Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flower - Tea

The best thing about having a glasshouse at your disposal, more or less, is that things are always happening in there plant-wise. The glasshouse plant collection is support of teaching and research, so specimens tend to fall into certain types and one of those categories is plants important by virtue of their importance to humans. Although it isn't very big this little shrub flowers every year although the flower isn't as big or attractive as some of its ornamental relatives. Did you recognize this flower as a Camellia? For a long time, tea was Thea sinensis, just the Latinized name for tea, but modern systematic analysis places Thea smack dab in the middle of the genus Camellia, so now tea is Camellia sinensis, however the family remains Theaceae, based on the genus Thea which is now Camelia.  Not sure about why that name is conserved after the genus has been subsumed into another. At any rate once you know tea is a Camellia, the resemblance is pretty clear. 

Gotta get one of these! Starry, starry bike path

TPP often blogs about bicycles; always liked them. But never before has there been a reason to blog about the bike path.  This is just super duper, although it has been years since TPP road a bike at night, this bike path would change my mind. Isn't this just great! Hopefully you didn't need TPP to point out that this glow-in-the-dark bike path has a design based on Van Gogh's famous painting. It's as iconic as art gets. To heck with bikes, TPP wants this for a pathway through his garden, oh yes, a glow-in-the-dark starry night garden path!  Wow!  This is just way too cool. Now what kind of music to have piped in?

Snow snow snow

Western upstate New York is getting some snow, like 77 inches of snow with another foot or two on the way. This is the stuff of lake effect snow storms. These storms pick up moisture as they move across the Great Lakes and then when they reach colder land, it all gets dumped as snow, snow that can fall at the rate of 3 to 5 inches an hour. TPP grew up there and attended college there and personally witnessed a 104" snow fall in 48 hours. Yikes!  What else is there to say. The pictures from the Buffalo region, studies in frozen black and white taken about 60 miles from TPP's childhood home near the shore of Lake Ontario, are familiar reminders of those winter snows, although TPP has not seen that type
of snow for more than 40 years now. TPP has had lake effect snow clog the space between his eyes and his glasses, a real white-out. Lake effect snow sometimes moves in as a wall-like front, one minute no snow is falling, then a few flurries appear, and then a curtain of snow is drawn across the scenery in front of you. TPP got caught about a mile from our campus when one of these snows moved in. Creeping along the road, or where you thought the road was because  nothing was in sight, but it was West Lake Road, so the shore of Lake Ontario was right there to the left, somewhere. And then out of the white a telephone post appeared just feet in front of the center of the hood of the car. Great! To which TPP had to ask, well, does anyone remember if the telephone poles are on the lake side of the road or not?  It seemed important to know. So far out here in the upper Midwest, it's been bitter cold and windy, terrible really, but no snow accumulation of any sort yet. TPP prefers the nostalgia to the real thing.

Retirement project for the garden

Somehow the Phactors managed to accumulate a few hundred green wine bottles all cleaned up nicely. The idea was to commission a glass artist to do something for our garden with all those bottles, but that idea collapsed when the warehouse studio of this young fellow also collapsed. But the bottles remain, and for some why valuable stuff like that begins to annoy Mrs. Phactor, a trait perhaps inherited from her Mother who tossed anything without immediate utility. Not sure how TPP managed to survive those early years. But when it comes to creative recycling one must keep their minds open to possibilities. Something amusing, something fun, and quirky, but without going all Magic Gardens on the estate. So perhaps some type of bottle wall mosaic
defining a garden bed or seating area would be nice, someplace to set your wine glass in between sips. Could this be a retirement project? This might work out if a lot more wine bottles are needed. 

Water, fire, & insects

These are three primary worries of herbarium curators. The collection TPP curates is small, only 50,000 or so specimens.  Some of them date back 200 years, some were collected by famous people, and some are precious records of prior diversity. Basically our herbarium is a teaching facility. Still such collections are irreplaceable so their safety must be insured. Insects have not been a problem for us, and the sealed cases work well. However, the collection is on the first floor of a 4 story building and the infrastructure is crumbling particularly the plumbing. See where this is going? Leaks are quite common, and were even more common, and more noxious, when some chemists lived up stairs. When you turn on the tap in a sink in TPP's lab the water runs brown for quite awhile. Now some of the plumbing is due to be replaced, by necessity, so when maintenance people say there may be some unanticipated leaks while repairs are being made, us herbarium curators sit up and pay attention. Oh, and while fire is a long-shot problem, you have to make certain that water isn't used to put out a fire in the herbarium, and you hope no fire must be put out on the floors above. Water always finds its way down. So during the rest of this week TPP will be fitting some plastic sheeting over the rows of specimen cases to offer some protection should the worst happen. Ironically, while doing this the message arrives telling us that the building will be without water over the Thanksgiving break except maybe for leaks. TPP took some time to show the plumbers what the worry was, and interestingly enough, they were impressed by the age and condition of old specimens, and the size of the collection. The next day a big roll of plastic sheeting arrived.

