Field of Science


Friday Fabulous Flower - Beach Rose

Today's vacation adventures included exploring beach and salt marsh conservation areas, very interesting and very fragile coastal communities of great importance ecologically. So why not pick a fabulous flower from this area like the beach rose? OK, some of you may wish to suggest to the Phactor that this is a picture of a rose hip, the fruit of the beach rose (Rosa rugosa), not the extremely fragrant pink flower. However, one of the best definitions of a fruit is a flower at the stage of seed dispersal. Large patches of this rose, probably individual clones, dominate certain portions of sandy coastal areas, but this rose is an exotic species naturalized in these areas. A little later in the season these fruits will be more flavorful and juicy, and they make quite nice jelly.

Postcard home - Pilgrim Tower

One of the great things about traveling is seeing monuments to historic events, and with immigration a national issue, how fitting to see the first illegal immigrants to North America, the Pilgrims, commemorated by a grim looking Gothic tower towering over Provincetown MA. You can climb the Escher-like interior, up, and up, and up, and up, and so on, to the top and have a look around, and Provincetown does look pretty good from on high, much better than down on the tawdry touristy streets below. And what better way to commemorate our history than copying someone else's architecture. Fortunately the accompanying museum was pretty interesting so you don't feel "rooked" for having paid the entry fee. Having a great time, wish you all were here. More later. Ta.

Someone noticed!

Wow! It's always a good feeling when someone out there reads your research, and understands its importance,and in this case, it's Notes from a Changing World. Thanks!

Too busy to blog

Yes, when in high vacation mode the Phactor has too little time to blog, much. Some of the reasons include: steamed mussels, boiled lobster, fried clams, lobster omelet, scallops, and, well you get the idea, because when you live in the great Midwest for very long, unless you were born and bred in the great Midwest, you build up a seafood deficit that takes quite a bit of effort to erase. And of course sun, sand, and seawater can add greatly to your appetite, and thirst. So you take advantage of the local catch, and brews, that didn’t have to walk, hitch a ride, or fly on a plane, or worse yet, be frozen and thawed, to get to the great Midwest. So the whole point is to eat fresh seafood until it comes out your ears. So dear readers do forgive my limited sharing while my R&R continues. It's a big deficit.

On the Road Again - Driver Alert

Hey, all you interstate drivers! Just to let you know, a lot of you seem to be of the opinion that you can drive and talk on your cell phone at the same time, and while, yes, this is technically possible, your variable speed, your wandering across lanes, your unawares reaction to other drivers suggests what the rest of us already know, you can't! All day long today data points were collected, and every single one of you who committed the above mentioned offenses were gabbing on your phone! Of course, maybe you're just this bad at driving all the time. Start with something within your grasp, like chewing gum.

On the Road Again - Bad Lane Karma

As if interstate driving were not bad enough, and it's bad enough to give air travel at least a consideration even as it sinks lower than anyone thought possible. While airlines now starve you; interstate highways bore you with soulless chain food. Thank goodness for those few individual eclectic little places that manage to hang on, and the people who help you find them. Worst of all the Phactor's bad line karma, a curse of unknown origins, continues to haunt me on the interstates, so no matter what the cause of traffic backups, beyond the fact that there are too many vehicles and too little road, the lane in which my vehicle is traveling will be the slowest to navigate the problem whether lane reduction, construction, tolls, or a discarded gum wrapper. On today's nearly 600 mile trek, an odyssey undertaken every couple of years when the urge to see ocean or mountains becomes over whelming, it was more of the same. To help you notice this evil lane karma, there was a sort mobile place marker, a motorhome the size of Moby Dick driven by Herb and Thelma from some small town in Ohio, and they are proud enough to emblazon this on the back side of their gigantic traffic obstacle, and if you didn't notice the 1st time you passed them, you notice the 2nd and 3d times. Yes, this massively cumbersome and slow beast actually made better time through three traffic backups. The odds are clearly against it. And all of this furthers the legend of I-80/94 from Chicago to Gary, which no matter how much they build on it remains one of the worst stretches of highway in the world.

