Field of Science


TPP's list of things he wants but doesn't need is pretty short, but move over, move down, make room because while no way he needs a tricycle espresso machine, but it was love at first glance. This model is called the velopresso. Every Tour
de France team will soon have one of these as part of the team.  Clearly these coffee shops on three wheels are for small commerce, but the whole idea of having such a rig so that you won't run low on caffeine at some critical time is very appealing. Of course, when all your friends are sitting around your office, your productivity may still be affected. And when riding around, you'd have to keep stopping to fill all those orders from fellow cyclists who like the idea of drinking on the go. The neatest part is that the coffee grinder is pedal powered. What a nifty, swifty idea. 

Academic bureaucracy

One of the first things to get the Rauner-roundTM here in Lincolnland are its universities.  Our new GnOPe governor says he'd like to give universities more money, but first they have to "cut their bureaucratic waste".  Now TPP is not a big fan of the administration, but he does know a few things after so many years as an academic. And TPP knows a few things about his university after having been around so many years. The state has been slowly but surely cutting its support for higher education which means the cost is shifted to the student in the form of tuition and fees. Here in Lincolnland the state support has shifted from around 68% of the cost and now some 30 odd years later state support is around 16-18%. Yet if you figure in inflation, and the actual real cost of doing business, our university is spending less of its budget to run itself than ever before. In other words to minimize the burden on students, our university has gotten more efficient. Another thing that is known by this academic is that our salaries are below the median of our peers at comparable institutions. Sigh. One wonders how us over-paid faculty escaped our governor's criticism? The majority of the administration operates to do things for students many of which the state mandates the university to do, and a lot of unfunded mandates have come our way; the state still wants things, but doesn't want to pay for them. Now the university could probably do with a few less deanlets, but seriously where is all this bureaucratic waste our governor wants cut? Well, he doesn't know, but it's his business acumen  and GnOPe belief that higher education is wasteful. Do not hold your breath for him to show you data, nor will he look at yours especially if it doesn't support his beliefs. What all of this means is that higher education is going to get its budget cut in name of curtailing wasteful spending whether there is any or not. It didn't take long did it? That's how it is. You do a great job, you do it more efficiently, and then you get budget cuts because of your non-existent wastefulness. Could have been worse. The governor of another Midwestern state wanted to know why university faculty couldn't teach 5 courses a term like high school teachers?  No need to try and explain that our job is to teach students to learn for themselves, and that means doing history, art, and science, and to be a scholar, someone who can apprentice young scholars, takes time outside the classroom. But then again one of our missions is to "train people for the work force of Lincolnland".  Yes, train, not educate.  Sit, speak, roll-over, heel, beg, that's training. And our politicians of all flavors don't seem to appreciate the difference between education and training. This is a good time to be retired. 

Chili has no beans, a topic with plenty of heat

"The chief ingredients of all chili are fiery envy, scalding jealousy, scorching contempt and sizzling scorn." (H. A. Smith, 1967, Holiday).  Sounds like this guy has participated in a chili cook-off or two. The Texas people of my acquaintance are pretty diverse, but they do agree that beans have no place in chili, let alone adding macaroni or scorn, sorry, corn. What passes for chili in Cincinnati is beneath contempt. To his credit, TPP does not claim to know more about chili than you do, but he has won the local Texas Independence Day chili cook-off held around here, the only non-Texan to ever do so, and to claim the prize he had to swear he would seek Lone-star citizenship.  He'd have won a 2nd time but for irregularities in the voting (Texas politics as usual).  This is a good time of  year for a bowl of chili, and TPP's best invention was made when he slipped a bit with the cumin and decided what the heck go for that east Texas flavor, that far eastern Texas flavor, as in more like curry-flavored chili. It had plenty of depth and authority to be sure. TPP also makes a mean pot of beans especially when they are cooked in a huge cast iron Dutch oven. But beans is beans. Now there was one couple from down on a bayou somewhere that used to make "road-kill swamp-water chili" and while you weren't quite sure what the meat was, or used to be, there sure weren't any beans. And it's hard to know what to call it when people make "vegetarian chili" probably using prime cuts from a tofudebeest. The only good thing about the Stupor Bowl is it's a good excuse to make some chili. HT to Slate for making TPP think about this. 

