Obviously the flower being featured is the twin flower (Linnaea borealis), named after Linnaeus himself. Yes, good old Linnaeus' honorific plant, and he's featured prominently in many things, for example, right there on TPP's desk is a deck of Linnaeus plant family identity cards (from the Chelsea Physic Garden) next to TPP's Darwin lapel button. Not only is Treehugger providing this particular FFF, but it's offering you all an opportunity to share you beauty photos with everyone else. Enjoy.
It's been a long, long time since income inequality in the USA has been as great as it is today. The top 1% are worth as much as the bottom 50% and the difference is growing. How will this end up? Hard to say. So it's good to have such excellent prognosticators as Tom Tomorrow who can clearly see where this all is heading. See if any of the talking points sound familiar.
Officially the 2013-2014 winter has been a long, cold, and snowy, and today is no exception. It's a bitterly cold day following another below zero Fahrenheit over night low. Just to make himself feel better TPP checked his garden flowering log data. His witch-hazel has bloomed between Feb 18 and March 3d over the past 4 years. This Sunday another multiple inch snowfall is predicted, so it looks like a late spring for certain. The brief partial melt has begun to reveal the extent of the bunny damage, and it's quite shocking. Every bit of pine foliage within their reach has been nibbled away! Never before have they nibbled on my pines! A dwarf spreading Scotch pine has really been denuded and we can hope it recovers from such a severe and haphazard pruning. And even worse, TPP needs flowering to commence for his taxonomy class.
The fire-arms prohibited signs like this one were put on our academic building sometime during the past few days, but TPP is not feeling any safer.
Nonetheless, with quite a few restrictions, like no firearms at football tailgate parties (duh!), concealed firearms are now allowed on public university campuses because Lincolnland finally caved in to the SCOTUS rulings that certified citizens' right to bear arms without the necessity of well-regulated militias because apparently conservative judges cannot conjugate sentences. Consider what typically occurs on campuses even before such signs became necessary. First you take 20,000 to 40,000 eighteen to twenty-somethings and put them altogether with little or no adult supervision. OK that's actually all it takes. Most of them don't know how to drink alcohol in a mature manner even when they're old enough to be legal. Let's add up the other variables: a lot of raging hormones, some immaturity, peer pressure, various tribal affinities, and bad or impaired judgment. During any particular period of say 2 days, stupid, crazy, regrettable stuff will happen just because, but mostly they live and maybe learn. Now add concealed firearms to this equation and solve. What possibly could go wrong? The campus environment doesn't need another variable that makes it so bloody easy for even a behavioral moron to kill someone, but they will. You can already hear the NRA chuckling over their antics. "Oh, those crazy college kids; always shooting each other." "Remember when we were in college and it was never anything worse than a fist-fight?" "Boy, do kids today have it easy."
While tropical plants are generally day-neutral in terms of flowering, something about the short days (actually it's the long nights) stimulates a lot of our glasshouse tropical plants to flower. It makes visiting the glasshouse in February and March a lot of fun. One of our stranger plants is a semi-viney member of the screwpine family, the genus Freycinetia multiflora, a plant that has been featured as a FFF before, but the flowering this time is even better, bigger clusters, brighter color. The flower like structures are actually three ranks of bracts that surround 3 inflorescences hidden within. The glasshouse used to have a real Pandanus, but it got way, way too big and had to be cut up and removed in pieces.
One of the USA's general problems is its smugness in thinking that WE are better than everyone else. OK, the USA has things to be proud of, but WE ain't perfect either. Recent events have displayed this most succinctly. Various commentators have been chiding the Russians for their anti-gay policies, as if the USA was so superior, and at the same time AZ was passing a "we're legalizing religious bigotry bill". This perversion of the concept of religious freedom demonstrates something that TPP has said before, although maybe not here, if you give the USA's religious right political power, they'd quickly show the Taliban new tricks. Wonder if the ayatollah Brewer will sign this into law or not? Then there's news of a corporal punishment bill in some other backward state charging forward into the past. So, to the rest of the world, sorry, some of us are very embarrassed by our fellow citizens and what passes for rationale political action, which is partly from people who actually "think" like this, and the rest of the GnOPe who would make a bargain with any devil for political purposes.