Botanical recipe - Margarita

The Phactor is officially on vacation, and while traveling you may be certain that all of his necessary survival gear is on board, and in this case, this includes my favorite summer vacation recipe, a jug of margaritas. They once saved the Phactor's life, well, OK maybe not my life, but my sanity when my venerable VW van broke down in Provo Utah, which is a pretty city, but you ain't gonna get any of life's essentials, like alcoholic and caffeine beverages. The margarita is an American invention, supposedly first concocted by a Dallas socialite some 60 years ago while visiting Acapulco Mexico to make the most out of Mexico's most venerable invention, tequila. Very few American inventions have been as successful, and presently this particular mixed drink is our most popular (almost 20% of all mixed drinks), and with good reason. It's a wonderful drink, and makes the most out of tequila, itself distilled from the "beer" made from fermented agave (starchy stems).

OK here's the recipe for my travel margaritas, and you don't have to travel to enjoy them, just stash the jug in your fridge.

750 ml bottle of gold tequila
250 ml bottle of triple sec (the original margarita recipe called for Cointreau)
250 ml lime juice (fresh is best)
3 tbsp sugar (do not over sweeten, and if you like things really tart, omit the sugar)
water to dilute to 2 liters (this dictates the volume of your jug).

Shake to dissolve sugar. Rub slice of lime on the rim of a low ball glass and dip the edge in coarse salt. Fill the glass with ice cubes, and then fill with the margarita mix. Adjust your Panama hat to keep the sun out of your eyes, and enjoy. This is not a cold weather drink.

Word of warning, this drink tastes like ever so good limeade, but if you serve it without sufficient ice for dilution, you'll find yourself knocked on your butt. Enjoy.

Botanist - An Endangered Species

You don't have to try to convince me that botanists and botany are an endangered species here in the USA where the human-biomedical tail wags the biological dog. Here's a brief report on botany in the USA that doesn't exactly offer much optimistic news, but it's no surprise to the Phactor. More on this later; the energy for a full-fledged rant just isn't forthcoming today. A bit of vacation and the annual botanical meetings are upcoming these next two weeks, and this report is sure to be topic of conversation among my colleagues.

HT to Get Your Botany On.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Yellow Coneflower

The sweltering heat and humidity of the midwestern summer season are upon us, and many of my exotic babies, natives of milder climates, suffer, while a few plants hailing from more southern climates, rejoice. But the plants that do best, year in and year out, are natives. So this friday's fabulous flower is a native of the tall grass prairie, the yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata). Some people confuse the yellow coneflower with the black-eyed susan, which is in another genus altogether. Both are members of the sunflower family, so actually this isn't a fabulous flower, but a fabulous inflorescence composed of brown radially symmetrical disk flowers centrally and yellow bilaterally symmetrical ray flowers appearing like petals (as in "she loves me, she loves me not") around the periphery. The yellow corollas of ray flowers droop downward (as shown), while the corollas of black-eyed susans are held more or less out at right angles (there are other differences too). The disk flowers in the center (top) of the button haven't opened yet. Inflorescences like these present the appearance of a single flower because that's the point, to cluster a bunch of small flowers in such a way as to present a bigger display. Pollinators always looking for the biggest reward are attracted to bigger displays, and inflorescences like these are one way plants with small flowers enhance their attractiveness and reproductive success.

Lincolnland politics

Here in Lincolnland we have a two party system; politicians are either inept or crooks, and sometimes both. Our former Governor Bag-o-chips, on trial for corruption, has rested his case without offering a defense except for proclaiming his innocence to the press, but not the jury. Whether found innocent or guilty hardly matters at this point. We have been duly entertained by the spectacle, but now wish to move on. What is known for certain is that his only interest in the job was to seek a higher and more lucrative office, that he paid little attention to the affairs of state, actually never trying to earn the salary he found so paltry or show himself worthy of higher office, that he spent an inordinate amount of time scheming how to get the money that would allow him to seek a higher and more lucrative office, and that having been a horrible excuse for a governor he still could not understand why the people of Lincolnland disliked him so very much. What has not, and in all likelihood will not occur to Bag-o-chips is that he is quite guilty of a far worse crime; he violated the trust of the people who elected him. So for that reason alone the choice we voters have this fall is comforting because the choice is between the current inept occupant and his even more inept challenger. How can we go wrong?