BLAST from the past

Lot's of things are conspiring to make TPP feel old especially a recent spate of things that all happened 50 years ago, e.g., Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant, things he remembers very well. Here's another gee-you're-old reminder provided by The Nation: Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb debuted on this date 51 years ago. It was a marvelous movie about the trouble with relying on something as destructive as atomic bombs for your safety and international peace. That makes the year 1964 and TPP was in high school. He remembers helping families of friends build bomb shelters in their basements such was the fear of a nuclear war. My Father just told me it wouldn't matter much, shelter or no shelter. There was a great new age issue in the movie about fluoridation being a plot to destroy your precious bodily fluids. Peter Sellers was fantastic as Dr. Strangelove who had a bit of an affliction with his arm.  Slim Pickens also had a great part this movie.  Eeee Haaa! Even though it's now a real oldie classic, no spoilers will be given except that my Father was pretty much right according to this film's view of nuclear war. Note that not all that much has changed since our military wants new missiles for its nukes. Aimed at what?  Those were some times to be that age: nuclear annihilation sandwiched in between riots and marches for civil rights and the assassinations of JFK and MLK, and the stupidity of the Vietnam War.

Calling all plant phanatics

As lone time readers may have noticed, this blog has no ads and makes no endorsements, unless TPP has been handsomely rewarded, which he hasn't, so you may also conclude how much impact the 623,884th ranked webpage has commercially, essentially none. However as a service to fellow plant lovers, and if any one factor can describe the diverse readers of this blog that may be it, other than my kid sister who just likes to check up on me.  So here's a link to Strange Wonderful Things, a purveyor of rare and unusual plants, but not having done any business here, this is simply an information item, not an endorsement.  Perhaps if a reader has purchased something, they will supply a comment about their satisfaction or lack thereof. The list of what's available is pretty unimpressive, but the list of everything they supposedly grow is a lot of fun to peruse. A couple of the descriptions are sort of amusing and include culture information. The listing for Amborella trichopoda caught TPP's eye touted as the oldest flowering plant species on Earth. This in all likelihood is not true but a misunderstanding about the uniqueness of this species. This is an upland evergreen tropical shrub/small tree that only grows on New Caledonia, a very old, very isolated piece of real estate that used to be part of Gondwana. So rare and uncommon, oh, yes. This species also has a very unique phylogenetic position; it has the most ancient common ancestry with all other flowering plants. So if your draw an evolutionary tree of flowering plants the bottom most branch is a single species. Now what this means is that this evolutionary event happened at the dawn of flowering plants, and one lineage flourished and gave rise to all other flowering plants, and one lineage did not flourish and is now represented by a single species. It does not mean this species existed when that evolutionary event occurred. Sorry. It's like Gingko in that regard; a single species has survived of what was a very diverse lineage but that species is not as old as the lineage is. It does mean that this species may have retained a lot of features with the common ancestor of all flowering plants. Does TPP want this plant?  Oh, yes, very much! He already has representatives of the other two basal branches of the flowering plant evolutionary tree: water lilies and star anise (Illicium), so it would be nice to complete the set. 

Don't worry! Be happy!

Here you go, folks!  A handy infographic from the BBC that rates the probability of some apocalyse wiping out humans or life on Earth. Wonder if this comes in a wall poster size. Now the BBC can get away with this because in England this kind of sarcastic humor is still recognized as such, but here in the not-too-bright 'Merca, this would have cable newscasters going crazy having interpreted this as a govment report that will send survivalist digging deeper and stocking more food than ever. And this comes the day after the blizzacocalysemageddon (sp?) failed to materialize in its most dire form. The crazy non-informative just-make-sounds over-blown all-the-time "news" cycle just makes the worried people more worried (maybe they should sing a worried song). Instead the solution is to click the mute button, or better yet the "off" button, get yourself a whiskey, and read your favorite skeptical blog. HT to Mano Singham's blog.

Right-wing science guy

No question the new GnOPe majority congress inspires us scientists with their attention to science via stunningly appropriate committee appointments.  Tom Tomorrow's right-wing science guy explains.

She's back, again, again, again!

