Saturday, July 2, 2011

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture, without Sheba or Nina

Yesterday, a man almost died in the street directly in front of our house. Not even exaggerating. The husband and I had just sat down to dinner, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the power/cable/whatever lines to the house jerking around wildly. So I got up and looked out the front window, and saw a telephone pole lying in the street, with an unmoving man. On closer inspection, the telephone pole was actually lying on top of the man's head, and there was a lot of blood.

Long story short, the husband called 911 (as did a neighbor a couple doors down, who'd been watering her flowers outside when it happened), one big fire truck, one little fire truck, at least one police car, and an ambulance all showed up relatively quickly, and eventually the guy was loaded into a helicopter and taken, I assume, to University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City. I asked one of the police officers if they knew anything about the guy's prognosis, whether he was going to be okay, and she kinda shrugged and said nobody knew, that he'd lost a lot of blood and was unresponsive when they loaded him into the helicopter, and that was as much as she knew about it. I don't imagine I'll ever find out, either, because I don't know anything about the guy except his employer. (Also: none of the responders -- fire, ambulance, police -- seemed to be moving particularly fast. I'm not sure if that was a matter of perception or reality, but it was frustrating.) Though I suppose maybe it's better I never find out. I don't know. And then later about six or seven vehicles from the cable company showed up, and a great deal of effort was expended on washing the blood off the pavement, the urgency of which I found puzzling.

The telephone pole, incidentally, looks like it had either only been buried about four inches deep (unlikely), or it had actually rotted out and broke off at a depth of about four inches deep. I didn't go up to look at the base. Either way, it was pretty obviously the pole's fault, not the guy's.

So my mind is not really on the animal photos today.

Since you've come all this way, though:

I'd thought there were only two babies in the nest, because I'd thought there were only two eggs, but apparently one of them was hiding at an angle I couldn't see with the camera, because that's definitely three. I suppose I'm sort of obligated to name them Greg, Peter, and Bobby.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Berry-Go-Round #41

Welcome to Berry-Go-Round #41, to be known in the future as "The Formal Dinner BGR." Everybody look for the place setting with your name on it and be seated. I'll warn the reader immediately that there are a lot of links here, and I doubt that anybody's going to be able to look at them all in one sitting: I'm using an eight-course dinner metaphor very deliberately. So brace yourself.


I'd like to begin by opening up a bottle. The 2011 Hygrochilus is quite excellent, I hear. Impudent and brash, yet meticulous and sophisticated.


For appetizers, the calorie-conscious will enjoy the Wild Taro Research Project. (I say the calorie-conscious will enjoy it because although someone submitted the link, the site is password-protected and therefore unreadable by anyone not invited to be part of the group. Which I wasn't. Consequently, I have no idea what it says. If this is you, maybe anonymously post a working e-mail address / password combination in the comments?)

Here is a quick amuse bouche from the webcomic Abstruse Goose, about the frustrations of being an evil plant; Wired has another off-kilter piece, about an orchid which uses sight and smell to pretend to have a fungal infection, which it uses to attract fungus-eating flies to pollinate it. (Those orchids! Is there no deception they won't stoop to? No wonder all the other plants hate them.)

If you're more into food-as-art than food-as-sustenance, try this post from Plants are the Strangest People (me!) about a striking hybrid Paphiopedilum, or Hort Log's post on the unusual peacock ginger Kaempferia purpurea.

Far Out Flora have a large number of really beautiful and/or striking pictures of Walnut Creek, CA's Ruth Bancroft Garden.

A Digital Botanical Garden talks about the unusual "rose" mutation of the common garden plantain (Plantago major), and explains how small mutations can have large effects on the appearance of plants.

Slugyard solves the mystery of Lupinus pollination by, you know, paying attention. ("You can see a lot by just looking." -Yogi Berra) And there's a video!


Moving on to the soup course, we have a lovely, murky, cream-of-taxonomic-dispute regarding the genus Acacia at Talking Plants, or one might prefer Joseph Tychonievich's much clearer consomme about why scientific names are changing in the first place, and why even the horticulturally-minded might see this as a good thing in the long run.