Longing for the tropics - Mangoes

Here in the heartland of North America, mangoes remain a little known, novelty item, and truly, like many other exotic things, e.g., seafood, tropical fruits are best when consumed and enjoyed in the shade of the tree from which they were picked. Having traveled around the tropics a great deal, and having a professional interest in economically important plants, the Phactor has tried quite a long life list of tropical fruits. So speaking from considerable experience, the mango is one of the world's best fruits, succulent, juicy, and when just right, with a wonderful sweet-tart rich mango flavor. So naturally my interest was keen when "Ataulfo" mangoes showed up in a local market. It should not surprise you to encounter a variety of mango with which you are unfamiliar because, as the poster shows, there are hunderds of varieties and the only place in North America where you can get more than a handful is Fairchild Tropical Garden. Mangoes shipped to distant regions can be pretty good because they after ripen reasonably well. The flesh should just barely yield under the skin when at their prime, just like a peach, just slightly under ripe. The Ataulfos were just right, and at $6 a dozen, a bargain to boot. These were quite simply the best mango the Phactor has consumed outside of the tropics. The sweet-tart taste was superb, and this variety has a pleasantly firm, almost fiberless golden flesh, and a small flat pit. Wow! In terms of shape, size, and taste, this variety reminded me of the "Nam Doc Mai" mango of Thailand, and of course mangoes are of SE Asian origin so they have been cultivated there for thousands of years, so New World varieties all will have Asian ancestors. Unfortunately, mangoes go through their prime quickly, and an over ripe mango loses the tartness counterpoint, so 6 of my mangoes were transformed into mango sorbet. A double wow summer treat!

Who rules in the garden?

As someone who was raised by gardeners and who grew up with gardens, it remains a constant source of amazement what some people don't know about gardening. So here is a big rule for gardening: pick your fruits and vegetables when they are ready. Sorry, your garden is not a grocery store or produce stand where you can just buy a cucumber when you desire one. And your garden is not a good place to store produce either. Bascially fruits and vegetables have a relatively short period when they are in prime condition, and that's when you should harvest and enjoy them. This was something Mrs. Phactor had to learn. Her Mother had lowered herself from urban to sub-urban to raise a family, and in those days a grassy lawn that stretched to the margins of the property line was fashionable and not going to be interrupted by anything as rural as a garden. By habit produce came either from the grocery store or a local produce farmer, and this isn't about the qualitative differences, but the practice of only eating some particular produce item, even if in season, only once a week or so. Gardens do generate a certain tyranny over gardeners; fast growing fruits like peas, beans, and zucchini demand that they be picked when ready or you've just wasted your time and effort. In season, the late summer dinner of my youth consisted of sliced tomatoes and sweet corn virtually every night. But eating produce frequently even when in season was an anathema in my in-law's family. So it took a bit of time, no more than a decade or two, for my dearest to learn that the same fruits and vegetables could be eaten often, and in many different ways to break up the monotony (sadly something that even my family could have learned), and were best in their prime condition. So it pains me greatly, when visiting a gardening neophyte, to see things so in need of picking that my hands must remain in my pockets to prevent automatic harvesting. Sometimes you try something diplomatic, and a bit self-serving. "Say, if you're not going to eat those aubergines, may the Phactor consume them?" At a minimum, this calls attention for the need to harvest, and may pay off dividends if they respond, "Certainly you may have them; we ate eggplant last week." And of course, for some fruits, especially the infamous zucchini, waiting one day too long can transform a delicate and delectable 6 inch fruit into a torpedo only suitable for launching into the compost. How much zucchini bread can one person eat? Not enough to keep up with a zucchini in its productive prime.