Yes, folks, unless you are living in a cave and bereft of news you know that Sarah PalindroneTM is back in political news with hints of running for POTUS. Expectedly the news she made was for giving a totally disjointed, nonsensical word salad of a speech, where according to John Stewart the "nouns kept running away from the verbs". TPP coined the term Palindrone for exactly her type of speaking, something that sounds just a dumb backwards as forwards. Now perhaps you would like to think that Sarah doesn't really stand a chance; she is the dumbest of the lot by a lot, maybe with the exception of former Texas governor Perry, but at least he sticks with good-old-boy whiz bang jingoisms he can handle. The problem for this correspondent is wondering if there are really people out there that think our country would be better off if this woman became POTUS?  Really? Why? Is her speech some form of divine political glossolalia (speaking in tongues) that is to be revered? TPP still hasn't gotten over the frightening thought of having her as VP to a geriatric POTUS. So just when you think the bar cannot possibly set lower, along comes Sarah to challenge that notion. As H. L. Mencken said, "As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents more and more closely the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."

A Magnolia experiment

While in western Florida, my dear Sister suggested we visit a native plants nursery in Talahassee, not so she could enhance the diversity of her wildlife preserve, but to amuse TPP. They had some very nice plants, lots of natives, and that included Magnolia ashei, the Ashe Magnolia, sometimes considered to be a M. macrophylla var. ashei, a variety of big-leafed magnolia that is only found in western Florida, primarily along the Apalachicola River (map here). Some very nice seedlings were available for only $10! TPP could not resist; he has a thing for magnolias dontcha know. Now TPP knows what you are thinking. What kind of wild-eyed optimist would think this magnolia would survive in the upper midwest?  There is a funny thing about narrow endemics like this shrub; they generally can grow in a much wider area than where they are found in nature. In other words, it's not some general physical requirement or local adaptation that has limited their distribution. Other big-leafed magnolias grow here including your basic M. macrophylla. In one garden not too distant from here grows a southern magnolia in a protected area, and a visiting botanist says an Ashe magnolia is growing in a garden about an hours drive west from here. So for $10, TPP will give it a try in a protected location. It shouldn't get very big in any case; locally bay magnolias grow as large shrubs mostly whereas they grow into trees in the Carolinas and the Ashe magnolia is an understory shrub. So who among you wouldn't do the same thing? Isn't that a great flower?  And of course the big leaves just look so exotic, so tropical in a way. TPP already has a M. tripetala, another big-leafed species.  No one really knows how cold hardy this species is.  Some sources suggest zone 6, and 3 other magnolias in TPP's collection are of similar hardiness ratings and doing fine including after last year's rock bottom zone 5 winter temps. Lastly, these are seed grown from other cultivated trees, not seedlings or seeds collected in the wild. Only wish the native star anise was tougher. 

Plant poaching

It always sounds a bit weird, but plant poaching does occur. The plants have to be sufficiently rare and desireable to be worth the effort. Things like the ghost orchid of the Everglades and the Venus fly-trap. Venus fly-traps only grow in boggy places near the Carolina coastal area of Wilmington. TPP saw some in Green Swamp, and this report makes it sound like they are none too safe from poaching even though the area is protected from development. Plants that only live in relatively small locales and in fairly restrictive habitats are always the most threatened in the wild. Whenever you consider buying such plants, do give a thought about whether or not the plants were grown ethically and not poached. TPP often asks native plant purveyors where they got their stock. But what a shame if cool little plants like this become extinct in the wild. Too bad there aren't any really big carnivorous plants, think little shop of horrors, that you could feed plant poachers to. TPP will return to this topic shortly as he just acquired a rare locally endemic Magnolia.

Wildlife on display at Wakulla Springs

The weather down there in Florida was as good as it gets in January, sunny with highs in the 60s. What a nice respite from our usual January weather in Lincolnland. Well, you can't waste such nice weather so my sister & her husband took the Phactors on an outing to Wakulla Springs and in addition to being a very pretty place there was a remarkable amount of wildlife on display: gaters, lots of birds (ibis, black vulture, egret, ducks, were dirt common), lots of turtles, lots of manatees. Here's a few pictures. The bird is a little blue heron, a new bird for us. TPP had only seen manatee once before; a first for Mrs. Phactor. Everyone down here says they're gater fans, and they do pose rather nicely on a sunny day, but the locals' love of gaters seems quite out of proportion. At any rate, Wakulla Springs was a great place to visit. Put it on your list to visit. Enjoy.