I'm tempted to skip over the fish course entirely, but Danger Garden writes a post about ponds and pond plants, which is perhaps close enough. (Even if it's not close enough, the photos are worth the trip. I have to bite my knuckles every time I look at that Furcraea picture.)


Now we're getting into the roasts. Christie Wilcox (Observations of a Nerd) eviscerates an essay from Nature which apparently claims (I couldn't read the original essay) that ecologists are too hard on invasive species, and don't make enough of a distinction between invasive species and non-native species. The basic thrust of the post as I read it is no, we distinguish between them just fine. (I admit to some bafflement about what's going on in Wilcox's post, probably because I haven't seen the essay she's reacting to, but it's hard to argue with what she's actually saying.)

On the lighter side, Arizona State's Top 10 New Species of 2010 includes zero plant species, and Nigel Chaffey (at the Annals of Botany blog) is incensed! Incensed!

(Though actually a little anger is probably appropriate. So few people take plants seriously.)

Finally, Denim and Tweed has a post from April (a little late, I know, and maybe someone else already covered this for BGR, but it's interesting, so I'm going to cover it too, and you can't stop me) that blurs the lines a bit about what constitutes a "carnivorous" plant. Apparently a lot of plants have the capacity to absorb nutrients from decaying animals through their leaves, even if they don't actually require the decaying animals in order to function. Does that make them carnivores? I say, defiantly: I would like to think about this for a while and get back to you!

[Wild] Game

In the wild game course, we have Emily's discovery of some wild-growing ferns in Wisconsin. This is apparently something Emily discovers a lot (she's a grad student who studies ferns), but who doesn't like ferns?

And speaking of ferns, Hort Log has photos of the east Asian primitive fern Dipteris conjugata, which is so primitive it doesn't look much like a fern to me.

Denim and Tweed assures us that even if the pollinators all disappear, western North America will still have Mimulus flowers -- Mimulus can evolve to do without them within a few generations, if need be. (Die-hard Mimulus fans -- and I have no doubt there are some out there, somewhere -- may also wish to check out this photo of M. 'Eleanor' at Cactus Blog.)

JSK of Anybody Seen My Focus? documents the development of wild Asclepias amplexicaulis from seedling to flowering in two posts. (part 1) (part 2) There's even a promise to continue documenting as the plant goes from flower to seed pod.

JSK seems to stumble upon a lot of interesting wild plants: I find Cnidoscolus stimulosus a bit frightening-looking: so many little spines! The exceptionally rapid opening of the flowers of Phemeranthus teretifolius is more my speed.

For the final offering in the game category, Casa Coniglio has some serious macro shots of a wild green-flowering orchid, Epipactis gigantea.


You'd think the salad course in a botany-related blog carnival would be huge, but in fact it only has three posts. Hunter Angler Gardener Cook has a fascinating post about eating Yucca flowers (something I'd heard of, but nobody'd ever described the taste for me before); Backyard Notes's Blog is growing a whole salad (tomatoes, radishes, beets, carrots, celery, lettuce, etc.), somewhat experimentally; and Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog catches National Geographic in a tuber error, with the result that I learned something about some minor tuber crops of the Andes (including a tuberous Tropaeolum and Oxalis, which I'd never even imagined before).


Anybody ready for dessert? Farmscape Gardens has a couple interesting photomosaics of oddly-shaped produce that I thought were compellingly pretty. Cactus Blog has a picture of one extremely odd amaryllis relative, Boophone disticha, which ZOMG WANT. Another Cactus Blog post is a picture of the tiny, hairy, turquoise, and striped flower of Rhytidocaulon macrolobum ssp. macrolobum, which I don't so much covet as just fail to comprehend. Plant Chaser posted some photos of the "blond" Tillandsia named 'Druid,' a naturally-occurring variant of T. ionantha which was collected in Mexico forty years ago. (I've seen it for sale around here once, without an ID, so that made me happy.) Casa Coniglio has some photos of Neofinetia falcata, another oddball orchid with white, long-spurred, coconut-scented flowers.