Lost on Campus

A public university is a big place, with lots of things and lots of people, and some of these people have the job of making it possible, and easier (?) for other people to find whom so ever they are looking for. Having maddenly thumbed through our campus directory, and the campus search page, and the university a-z online listing without yet finding what is know to exist, a few rules come to mind for there special people.
One: University anything is a pretty dumb ass name. Of course, it's the university what ever, that's where we are, and even if lost you're pretty damned sure you're at a university. So looking up anything under the heading university is really stupid. Two: Office of anything is another pretty dumb ass name. Of course it's an office. There are really only a hand full of things on a university campus: classrooms, labs, centers which are like labs but not scientific, rooms which is pretty generic, and offices. Listing something under office of is particularly stupid. And let's add Center of, Laboratory of, College of, Campus, and Student anything. You're either a student, a facult/ystaff member, or an administrator, and since things are pretty student centered around here, odds are way better than one in three that most things are for students, so listing something as Student anything is way silly. And there are centers for this and centers for that, except for a bit of variation on the theme, the Career Center. See how easy that was? Just remember kids, you don't want a Job, you want a career, so don't look for a job center, but in the Career Center there is a Job Board! Are you on a university campus? Yes, well, where would you find the Campus Recreation Center or the Center of Campus Recreation? Why, it's right here on campus, which funny enough, for many years it wasn't! Who would have thunk it? Three: people shouldn't have to know the organizational chart of the university to find something. No one cares who answers to whom when they want to find them, but at least if you start with a vice-president of something, everything is under one of them. Maybe if everyone just kept calling the v-p's and asking, "What the hell have you done with your Office (Center/Laboratory/College) of dadada", they'd get the idea and make a real directory. Four: Fancy sounding titles don't change what you do, so get over it and leave it easy for people to find you. Remember when all campuses had a union, a place where you could get coffee and some food? Forget that. Although the Old Union exists, but it isn't one anymore. Personnel. How hard is that? Too easy, it's the Office of Human Resources and Employee Assistance, thereby breaking two rules out of just 4. The Media Center became Teaching Technology and is now the Laboratory for Integrated Learning and Technology which isn't the same as the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology; but you already knew that didn't you? And oh woe is you if you need a janitor, and can't remember that the physical plant is part of University Facilities Management, and under that listing, and then under Building Maintenance is Building Services, and then Janitorial Services. Or is it now Waste Removal Engineers?

The Great Mandala

Don't expect very many people reading this are old enough to remember Peter, Paul, & Mary's version of this song, but the great wheel of life is what came to mind when viewing this image. But after clicking on the image and zooming in, a better song reference might be "give peace a chance". OK, too old for that one too. Have a look, it's pretty amazing.

Tree fall shows several kinds of strangeness

Dearest Mary forwarded this image to me surmising that the Phactor could best deal with the fundamental strangenesses exhibited. While somewhat uncertain whether this is a complement or says something else about my blog persona, this is pretty spooky. Firstly, who and for what reason puts a half sized giraffe in their yard? It isn't handsome and it isn't cute or funky, it's just strange. Now a cement hippo or 250 pound sleeping sow, that could be funky, at least we hope so in the case of the latter, not the former. Second, that sod is the stuff of lawn care commercials. It ripped up like old green shag carpet. Remember shag carpet? No, good, best forgotten. But thirdly, what the heck is going on with the surface under the tree and sod? Was this subdivision developed on a former airport runway? Was this a Love Canal covered with concrete to make it semi-safe for living upon? Six inches of sod with tree roots under the sod and neither could penetrate the tarmac beneath, so after all that rain, you do get the impression that it had rained a lot, a top heavy tree just ripped up the sod from the runway beneath. Actually another image does come to mind. Many, many moons ago the Phactor took a field trip to a quaking bog, a wetland where a more or less solid mat of sphagnum and vegetation floats. Not too large arvbor vitaes grow upon the mat, and if someone really, really big gives a jump, the resulting "ripples" make the trees quake, rocking back and forth. So this is more or less the exact opposite of a quaking bog, a solid rock bottom anti-bog upon which grows a mat of vegetation. Wonder what made it quake? Guess they should plant smaller trees, and get smaller lawn animals. Still another image is that the tree has opened its maw in order to grab some small person or large dog that has happened to walk by on the sidewalk, and the picture captures the capture moment, shades of some Harry Potter movie. Any other ideas? And even more thanks to Mary for sparing us the Joyce Kilmer poem that accompanied this and other tree pictures.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Sacred Lotus

A few months ago, the Phactor endeavored to straighten out the confusion between waterlilies and lotus. They do have a number of superficial similarities, but they are not closely related (note the smaller waterlily leaves to lower left). A sacred lotus is the primary,that is biggest, resident of our garden pond, which was originally constructed almost 100 years ago. Amazingly enough it survives our winter cold because the pond is deep enough that it does not freeze to the bottom, and lotus thrives in our summer tropical weather flowering freely until nights begin to get cold.
The sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) is so called because of its role in Hindu mythology. Lord Brahma emerged from the navel of Lord Vishnu while he was sitting on a lotus. The lotus flower is a symbol of eternity and good fortune, and Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth is usually shown associated with a lotus flower.
The lotus is a lovely big flower, quite elegant, and the most pleasing pink color. My daughter has always thought the way water beads up and rolls around on the waxy surface of the large peltate leaf was most amusing. Enjoy.