You may be a redneck if your backyard is a swamp

It had been way too long since TPP has visited his kid sister who lives in the pan handle of Florida. Now honestly, she is no more redneck than her older brother, yours truly, but she does have a swamp in her back yard. Actually it might be more accurate to call her backyard a wildlife refuge or conservation preserve. At any rate here is a view from more or less straight out the back door of my sister's house. Isn't this great?  Nothing quite like bald cypress.

On the road with new wheels

The Phactors have been buying new cars on average every 14.5 years whether we need one of not. It's just the kind of wild spending people we are. After 12 years TPP's old car had logged 70K miles. The F1 grabbed it and is gone. So the new car was picked up Saturday last, driven on a few errands, and then taken on a road trip to see the Florida sister, a nice 15 hour drive away. So here we are, 5-6 hrs down the road. You don't expect much out of road food, but the restaurant Mrs. Phactor picked, looks like so many of those thematic chains, but wasn't a name of any familiarity. To our surprise they had oysters on the half shell, really nice ones from the Gulf, but unlike a civilized state they still allow smoking in restaurants in this southern state, and the non-smoking section was not sufficiently isolated from the smoke. How unfortunate. The quite nice young waitress, also quite new at the job, was attentive and sweet, but the look on her face when serving the oysters was quite precious, that look of total disbelief than anyone would eat such things. The new wheels performed quite well, and discovered that after turning on the lights, the dash board-steering wheel-door panel instruments all lit up red along with other instrument screens and such that the Millenium Falcon has nothing on these modern wheels. And a rather funny construction - no ash tray (which was always used for our toll change anyways) and no cigarette lighter, but the socket is still there for charger adapters. That's progress! 

Helping hand at the zoo

TPP was offering a helping hand to a local zoo. Oh, it had nothing to do with the animals, but the landscaping of some exhibits being built and planned. Here's the rub, you're not going to have authentic Australian plants landscaping the area around a wallaby exhibit. The hard zone 5 climate here in the upper midwest USA very much limits your landscape choices to plants from similar climates. That pretty much leaves Australia out. Too bad, TPP would love to have a tree fern or two, or maybe a Wollemia nobilisNo gum trees, no grass trees, but perhaps a cycad in a planter box so it could be moved inside for over wintering. There was a time when TPP had house-sitters who left his cycads outside for the winter. That only happened once. Sigh. Actually many zoos are quite interested in getting and keeping plants. Hardy bamboos were discussed, and curiously the spreading habit of some is not a liability when the prunings become animal fodder in a sort of "grow your own" plan. Kroger bamboo is always so expensive. It was actually quite a bit of fun, and some rather bad suggestions from their architect who obviously didn't get any horticultural help were improved upon. The zoo people found it amusing when TPP pulled out his much used, much annotated, much stuffed with labels copy of Dirr, and if you have to be told what that is, then you are not a serious gardener in these parts. Why, Dirr is the woody plant Bible of the upper midwest.

Electric mushrooms

Fungi illuminated; this is one great photo essay of mushrooms. While TPP admires these photos he's quite envious about those little LED lights. Several years ago, one of my students had a nifty idea about using tiny lights to illuminate white flowers that appeared to have other adaptations for hawkmoth pollination. A lot of these flowers open in the early evening, and she wondered if flowers that were more conspicuous by illumination if they would get more visits and set more fruit. However the lights proved a technical problem in terms of the wet tropics, an environment that doesn't get along well with electricity. At any rate now the LED revolution gives us another chance to try this field experiment. Maybe this time the flowers will cooperate.