Nuts and Raisins

(Yes, Nuts and Raisins is sometimes considered a course unto itself, hence the expression "[from] soup to nuts.") Floradora has us covered for nuts, or at least seeds (I never said the metaphor was going to be perfect), with the seeds of the grass Stipa barbata, which twist themselves so as to . . . well, essentially screw themselves into the soil.

Instead of raisins, the Annals of Botany blog has a post about dates. More specifically, it's a post about date palms (Phoenix dactylifera), which are dioecious (having plants which are either male or female). Until now, it's not been possible for growers to tell whether they had a female (valuable) or male (not so much) plant on their hands until it was about five years old, but the date palm genome has been sequenced now, and this has the potential to make date production more efficient.

OMG There's More?

So now we're at the end, uncomfortably overfull, with nothing left to do but napkin origami. Wired has a post about the succulent plant Delosperma nakurense, which executes a kind of reversible origami (Wired's metaphor, not mine) to fold and unfold its seed pods, according to the presence or absence of rain (a scientist is quoted: "Generally speaking, dead things don't move, so when they do, it's of obvious interest," which seems charmingly straightforward, if not entirely accurate).

And we're done. Hope everyone enjoyed themselves. (Or at least I hope nobody threw up.)

Next month's BGR will be hosted by Kate at Beyond the Brambles; you can find the submission form for suggesting links here. If you happened to miss BGR 40, you can find it here at Sitka Nature.


Photo credits:
Wine: André Karwath aka Aka, via Wikimedia Commons. Unaltered.
Appetizer (Hamachi Amuse Bouche): Charles Haynes, via Wikimedia Commons. Re-sized; slightly re-colored.
Soup: strawberryblues, via Wikimedia Commons. Cropped; slightly re-sized.
Fish: Miya.m, via Wikimedia Commons. Cropped.
Roast Beef: cyclonebill, via Wikimedia Commons. Cropped; re-sized; re-colored.
Game (Pheasant): Ulrich Prokop (Scops), via Wikimedia Commons. Re-sized.
Salad: Public domain (originally from the National Cancer Institute), via Wikimedia Commons. Unaltered.
Dessert (Cheesecake): Chris Gladis, via Wikimedia Commons. Cropped; re-sized; slightly re-colored.
Nuts and Raisins: Mr. Subjunctive.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pretty picture: Sophrolaeliocattleya Jewel Box 'Dark Waters'


I promise I'll post BGR #41 tomorrow. It's taken a lot more work to put together than I was anticipating. Please don't shun me, or whatever it is y'all do to punish people who post late.

Meanwhile, here is an orchid.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pretty pictures: Papaver orientale 'Royal Wedding'

Not a particularly timely pair of photos (these were taken May 4 at the ex-job), but they're the best I've got at the moment.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Question for the Hive Mind: NOID outdoor plant

And as long as I'm talking about the outdoor stuff today, I have a question for everybody. Last fall, I asked about five unidentified weedy things that I'd seen around town, and the third one, which had come up in the garden at some point late in the year, was identified as Oenothera biennis, the common evening primrose.

I don't know how it got there, but it looked cool, so when something similar-looking began to appear in the spring this year, in more or less the same spot in the garden, I got excited. I even made a little sign for the husband ("NOT A WEED"), because sometimes he mows over stuff I want to preserve. And so we've been waiting for a couple months now, give or take, for it to get all primrosey.

But, now that it's gotten considerably larger, I'm left uncertain about whether or not this is in fact the plant I thought it was, so I'm asking y'all if this looks like it's something else. The main reason I'm wondering is because the leaves look substantially different -- less shiny, and the white midvein is considerably less prominent. For all I know, that could be perfectly normal, but I thought I should check. I realize the picture's not the greatest; it'll expand if opened in a separate window, but that still might not help.

Also, opinions about whether or not I actually want it to be evening primrose are welcome, too. I've never seen any that looked deliberately cultivated, and the commenters are fairly indifferent about them (3 positives, 4 neutrals on the species page), so I'm wondering why.

Animal: Chauliognathus pensylvanicus marginatus

The people who used to live in this house had a small garden in back, which I've mentioned before, and in the garden they'd planted some cilantro, which I haven't mentioned before because I was under the impression that it was parsley. But it's not. (I have to say I'm a little disappointed in y'all for not saying something when I misidentified it as such earlier. You guys are supposed to catch stuff like that.)