Are you a germaphobe? Let me help.

Apparently advertising for sanitizers, cleansers, and the like, especially here in the USA, has resulted in a much enhanced paranoia about encountering "germs", yet another manifestation of biological ignorance and fear mongering (which also seems popular in politics these days). In public places do you worry about touching faucet and door handles, countertops, table tops, hand railings, and any of the other countless things we handle each day for fear of contracting some "germ"? Do you carry disinfectant wipes with you all the time, and especially when traveling? Do you use germ killing cleansers all over your house? OK, if so, let me ease your mind with a bit of basic biology. Please understand this.
Life on this planety is mostly unicellular and mostly microscopic, so small you really, really don't understand the size of vast majority of organisms. We big organisms, and yes, humans are way, way up on the large end of the scale, live in an environment teeming with countless tiny organisms. Your own body, consisting as it does of some 100 million cells, is host at least a trillion organisms. A cubic centimeter of soil, a volume about the size of a sugar cube, will have somewhere between 8 and 20 million organisms in it. One commercial disinfectant cleanser ad suggests that your clean looking kitchen counter top cold have 40,000 or more germs per square inch! Is your reaction YIKES, and you start spraying the cleanser? A reasonable biological response is "Wow, so few, that's a really clean counter you got there lady." So my dear germaphobes, get over it. You have a naive and inaccurate view of the biological world, and fortunately for us all, our bodies have evolved to deal with all these tiny organisms. Yes, some germs, bacteria, can cause serious diseases, but on a day to day basis, you just aren't going to be exposed to any real risk of infection. This means the 5-second rule on dropped food is complete crap; the instant it touched the floor, it picked up bacteria, but so what? You've been living with all these guys day in and day out anyways, so brush off the cat hair, and eat it anyways. What's a few million more among friends? We close hoping this public service announcement has made you feel better.

Attractive display for dispersers of tropical plant

It's been awhile since blogging about the tropics. Those of us who study flowers are used to seeing diverse displays to attract pollinators. This is also true for fruit displays attracting seed dispersers. Now of course both of these are floral displays, but at different times in the flower's functional life, and most people just aren't used to thinking of fruits as flowers at the time of seed dispersal.

What is truly unusual is to have the same display being used for attracting both pollen and seed dispersers because they are almost always at different times and for different organisms. This a member of the Gesner (African violet) family from Costa Rica, Columnea purpurata, and the leaves are arranged to make a flat array along a stem forming a canopy over its flowers and fruits. So this is photographed from below as this branch extends out over your head (it grows as an epiphytic shrub). Both the flowers' persistent calyx and the subtending bract are bright orange and hairy, and the entire cluster of flowers, at both dispersal stages, produces a single display. At the right hand end of the cluster you can just see a yellow corolla tube and at the left hand end an orange berry is visible (arrows). The reason one display works for both dispersal stages is that birds are the dispersers of both pollen (hummingbirds) and seed (diverse frugivores), and such a large, bright display is needed in the shady understory.