Give your subconscious a chance to be creative

A discussion on NPR the other day gave TPP pause, yes, it was about cell phones, and similar devices, robbing you of your creativity, and it most certainly is true.  Many years ago a book told a story about how Linus Pauling liked to think about a problem he was trying to solve a night before he went to bed, and how in the morning he often had a new thought about the problem. Hey, it sounded easy enough, so what the heck.  And it works, but there's a catch.  Your subconscious brain will work on and provide new thoughts, ideas, solutions, to problems, but it's very quiet. You must give it a chance to surface because any little thing commanding your attention will keep you subconscious thoughts from surfacing.  And this was the essence of the NPR commentary; unless we get bored we never hear that quiet voice. Now this isn't quite true, but you do have to have a quiet reverie, and TPP's shows up during his 20 min walk to campus. You don't have to concentrate very hard while walking, so you give your brain an opportunity to sort of day dream, and poof, up pops an idea.  Sometimes TPP has to grab the idea and think about it hard, or it escapes, disappears, sometimes to never appear again. But the secret is to have that day dreamy cognitive drifting about. Ah, but the young ones all around have a constant digital input, sounds, images, their I-devices that turn them into I-zombies. With years of practice, TPP is quite good at this creative thinking. Of course, not all the ideas are gems, so sorting and vetting is required, but new ideas are a place to start. So, yes, your toys are robbing you of your creativity, and so do a great many life styles that lack any day-dreaming time.  So TPP shall parrot the NPR advice; turn off your input devices and get bored. 

Betting with flat Earthers - Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace has always been a favorite historical figure of TPP's.  He independently arrived at the idea of natural selection, much to Charles Darwin's dismay. Here is a link to an episode in his life that teaches an interesting lesson about science. Wallace took up a wager to anyone who could prove the Earth wasn't flat. Wallace's approach was quite interesting in that it offered direct observational evidence of the Earth's curvature, but he still "lost" the wager. This is a very well-written, brief account of that interaction by Dana Hunter of Rosetta Stones.
Addendum: Should have waited just 5 minutes to post this blog.  Here's a review of a book about the history the FLAT EARTH for those of you who never looked into this before.

What do gardeners do when they can't garden?

When gardeners can't garden they cook. Nothing on TV but foot/basketball and old movies, so that leaves the kitchen to keep us winter gardeners amused. Even then it's been nothing too amibitious. The last of the northern spys were made into apple sauce. They normally would keep much longer and much better, but they were not in best shape when picked and it shortened their useful life. They were browning up rather quickly, so a bit of ascorbic acid helped lighten the color. Having gotten our usual Christmas present from OK friends, pecans, a new cookie recipe, pecan bars dipped in bourbon chocolate. What's not to like? Keep those pecans coming! A recent visit to an Indian grocery has left us with a lot of very nice spices and things, so a spicy beef buffad is planned for dinner, and it always tastes best when simmered slowly. Maybe a shredded carrot salad on the side will round things out.  While working in the kitchen, at least one cat remains under foot until its kibble titer is sufficiently raised to get her out of the way at least until closer to their dinner time.

Garden sculpture - kinetic and komfortable

Oooo!  TPP has got to get himself one of these Kate Brown garden sculptures/seats. They look really cool, and at first glance it did not occur to TPP that these were anything but art. But they are seats too, so you don't have to be gauche and sit on some d'objet d'art. And they spin! A complete 360 degree 3-fer. Hmm, the only thing that may be missing is the holder for your margarita cup.  HT to Treehugger. 

Do bananas have seeds?

A curious reader has submitted a question?  So TPP will give this curious primate an answer. Yes, bananas have seeds because they are seed plants. Now you've all eaten bananas and you probably did not seeds; nothing to eat around as in a watermelon. All varieties of standard banana cultivars are sterile; the fruit develop and mature, but the seeds don't. If you look closely inside your banana you'll see that it consists of 3 units (carpels) and near the point where the 3 units meet, you can see the tiny undeveloped seeds. On several occasions TPP has found fertile bananas in markets in SE Asia. The bananas look about the same, and the flesh tastes about the same, but they are filled with seeds that are annoyingly large, too big to be easily swallowed, and too numerous to be easily spit out. Obviously cultivated bananas are propagated asexually, vegetatively. After flowering and fruiting, the main stalk of a banana stalk is cut off leaving one or two branch stalks remaining. 

Wut Happind?