Officially this is the snowiest (already), and perhaps the coldest winter on record for this area, and it's only Feb 19th. Of course this week's thaw could kill the coldest winter record, but the thaw is much appreciated if only for the contrast. Unfortunately, the melting snow has revealed that a bun-bun managed to get around/through a fencing barrier and girdled a small ornamental hemlock, as if TPP didn't have enough difficulty with this species of tree anyways. As the melt continues, it's certain that more feeding damage will be discovered. Oh well, nothing to do but start shopping for a replacement.
It was only a matter of time. Apparently news feeds popping up on Facebook have been referencing lots of "natural cures" the sort of thing regular reported at web sites like Natural News. So now a correspondent writes to ask if there is any truth to the report than eating whole lemons is a cure for or can prevent cancer. Nothing scares people as much as cancer, and too many of us have seen people grasp for any and all purported cures either because they don't trust real medicine or they feel they have nothing to lose. So here's one of the Natural News articles about the lemon-cancer connection. Wow, do you see that they've got all those sciency citations, so this information must be the real stuff and these people right on top of things. And sadly that is not the case. Here's an article about this that's says pretty much what TPP is going to say. Over the years TPP has had his students investigate a number of these "natural cures" claims because they frequently involve plants and it's always the same story. The actual science is either grossly misinterpreted, mostly greatly exaggerated, or just totally misleading about what the actual study was or did or found. TPP is puzzled about the people behind these natural news articles. Are they simply not smart enough to understand what they are doing, or are they deliberately misleading people for fun and profit? If indeed science had discovered something as amazingly simple as eating lemons whole can cure or prevent cancer, don't you really think someone reputable would be saying so? Oh, they aren't doing this because there's some huge conspiracy to keep people from knowing such things. Yea, right. A good skeptical attitude helps you steer clean of such bogus claims, that and the actual ability to read a scientific article. When something is too good to be true, mostly likely it isn't. Too bad because mojitos are a real good drink. And gin and tonic helps prevent malaria, oh, wait, there is an element of truth to that one! The image above must have lemons in it somewhere and the image is in the public domain compliments of the USDA Agricultural Research Service.
Wow, Andrew Sullivan really nails Dick Cheney. My dislike of Cheney is deep and profound; he moved into my number one spot of worst political leaders of the USA years ago. So this piece really summarizes why; he has no ethical dilemmas at all. And regarding the rest of us, Cheney responds like a Col. Jessup (A few good men) "You can't handle the truth."
Everyone who knows the Phactors knows that at the end of the day, the Phactors like to sit on their patio, and look at their gardens and enjoy their margaritas. So what's wrong with this picture? This is anti-margarita weather for certain! Nothing about this makes you want a margarita! And it just keeps piling up. Ah, well, it only makes the margaritas taste better in season.
Along a portion of the Phactors' driveway is an old privet hedge. Because of limited options, snow shoveled out of the driveway ends up piled in the hedge, and with each successive snowfall, the base has been raised. This has worked out well for the bunnies, who when denied other sources of food turn to eating bark from shrubs and young trees . First they started out chewing the bark off stems near the base of the hedge, and as the snow has piled up higher, they have used the snow bank to move up the hedge to ever higher regions on the stems, now 2-3 feet above the ground level. A colleague asked if this was "bad" for the shrubs. Duh-uh! When a bun-bun chews all the bark off a stem, the phloem and vascular cambium get eaten too, in fact this is probably the best part. Completely girdled stems die above the damaged zone. What's been interesting is watching how the snow has given the bunnies access to parts of the hedge generally out of their reach. After each new addition to the snow bank, white, debarked portions appear higher in the hedge. Mrs. Phactor has bought some hay to feed the bunnies figuring it might be less expensive in the long run to feed them hay than shrubbery. Rabbit damage to shrubbery on our campus has been extensive too, although almost no one notices. Some of these shrubs will sprout new shoots from the base after the dead portions have been pruned away.