Professor offends students with Catholic thought

An adjunct professor of religion has been fired from one of our great public institutions of higher learning here in Lincolnland after students claimed his remarks about homosexuality were “offensive” and “hate speech”. After reading the story my thoughts about this are three fold.
First, when you’re an adjunct professor you have no protections, no recourse, and no guarantee of continued employment. If the person in charge doesn’t like your socks, you can be fired. Now this is a statement of fact and does not condone the misuse and abuse of adjunct faculty who should only be used to replace faculty on leave as a stop-gap measure. Maybe this particular fellow was a pain or pissed someone off and they were just waiting for an excuse to come along, and this back story has yet to come out.
Second, students these days cry about being offended when they find out the world isn’t flat and other insults to their fragile dignities, and we have way to many admini-wimps who, rather than defending academic rigor, react by trying to dismiss the faculty member as the offending party. If you’re not offending the delicate sensibilities of students, if you’re not making them think about uncomfortable ideas and concepts, then you’re probably not teaching anything meaningful at the university level. According to someone who should know, the Phactor actually still holds one record for our institution having been accused of being a sexist, a racist, and a Christian proselytizer by students all in the same course all in the same semester! The trifecta of improprieties! And all while teaching economic botany. Imagine though, a Unitarian botanist accused of being a Christian proselytizer! Must have been that reference book Plants of the Bible.
Third, when you sign up for a course called Catholicism and Catholic Thought you pretty much expect to be offended, the more so if you expected logical, rational reasons for believing the things Catholics must do. Although no expert surely, the Phactor has heard enough about “natural moral laws” to understand that the Catholic reasons for castigating homosexuality can quite readily be called offensive, but what did you expect from Catholic thought? Part of the problem, and probably the best reason for firing this professor, is that you’re going to get nothing but a one-sided presentation when the presenter is also an adherent of the religion. You’re not going to get any rigorous debate about basic tenets out of people like that, so if you want your religion classes to have all of the rigor of the religious instruction of your youth, then you hire professors like this.
So when you get down to basics, the firing sounds unjustified especially since the university approved a course like this and this fellow has been teaching it for 9 years without prior complaint. But it sounds like an awful class and the university could hardly do worse.

Botany loses a big man

One of my favorite botanists, Charlie Heiser, died last month after a long life (90 yrs) and very productive career. He was a wonderful man, knowledgeable, funny, interested, and interesting. Charlie was tall, imposing at times, so much so he once plucked a high quality Panama hat off my head, found that we had a similar hat size (XL) and strode off with a brisk wave and his new acquired head gear. He never had much natural protection up there and needed the hat more. Charlie was indirectly responsible for generating my interest in the botany of economically important plants because the Phactor was sort of a nephew once removed having had one of Charlie’s students as a mentor. Another quite interesting thing is that Charlie, unlike many scientists, really liked writing about his interests for the general public, and his book Nightshades, the paradoxical plants is a very entertaining read about some fascinating members of this family, including one of his favorites, the chili pepper (thus the picture of chili peppers for sale in southern India - No! That's not Charlie.). Another of Charlie’s books Seed to Civilization is a good primer on origins of agriculture and crop plants, although the chapter on Seeds, Sex, and Sacrifice caused us to kid him about proposing the dirty old man hypothesis. Sorry, my copies are not for sale, but used ones can be found.
People like Charlie Heiser have a legacy and an impact far beyond their immediate students and colleagues. Botany is a smaller world without him.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Fire Pink

This week's Friday Fabulous Flower is the fire pink (Silene [sigh-lean-ee] virginica), which isn't the only plant to have this common name. Pink isn't just a color, or a minor league celebrity (something you learn when you do a search on "pink"), but a flowering plant family that includes carnations. You can recognize pinks by their opposite leaves, knobby nodes (where leaves are attached), and 5-parted flowers whose petals are apically notched, toothed, or "chewed" looking. This particular species has bright red flowers, a nice mid-summer addition to a perennial garden, and some people may think the name "fire" refers to the color, but actually the name comes from the fact that certain plants tend to show up, brightly, after a fire has removed dense understory vegetation. But species in this genus are also called by the common name "catch-fly". The reason for this is that the leaves, stems, and calyces are covered with glandular hairs each sporting a gummy drop of exudate. While this leaves the plant feeling sticky to us, these hairs are deadly to small insects as the picture demonstrates. Wow! Every now and then plants win one (mine even caught a Japanese beetle!). Way to go!

Everthing just got a little bit smaller

Oh, the Phactor sensed it as soon as he woke this morning; a chunky black cat landed on me with just slightly less force, the newspaper, never much of a news heavy weight anyways landed on the front steps with just a bit less of a thud, and the whole cosmos just seemed smaller somehow. A crazy feeling to have, but there in the news was perhaps the shocking reason: the proton is actually 4% smaller previously thought! Physicists reactions were predictable, 1. perhaps they've been wrong all along (yeah, right!), although using the wrong size for protons hasn't affected how well things like lasers, gravity, and atomic bombs work, and a new more accurate measuring stick (muon scatter) has improved the accuracy; or 2. maybe the new experiment was in error or measurements were calculated wrongly so the work will be checked, and rechecked, then checked again (it's what those graduate students are for). The thing about this is a 4% difference in the size of the proton is the physicists equivalent of missing by a mile in a land where things are calculated to 10 or 12 decimal places routinely. In botany we deal in nice whole numbers if we have numerical data at all. The newly measured proton has a diameter of 0.84184 femtometers, and 1 femtometer, in case you were wondering, is 1 quadrillionth of a meter (10 to minus 15 meters). Numbers like this don't have much meaning to you unless you're working on calculating the national debt, however, maybe, just maybe, everything just got a little bit smaller, so my worrisome feeling continues.