Blog data is funny stuff. It always amazes me what blogs continue to generate the most traffic. The Phytophactor blog generates a modest amount of traffic, somewhere around 250,000 page reads a year. Something like 85% of that is the result of google searches and most of the rest comes from my dear readers and from other FoS blogs. But then funny things happen and you never know what. Here's yesterday's blog traffic graphed by the hour, pretty normal, pretty typical, until 5 PM when the number of page reads jumped almost 5 fold, a data blip. A sudden interest in artichokes or flat white coffee? Impossible to say with the crude analytics TPP has at his disposal.

A tropical interlude

It's single digit temperatures outside (and in F degrees that's really cold), and snowy, and with a huge wind chill factor making it seem even colder, and TPP still has a flu-like substance. What's needed is a nicr tropical interlude. Nothing gets your head straight faster, improves your out look, and cures what ails you faster than a trip to the tropics. Now why the heck is TPP still up north here?  He's retired! Why not move to the tropics? Well, there's a lot of reasons that isn't happening and won't happen, but a guy can still dream can't he?  Here's a view in one to TPP's favorite places, one of the beach communities north of Cairns (Qld).  What you see here is a coconut palm characteristically leaning out over the beach so that it's sea water dispersed fruits drop where a high tide will pick them up and float them away. Successful dispersal requires that the fruit gets deposited above the high tide mark, usually by a storm surge, but then if the palm didn't lean out the fruits would fall too far above the high tide mark. A nice beach morning glory is growing out onto the upper beach from under the shade of casuarina trees (maybe Casuarina equisetifolia). Notice the crowds. A couple months of this would just about fix me up. 

A Flat White! Yes, please!

Flat whites have come to the USA and that is such good news. TPP has spent a lot of time down under and has learned that one of the best coffees is a flat white. TPP would explain the difference between a flat white and a latte if he knew; he just likes one better than the other. The downside is that flat whites are only found, so far, in that dastardly coffeeshop chain from Seattle, establishments that are only frequented when no alternatives can be found. Any place that doesn't know what to call a large, medium, or small coffees is just being pretentious, not a great crime. And TPP will admit that they treated one of his students well who worked pushing coffee to make ends meet, so maybe not all bad. It will be interesting to see how long it takes TPP's local coffee shoppe to figure out how to make a flat white. They like to think they are cutting edge, but this is the midwest, so, you know, new trends are old hat by the time they get here. Sort of by coincidence, one of the Phactors' favorite wines of yore was Tyrrell's Long Flat Red. Flat red, flat white, what next one wonders?

Flu-like substance

TPP has a flu-like substance, some sort of horrible head-cold nasal crud, or as the lads may say, he's feeling crook because he's got a wog. No amount of wonder drugs will improve how he's feeling, and the worst part is not feeling like doing much of anything, so you blog. Fortunately as far as is known flu-like substances are not transmitted via blogs unless you share bodily fluids, so you don't have much to worry about, but just to be safe you should wash your hands and take an anticeptic wipe to your tablet, laptop, or PC. The basic wisdom is to drink plenty of liquids but then they explain that the liquids TPP would most like to drink don't mix well with lots of cold remedies and pain killers. There may be something to be said for alternative therapies after all, they don't work either, but at least they aren't antagonistic to alcohol. Call the local shaman and tell him there's some sort of evil spirit playing havoc with TPP's sinuses. Things could be worse. You could feel so badly that you resort to day-time TV while wrapped in a blanket on the couch. This will only make one of the kitty-girls happy to have someone to snuggle with all day long, except for the bloody coughing that would disturb us both. Watering, itchy, red eyes are even making this difficult. Out of somewhere comes the comforting thought that what doesn't kill you just makes you stronger, but how strong do you want to be? My advice is simple, don't catch this stuff.

Is a white potoato a vegetable?

Perhaps spurred by potential squabbles over school lunch nurtitional guidelines, TPP has been asked this simple question. The simple answer is, yes, the white potato is a
vegetable, which by definition is an edible root, stem, or leaf. The white potato (although they also come in pink, yellow, and blue skins & flesh) is a tuber, a modified stem. However this vegetable is in a special category that we call starchy staples. These are basically vegetables that supply a significant amount of dietary calories. So the white potato is heavy on calories (although low fat). When thinking in terms of balanced diets, the white potato is more like rice and bread than like kale or carrot. Tater tots are not even remotely like eating carrot sticks.