Mowing lawn has always been a bit of a robotic experience, mindless and boring. So why not have a robotic lawnmower? This is a great concept, and even more amazing, supposedly this mower fuels itself on the grass clippings it makes, sort of like a goat. So what could be wrong with this idea? First of all, the idea of being chased around my yard by a robotic lawnmower gone bad, and they always do go bad (Open the pod bay doors, Hal. Sorry, Dave, I can't do that.), is not an image TPP wishes to live with unless just maybe the lawnmower decides it has it in for bunnies and squirrels. Can it say "exterminate!" Secondly, there seems to be an assumption that what is being mowed is "grass" and not all lawn clippings are grass. Lawn can and does embrace a number of species and does this robot operate as well on blue violets and creeping charlie? After all you can't put kerosene in a gasoline lawn mower's engine, so does the species of lawn clipping matter? And does the robot know to carefully avoid the wildflowers in the lawn, leaving the trilliums, wild ginger, bluebells, and spring beauty alone, or the hundreds of spring bulbs in flower? Can it avoid trees, and shrubs, and ponds, and lawn sculptures, and gardens? It would be great if the robot had mastered plant identification because most human operated lawn mowers just don't seem to notice any differences. Somehow TPP thinks that his lawn is not what the designer had in mind. But you might be able to have it bring you drinks sort of like R2D2 on the party barge.
Winter weather is back at it again. The snow started near the end of our breakfast, and within minutes it was really coming down such that you knew the predicted accumulation of 1-2 inches was going to be an under-estimate. In a 10 min walk from the coffee shop to campus TPP's broad brimmed hat accumulated about 1/4 inch, so that is an official rate of 1.5 inches per hour. Not bad for this part of the world where this is really a high rate of snow. Now growing up in the upstate New York's snow belt along the shore of Lake Ontario TPP has seen some epic snow falls. The thing up there is that the snow just doesn't stop; it can go on for hours at a heavy rate. Back in the 1960s there was a 104 inch (260 cm) snowfall in 48 hours, so that's 2 inches an hour for 2 days, and then it started to drift. And TPP has seen snow falling at 3-4 inches per hour but for shorter periods of time. Such snow falls produce virtual white-outs, and once it was so bad a friend who was a track star ran just ahead of our car so that the driver could see a bit further, and even then it was very slow going. The car was a Corvair, and they just didn't get stuck in snow. Right now it's obvious the university just cannot keep up with the snow; you can't start any earlier than the snow does, and at times it just comes too fast to keep all those sidewalks clear. Recommend you look back a blog and just soak up the tropical scene.
Yesterday was a pretty successful Darwin Day. It's not a big celebration; only the biology majors are invited for a party to view a pretty good collection of Darwin's publications (TPP has a pretty good collection) and of course cake. So when you buy a pretty big cake and the students eat it all, you've had a good turnout. And, no sticky finger prints on the Darwin publications either. The idea is just to make our majors a bit more knowledgeable about Darwin's accomplishments. Only one of them had actually read the Origin of Species, but she was surprised about all of Darwin's other books. Actually, the fact that most fascinated our students this year is that most of TPP's volumes were from editions published in the late 1800s, so nothing particularly valuable, but to today's students that is almost impossibly old. It was a good cake, florally decorated, but with dark blue frosting roses whose dye can go completely through the GI tract unchanged which makes for a rather surprising "out come". The special event was reading the 22 questions asked by creationists posed after the Nye-Ham debate, mostly met with amusement, but while having answers, not comprehending why people would so respond. Ah, well, everything goes better with cake.
TPP was looking through a bunch of old color slides and while the class picture sought remains elusive, this beach scene emerged, and, well, ... Wow! This brought back some great memories. Is this not just the most appealing of beach scenes, sort of Big Sur meets the tropical rain forest, and to make it even more spectacular, this shot was taken from a table in little seaside bar. So what are you waiting for, just pack your bags and figure out where this place is! Hint: it's neotropical and in a national park that has no roads!