Two kinds of shrubs

Shrubs, those intermediaries between real trees and almost woody plants, fall into to two categories: cooperative and uncooperative. Loyal readers and avid gardeners well understand my prohibition on poodling (lollypopping) shrubs as this type of pruning takes the natural form and transforms it into something totally artificial and alien looking. You might as well use plastic! Cooperative shrubs assume a pleasing form with little intervention on our part, and this is most excellent. However, there are also uncooperative shrubs, and there are only two solutions: one, give them a hard pruning, a second, or third, or fourth chance so to speak, to grow in a pleasing manner, or two, rip the buggers out and try something new. The second option is very drastic because time and money have been invested, but every now and then you have to know when to throw in the trowel and start anew. Presently the bane of my shrubbery is a short row of six dwarf mock oranges planted to provide a low border in front of taller trees and shrubs. So far the only part that has performed true to name has been "mock"; dwarf, is questionable, and not a flower so far. Pass the loppers; suffice it to say they dwarf now. If they value their place in our gardens, regrowing in a pleasing form and flowering nicely next spring would be advised. The mock oranges should take a lesson from a thicket of hugely overgrown Forsythia, which after being lopped back to basics earlier this year are sprouting forth with gracefully arched new branches, rejuvenated and for a year or so, tamed. We will not speak of our garden zombie, a trumpet creeper, which has not grown in our garden in anyone's memory, but whose skeletal shoots inexplicably keep arising from the beneath the earth, and you get chills just thinking about its supposedly dead corpse moldering down there. What would voo doo?

News of an old friend

A rare communication from one of my two oldest friends was to tell me a childhood friend died recently of a heart attack while changing a tire on his daughter's car. It has been quite awhile since anyone from my youth had died. Two of my college roommates died, both in accidental mishaps, almost mundane ways, especially the indestructible AJ, who simply slipped and fell, and never once did he even get injured from playing hockey or any of the other crazy stunts we thought fun. Lost several high school friends to drugs and the Vietnam war, either separately or in combination. But then quite a long hiatus. Having escaped the dangers of youth, we became adults.
This fellow was a childhood friend, a good fellow, with a good family, and my visits and stays at their home were many. He never moved very far from our childhood homes, and my education and career took me to new places. And then as family moved away, and the older generation passed away, the visits "home" became fewer and farther between, and it has now been years since my last visit, much to the consternation of a sister who still lives there. Such is life. But now some three to four decades after dispersing, the prospect of having childhood friends dying is a reality that has started all too soon, and sadly, too soon for an old friend. While the nostalgic motivation to reconnect with people and places left behind has never been very compelling, so many new places remain to visit, so many new things to do, his death has produced a certain sadness and regret about the things sometimes lost, jettisoned and cast aside, almost as a necessary action for moving forward. In this instance, likely enough we would not have remained close friends even if fate had provided a botanical job near the home turf, but cordial, remember-when, old acquaintances almost certainly, and so with great sadness a name is ticked off the list, but not to be forgotten. No. The oak Hoosier cupboard in our dining room was his grandmother's and he is part of its story, and this is why things have stories, so we will remember.

