on January 12, 2014.  The phylogenetic tree shown on the postcard is correct; mistletoes are sisters to holly plants.  The blog text has been changed so it is accurate based on the latest scientific findings. We regret the error. ]