It's been 35 years since the upper midwest has had a winter this cold. Since December began there have been 20 days (nights) where the temperature has been below zero, and for those of you using a sensible C scale, water freezes at 32 on the F scale, so below zero is more than 32 F below freezing. As the Phactor wonders how some of his semi-hardy, maybe-not-quite-zone 5 plants will do, a neighbor asked if anything good could come of such cold? Last winter there may not have been any days with below zero temperatures, and the frequency of really cold winters has been decreasing (yes, as expected if the climate is warming). Well, among the good possible outcomes might be if the emerald ash borer proves to be not so winter hardy. Wouldn't it be great if a really cold winter knocked out the population! Wow, that would be great. Some other insect populations might get reduced for a while too like the Japanese beetle, but all the snow cover this year may insulate those things that overwinter in the ground from the cold. Same is true for some of the low-growing shrubs and other perennials. Snow is a great insulator. So all we can do is hope for the best. For example, the aerial portions of our Vitex are not winter hardy at these temperatures, but the basal portions will survive and resprout, so the dead upper portions must just be pruned off. The last few mild winters had allowed it to become a 2.5 m tree, so for 2014 it will have to start over.
Here's some leaves that the Phactor scanned after using them in a class. They are all tropical woody plants, but none are any more closer related than being members of the same order. Note how similar they all are in shape and with a smooth margin. They all have a bit of a short drip tip, and all have pretty waxy cuticles. Now here's the fun part - one is a gymnosperm (Gnetum), one is basal angiosperm (Illicium), and the other two are from the Magnoliales (Myristica, Eupomatia). Can you figure it out? Hey, does the Phactor have a cool collection of plants at his disposal or what?
The Phactor likes botanical art a lot, and here's a nice example where the medium is botanical, in this case leaves, as best as can be determined, folded and packed into spaces to produce some great looking textures and patterns. Unfortunately none of these art works look like they will have much lasting power based upon how long parsley lasts in the produce drawer of the fridge. At any rate this art has a certain herbal freshness to it. Enjoy.
Everyone likes a challenge, and the latest Get Your Botany On plant ID quiz was indeed a challenge, but an educated guess (false toadflax) based on what the plant clearly wasn't (Comandra unbellata), together with its boggy habitat, scored one for the Phactor! Yea! Now to try and impress my taxonomy class of plant ID neophytes; now that's tough. The key observation was that everything else with similar leaves, based on what you can see in a picture, has the leaves arranged in an opposite pattern, which eliminated a lot of possibilities. Gee, do you think the botanist is suffering from a bout of cabin fever? For the record, the only time the Phactor has seen the false toadflax was on the Door Co. peninsula in WI, possibly at the Ridges Sanctuary in Bailey's Harbor.
What to do on a snowy Saturday? Two more inches have fallen since my last post this AM. Well, Mrs. Phactor decides we needs us some culture, so nothing for it but to mount a small expedition to see some fancy art glass by Dale Chihuly and some Murano glass artists. A few years ago there was a TV special called something like Chihuly over Venice, and it showed them making some of the pieces on exhibit. It was quite impressive, the more so that this exhibit is wholly a private collection, someone with some very deep pockets! The Chihuly pieces were quite different from others we have seen in various places and venues (1conservatory,1 botanical garden, 4 museums). From a biological perspective, the coolest pieces were a large collection of very life like glass insects, mostly beetles, but also a small swarm of bees complete with full pollen baskets. Before getting some culture, the idea was to stop for a bit of lunch on the way, and feeling a bit adventurous, the decision is made to dine at the Burger Barge, a lovely bit of Americana on the river. This is the quintessential burger joint where the burgers are quite good and served on paper and the finest of cafeteria trays and the beer is served cold and in bottles. This is one of the more attractive things about the old USA; you can eat at a good ole boy bar and grill and then without even changing your jeans go to an art museum. In another coincidence, the museum admission for a couple of senior citizens and lunch for a couple of senior citizens was almost exactly the same amount showing the equality of culture and a couple of fancy burgers with beer (Dos XX & Red Stripe). At any rate a most pleasant Saturday diversion, and TPP got a nice Darwin greeting card in the museum shop!
Here's the activity report from the Phactor's kitchen table. It's been a very cold week but today is a warm snap, up to 20 F, and the forecast is for more snow and then the temperature is to fall again. Suffice it to say everyone is stoking up at the feeders, 2 with sunflower fruits, 1 filled with peanuts, and one with thistle fruits (hey, both sunflowers and thistles are achenes). OK let's see who's feeding. The usual crowd is here: cardinals, house finches, gold finches, juncos, white-throated sparrows, blue jays, red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, tufted titmouse, chickadees, Carolina wrens, nuthatches, morning doves. Well, not bad for a 15 min bird round up. Oh, yes and 8 fox squirrels easting their corn and spilled bird food and wishing they could climb into the feeders. It has been quite a few years since this much snow has accumulated, and lots of low growing shrubs are just mounds of white. No evidence of the lily pond exists, and hopefully the bubble stone and compressor are keeping things aerobic until a melt finally comes. Quite a bit of bun-bun bark feeding is probably being hidden from view, but things are tough enough that at night bun-buns actually appear under the bird feeders looking for a bit of food, that is whatever bits are left by the birds and squirrels.