Tool Using Animal

The weekend of the 4th of July is Independence Day here in the USA for all of my international readers. For many years we spent the 4th at our cabin on the Mississippi River, but after our co-owners moved it became a labor merely to keep entropy at bay, so we sold the cabin after 15 years. Since then we have basically spent the weekend of the 4th keeping entropy at bay for our house and gardens. And this weekend was no different, and this isn't a complaint, but a prologue to some thoughts on our remarkable human ability to use tools because ultimately tools were our original means of independence. It came to me sometime during the 4th or 5th specifically different house-garden maintenance chore today that the Phactor had become one with his screwdriver, a magnificently simple, yet versatile tool. You see it's not that humans can manufacture and use tools that makes us unique, it's that we can look at a tool and see addtional uses, particularly if using the "right" tool would require another trek into the basement shopcave to retrieve an instrument specifically designed for one task, but not a screwdriver, elegant in its simplicity, and therefore useful in many ways. Today my screwdriver was used as a pry bar, a chisel, a putty knife, a scraper, a can opener, a nail punch, a cleaner outer of channels, and lastly, just as a lark, to hold the slotted head of a bolt in place while the nut was being tightened, which is more or less a use it was designed for. Although there is no question that the hammer is the king of tools, the screwdriver must be the queen. And this is the unique human thing, not that we use tools, but that we can invent a screwdriver, a wonderful tool for a specific use, and then open beer bottles with it; oh, now there's an idea! For a short while the paring knife was a candidate, but the last two used for alternative functions broke, so the Phactor has yet to hear the last of that, and for the time being will use paring knives for a single function, cleaning fingernails. Any other nominations out there for most useful tool?

Landscaping quiz

Scenario: You buy an attractive, classic home in a well-established, historical neighborhood and after you move in you decide the landscaping needs some fixing. In order to endear yourself to the neighborhood do you
1. Prune the over grown, renew some perennial beds, and replace a few too-far-gone shrubs.
2. Hire professionals to come in redesign the whole thing starting afresh with boxwoods everywhere.
3. Decide to get a cold dring, sit and study the whole problem for a year or two because you don't want to be precipitous.
4. Have a knowledgeable person make suggestions about what to do and where to begin, then start on a gradual process of renewal of the landscaping.
5. Announce a disinclination to landscape, rip out all the shrubs, foundation plantings, perennial beds, and any tree not on the property line and plant grass.

Please attempt to justify your answer so as to mollify your neighbors. This may turn out to be more of the psychological study than a gardening quiz.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Scarlet Cups

Wow! What a color! Pictures never do it justice. My first encounter with this species Callirhoe involucrata, a member of the Mallow family, was made while driving along a highway with one of my best friends and colleagues. Me: What's that fuchsia (also an honorific genus) flower? He: What flower? Quite a difference in perspective, but he's never really seen them because he's red-green color blind, so to him this flower does not stand out against a green background rather defeating its purpose. As beautiful as this flower is, the Phactor has to admit that he can't grow it. The reason for this is this plant is a favorite food of rabbits, and the result on both occasions when this cheerful native was planted is that it was eaten into oblivion.

Garden Flowering Log - June

The pace of flowering in our gardens slowed down in June, although a considerable redundancy in some categories (like lilies) kept things very colorful. A friend and colleague got married just this past week, and our garden supplied all the table flowers. It was a bloomin' good time! Over the past 30 days 37 new things have flowered (And the Sinocalycanthus is still in bloom!), bringing the total for this season to 233 flowering events. The count is still on, but 300 may be a stretch.
June 1: Dwarf goat's beard (Aruncus)
June 2: Astilbe (several var.), wood lilies, ink berry holly, masterwort (Astrantia)
June 4: Moonbeam tickseed
June 5: Chrysanthemum
June 6: Hydrangea (oakleaf, endless summer)
June 8: pickerel week, shasta daisy
June 9: early Hosta, daylilies, purple coneflower
June 10: Yucca
June 11: Indian hemp, shrubby St. John's wort
June 12: Hydrangea annabelle, Stoke's aster (Stokesia)
June 13: Hollyhock hibiscus (Lavatera)
June 14: Prairie rose, purple lace-top Hydrangea
June 16: Ligularia japonica
June 17: beauty-berry
June 19: Figwort
June 20: Stewartia pseudocamellia
June 21: Beebalm, Goose-neck loosestrife, mid-season Hostas
June 24: White Snakeroot, Ligularia stenocephala
June 25: Prairie blazing star
June 26: Yellow cone flower, Hens & chickens, Ural false spirea (Sorbaria)
June 29: Clematis heracleifolia, Scarlet catch-fly
June 30: Tigerlily

Berry-Go-Round #29 - June 2010

This month's round up of plant blogs has been posted kindly over at Agricultural Biodiversity. Let an internet ramet grow over that way.