Far out, man!

Consider TPP's mind blown!  One mighty strange nostalgia trip that came from reading the Chi-town Trib this fine Sunday AM, and that doesn't happen very often. This was a time machine instant trip to 1968 where there were lots of trips you could take, good trips, bad trips, tripping trips. Now to be quite honest, 1968 at a state college in upstate NY was nothing like 1968 in San Francisco. TPP was not a monk, but being in a cultural backwater was probably why he remembers so much of the 60s so clearly. Nothing was more emblematic of the late 60s than Zap Comics, the creation of R. Crumb, who if you don't know is one seriously, cosmically, weird dude, still! You do have to wonder about the creative mind that produces such art, but that was what was so enthralling, that someone could make such art, and as an art minor (oh, yes!) it was fascinating. So what a surprise to see the entire collection of Zap Comics for sale in a boxed set (What's happened to you R.?) for what must be more than 100 times their original price!  These were not the comics of my childhood, and they still are not for anyone that is easily offended. OK, that's not fair. They are sure to offend just about anyone at some level because of R. Crumb's artfully tasteless sense of humor (?) if that's what it's called. Still it was a strange comic for a strange time. 

How to make someone happy

Based on a recent observation, it's pretty simple to make someone really happy - send them cookies.  This morning while waiting for my pusher to prepare my caffeine fix, a couple of foreign students came in with a package from home (the post office is nearby). There was such excitement.  The box wasn't very big, but it was packed with different kinds of cookies, in this particular case Chinese cookies, familiar treats for a student studying a long ways from home. There was pure joy and happiness in that moment. So think about it; send someone some cookies. 

Friday Fabulous Flowers - Native orchids of Indiana

This is pretty great, a real botanizing effort to find and photograph all of the orchids native to Indiana, unless by now they are extinct!  Here's the link to the U-tube slide show complements of the Get Your Botany On! blog (see the side bar).  That's over 11 mins. of orchid pictures; hope you can stand it. One of the first pictures is Calopogon, the grass pink (note: it's neither grass nor a pink) and it looks upside down, but it's actually a right-side up orchid; almost all other orchids are resupinate, i.e., twisted 180 degrees on their flower stalks so that they are upside down. TPP has seen almost all of these, but over many years, and in many places.  Enjoy.    

Cure for winter blues - the tropics

It snowed today, the 13th of November, and rather early for these parts. It technically snowed yesterday too. The novelty of this form of precipitation has worn off already. Saw enough of it growing up in the snow belt of upstate New York to last several lifetimes. One of the great joys, and head aches, of TPP's academic career was developing and instructing a course in rainforest ecology, an out growth of his tropical field research. This year's class is busily getting all their gear packed for their field trip to Costa Rica over Thanksgiving break. While walking to campus in the gently falling snow, TPP was thinking maybe it wouldn't have been such a bad thing to have gone with the class this year.  What the ever-loving-hell is the problem? It's one of the reasons to retire. And yet, here is where TPP is.  Oh, yes, blew all the money on that month long field trip to Tuscany. Nice, but sometimes you just want the tropics. If you readers are curious, or equally desperate, the location from where this image was taken will be disclosed for the right price. You will not regret it. TPP didn't. 

Money, the root of all evil

Here you go, a nice cartoon. Don't know how many of you are familiar with Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, but it is often very funny, and very on target, like this one about money. However TPP is a bit skeptical about there being trace amounts of ethics in all human dealings. As evidence a number of Lincolnland politicians are offered.  When TPP first found this cartoon, just the name was hilarious because it reminded him of a childhood where Saturday mornings were spent (wasted - parental translation) watching non-stop cartoons on TV and fighting with sibs about what cartoon to watch.  Of course the primary sponsors of these kids' cartoons were breakfast cereals (remember Quisp and Quake?), and to help fix that memory, Saturday morning was the only time your Mother let you have one of those sugary cereals as a breakfast treat (but we did have to eat in the kitchen).