You can observe lots of interesting winter fashion on university campuses.
Bare-ankled weather nut - It was 5 degrees below zero this morning, and there walking down a sidewalk was a bare-ankled weather nut. Yes, short shoe-top socks and low sneakers as your basic Arctic winter clothing. Won't your mother be so proud that you've learned to dress yourself.
Weather-defying cargo shorts - Some people are just in a fashion rut or saving a lot of money by not buying any clothes at all. So nothing like the all purpose, all season, khaki cargo shorts, well-wrinkled. Do they feel a certain chill? Of course their converse sneakers don't help much either.
Chic and impractical - Nothing like a pair of high-heeled, knee high leather boots to show off you long legs otherwise wrapped in sprayed on jeans. The traction on icy sidewalks is unparalleled. The short, little leather coat looks like its weather approved for temperatures down to about freezing, but it's all about looking good, not staying warm. The white faux fur ear muffs actually may be the most practical accessory possible.
Fashion-be-damned uni-sex, over-stuffed, cucoon sleeping bag trench coat - Well, it most certainly looks warm, and it is moving, so we must assume a person is enveloped within that Michelin-man cylinder of down-stuffed nylon. This could also be survival gear for a foreign student from someplace like Thailand. TPP's Thai students always wore all of their clothing at once during the winter.
Muk luks - If there ever was a season for muk luks, this is it. Yes, these massive furry boots can make any foot look like a sasquatch. And as for the ties with fur pom-poms at the ends; well, this is a dead giveaway that you don't live with a cat who would tackle you in a nano-second.
Of course in his day, TPP remembers a year-book group photo of the dear fellows he hung out with that was quite simply labeled, "Send food, money, winter-clothing".
Virtually all herbarium collections are behind on filing, unless they aren't collecting anything at all. This semester TPP has a class of warm bodies and the idea is to get them active and doing something useful. Like a lot of things, they best way to learn about herbarium curating is to do it. So students start by mounting and filing specimens, and this is no problem in terms of finding them materials to work on because TPP is more than a little behind. This is a massive problem inherited from a predecessor who sort of let things pile up, but TPP is less behind now than when he obtained control the whole collection. So today TPP was checking accuracy of species names for a pile of old specimens that had been remounted to get rid of old deteriorating paper. So how far behind is TPP? Well, let's see these specimens were collected from '45 to '67, but not 1945 to 1967, no, 1845 to 1867. Now that's not too bad, just 150 to 170 years behind. Actually this is a bit strange because mostly the backlog of specimens is from just 50-60 years ago, but for some reason these were set aside and ignored, for a long, long time. Part of the problem is that many people cannot read the handwritten labels, but it's not impossible, so why these specimens were set aside so long ago remains a puzzle. These were all exchange specimens, specimens that our institution obtained from Europe by trading with colleagues, so maybe they just weren't considered very important. Nonetheless the students are strangely impressed by the age of these specimens and the idea that they are working on something with a bit of history to it, that they are contributing to something that is expected to last for awhile barring some catastrophe like a water leak or a fire.