Anyway. Something else we had when we moved in was a low spot in the back yard, which bothered the husband something awful. So we spent the last couple years throwing grass clippings there, and if I had potting soil from dead plants to dump out, I'd dump it there too, and then this spring the husband got a bunch of compost from the city (Iowa City), and filled it in the rest of the way, so now it's more or less level.

That spot also erupted in tomato and cilantro seedlings this spring, so I guess at some point the husband also moved some dirt from the garden to the low spot. I don't understand why he would do that, but one of us must have, because:

So far, everybody seems to be pretty happy about this. The cilantro grew fast enough that I haven't had to do a lot of weeding (and it's been a cool, wet summer so far, so it's not too terrible when I do try to weed), the husband doesn't object because it's that much less to mow, and it's pretty. But our appreciation is nothing compared to the appreciation of the insect world: the blooms are always covered in various flies and beetles and gnats, the most conspicuous of which is Chauliognathus pensylvanicus, or the goldenrod soldier beetle Chauliognathus marginatus, the margined leatherwing. [UPDATE: the insect in question was initially misidentified.]

I was worried when I first saw these; I figured them likely to be a pest of something or another, and didn't want to be sheltering something that was going to go next door and eat all the neighbors' cucumbers or something. But as far as I can tell, they're not -- the adults eat pollen, nectar, and small insects; the larvae eat other insects or insect eggs. In fact, it's deliberately encouraged near corn fields, says a book I have here (The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders, 3rd ed.), because they eat corn earworm (Heliothis zea) caterpillars. So I don't have to feel bad about that. [UPDATE: the Audobon Guide does not include an entry for C. marginatus, but the one for C. pensylvanicus says that "several species" of Chauliognatus are used for controlling corn earworms, so I'm guessing that the information remains essentially correct.]

There's a slight question in my mind about whether I have the ID right -- the coloration is a little lighter than most of the reference photos I found; they have darker and larger spots on the wings and head. I didn't see anything that looked like a better match, though.

There may still be problems with this at some point, but I'm all for plants that attract beneficial wildlife and require almost nothing from me, especially if they're going to be this pretty. (I'm aware that they'll be less pretty later on, but I don't think they're terrible-looking even then.) Weirdly, the last time I was at the ex-job, the cashier told the person in line ahead of me that she had really horrible luck trying to grow cilantro. Is that normal? I can't imagine how it could be difficult.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

[Exceptionally] Pretty pictures: transmitted light -- Part XLII

I'm going to be working on Berry Go Round #41 this week (hoping to have it up on Wednesday, but no promises), so it's transmitted-light time again.

(The previous transmitted light posts can be found here.)

Hosta NOID.

Tradescantia pallida.

Cissus rhombifolia. Something about the slight variations in color here makes me really happy. The plant itself mostly makes me angry, unfortunately -- I had one a few years ago that did reasonably well for a year or two, but then it slowly dwindled to nothing for no discernable reason. I've bought replacements for it, but they tend to begin dwindling immediately. Sometimes I also had mildew problems. Yes, I have fairly good humidity here in the house, but it's not so good that I should be seeing mildew. So Cissus rhombifolia is on the Never Again list.

Episcia NOID. Episcias don't tend to give particularly good transmitted light photos, despite the often-colorful leaves. Gesneriads in general tend not to turn out well, actually. I think the leaves are too thick for it to work properly.

Acer sp., autumn.

Aglaonema 'Jubilee.' Especially perceptive readers might notice that this is the same image as the one I'm using for the header for the next several weeks; that was accidental, and if I'd noticed it was part of the next set of transmitted light pictures, I would have picked something else. Oh well.

Prunus sp., autumn.

Asplundia 'Jungle Drum.'

Euonymous alatus, autumn. This is probably my favorite from this set, though I'm a little hazy as to why. Makes me think of lightning, a little.

Ipomoea NOID, petals. It's hard to find opportunities for blue transmitted light pictures. I think this one turned out nicely.