TPP gets contacted by former students all the time. Do you remember me? Generally, yes, my memory of students is quite good actually, and I have surprised some people from years ago. They often then tell me about what they have been doing with themselves, and this is great, but you'd be surprised how few students actually keep me up to date. Hopefully social media will help in this regard, but then TPP would have to do Facenook or something like that. OK, that probably won't work. "Would you please recommend me for this job/graduate program/professional school?" Recommendations are part of my job, but did we have any significant interaction beyond the classroom? Your transcripts tell people how that went. Did you do any research with me? Any field work? Any special projects? If no, then there isn't too much I can do at this point. Admissions people and people with jobs to fill want to know if you have a good work ethic, if you have intellectual skills, and can do research, and frankly, TPP doesn't know. Maybe, maybe, but to be an honest recommender means TPP cannot say because he has no basis for knowing. This is why we urge undergraduates to get involved, to interact with the faculty; this is why you chose an undergraduate research university, so that you have faculty who will do these things with you. So it was great to hear from you. TPP will do what he can. "Would you please provide feedback?" OK, that was not the most impressive bit of email prose you just wrote. You say you "will be
incredibly elated and gracious" to have my recommendation, but when you write like this, it mostly doesn't help your cause. Be simpler and more direct. Wish we had worked on writing more when you were a student.Wish we had talked more a couple of years ago and maybe this could have been a more positive communication. Still you did communicate, and you want to do something new, and those are both good things.
On the south side of Philadelphia is a Magic Garden, and this "magic garden" was built both illegally and secretly in northern India. You give some people, actually not some people, just a couple of eccentric crazy people enough pieces of pottery and other "junk" and they'll build something magnificent. It's sort of hard to believe something like this being "secret" in India. Clearly it wasn't a secret, but secret from people who had the power and authority to stop it before it had gone so far it was better to accept the outcome and help the guy finish the job. TPP's impression is that this is pretty cool both as a garden and as folk art. Now Mrs. Phactor can add this place to her bucket list of gardens to see before she dies.
This is just great. Watch Phlox News and know less! Now presently no evidence is suggesting that regular doses of Phlox News actually damages your brain, it is now certain that you get less accurate information to put in your brain than from any other major news source. In fact, people who use Phlox News as their primary source of information actually did worse than people who watched no news whatsoever. Ouch! The old no-news-at-all control! And of course NPR and Sunday morning talk radio provide so much more. No wonder the Phactors are so well informed! However, and this is the basic gotcha on just about everybody, people who watch the Daily Show do almost as well as NPR listeners, so imagine how well us NPR + John Stewart combo listeners will do. It is of course sad that politics and the affairs of state in our country are such that making fun of them is one of the most informative things you can do. It does however worry me to find people who don't think the Daily Show is funny, or that politicians don't deserve to be ridiculed. After all if they only would stop saying and doing stupidly funny things. Now take recent events here in Lincolnland as an example. The GnOPe is hot to win the next gubernatorial election, so they are fielding a slate of woeful hopefuls, none more hopeful nor more woeful than our current state treasurer Dan Rathernot. At a time when no public allegations had been made against him, Dan calls a news conference to say that the allegations made against him that no one knew about were actually a politically motivated dirty trick by one of his opponents. What allegations, Dan? We're not hear to talk about any allegations, just about that it reflects badly on my opponent. Huh? The man regularly gets outsmarted by fence posts. Hmm, not a good example because it really isn't very funny and is just a sad example of the Peter Principle really.
My how time flies when you're busy and/or sick. Nothing at all makes me sad to see the end of a month with so much bitter cold and nasty weather. So best that we're done with it, and that much closer to spring. That being said, you, my readers do both surprise and disappoint TPP. Not a single one of you had the gumption to ask where said Tropical Interlude might be, thus indicating your determination to head there ASAP. Simply nothing else will do! So get on the ball. One must grasp at whimsy whenever it presents itself. So there. And the questions have been few and those somewhat lame. Be more creative! How can a blog stay interesting unless there is some audience participation?
So, in anticipation of the upcoming gardening season, what in the recent spate of 2014 plant catalogs has caught your fancy? What must you just have? At present TPP's favorite has been Ephedra minima, which as it's name suggests is a rather diminutive species supposedly hardy in zone 5. Now to think of a place to plant a sun-loving, low-growing, drought-tolerant gnetophyte gymnosperm.
If TPP were to endorse any commercial operations, Arrowhead Alpines might be one of them. What a great selection of hardy plants. By not providing the link TPP maintains his non-commercial integrity as opposed to all those science-bloggy and garden grubbing sorts of blogs that barrage you with ads. Do you not appreciate a labor of love, or just a blog ego trip? Here you are blessedly free of commercial duns, but of late things have gotten so quiet that TPP wonders if you appreciate what you get at this blog? So let's do hear from you readers now and again this year.