Snow & cold

Well, it is winter so some snow & cold is expected. Yesterday and last night's snowfall only accumulated some 4-5 inches, our first significant snow of this winter season. As par for the course, a big cold air mass, sometimes called a Canadian clipper, pushes down from the north after the front that brought the snow. It's nice that lots of little plants got a nice insulating blanket of snow before the real cold temperatures arrive tonight and tomorrow. It might get down to -4 F (-20 C), and that's enough for some cold challenged plants, and more than enough for a botanist. The reaction to the first snow was very predictable; all manner of activities were canceled, including a 12th night party of some renown, as if this were a blizzard. Presently the roads and all are just fine. The first freezy mixture also exposed all of the terrible drivers out there who need reminders about stopping distances and driving speeds. These morons are quite dangerous. Whenever TPP thinks about snow his thoughts return to Oswego New York, a place that knows snow. Oswego is expecting some lake affect snow, which can fall at the rate of 1-3 inches an hour, and their expected accumulation is some 12-24 inches of snow (30-60 cm), a modest enough amount in the grand scheme of things where they could get 10 times this much snow over the course of the winter, and every now and then, they get a winter's worth of snow in just a few days. However it rarely gets as cold as here in the mid-west although they often have quite a wind chill factor.

Energy Tree

You'll be completely blown away by a pretty cool design for some urban green energy, a wind turbine tree 
by New Wind. Let's face it, those great big old wind turbines dotting our local landscape are not really very attractive, and generally they are impractical for home and urban use. What you want around your house or along campus or park walkways or in parking lots where you want some attractive trees. So this wind turbine takes the form of a tree, sort of. It might have looked a bit more tree-like if the leafy turbines hung down from branches rather than sitting their perched upon the branches. But on the whole it isn't bad looking, sort of like a kinetic sculpture (there's a video at both links). The F1 already has a wind turbine on her campus, a big one, so we'll see if she can figure out how to get once of these wind turbine trees. Wonder how they'll keep the bird nests out and the Spanish moss off? HT to Treehugger.  

Outstanding trees! Outstanding photography!

Here's a teaser photoessay of some amazing trees, mostly massive old things, truly great trees, "behemoths of biomass and beauty" (the quoted phrase is not TPP's, but he doesn't remember where he saw it). The photographer is Beth Moon and the coffee table book must be amazing.  TPP is tempted even though he swore off coffee table books a few years back. TPP has attempted to photograph a number of pretty amazing trees over the years and it isn't easy especially in the tropics where you can't get a place where you can see the whole things. This was just an ordinary canopy tree on a forest edge. On Cape Cod there's a huge weeping European beech, and the branches touch ground out 20-30 feet from the main trunk where they have rooted and sent upward trunks that are now themselves quite massive. The tree creates a room and it totally impressive, but there's no way at all to photograph it. Ms. Moon is in a league of her own. See how many of the trees you can identify. TPP has no idea about a couple of them; dang it, what a trick to get you to buy the book. HT to old friend Judy for calling this to my attention.

It's a cat's life

Our cats really have it made. Being home for several days during the holidays you get to see the extraordinary activity level of the typical domestic cat first hand. Yes, if ever one of those cat-cams were afixed to our kitty-girls, the resulting video would only be slightly more exciting than one obtained from a 3-toed sloth. First, be it noted that both cats sleep on our bed, mostly, confining the smaller of us to much less than half the bed, and on occasion actually claiming the entire half for themselves. Now breakfast is certainly the most important meal of the day, and it must be served no later than 7:30 am because by 8 a cat could starve to death. Therefore as the critical must-feed time approaches greater and greater efforts must be employed to roust one of the two slugs whose primary function in life is to feed the cats. On regular work days this is no problem, but the concept of sleeping in, even on New Year's Day, is lost on cats, and a paw in the face is hard to ignore. Rousting the feeders is a duty undertaken by the senior member of our duo while the other waits serenely. The cats do perform a nice singing and dancing duet while you prepare their breakfasts, and then they and their breakfast both disappear even before you get your first cup of coffee. Both will be found back up on their bed, or some other piece of cat furniture, for their uninterrupted morning nap. It's a rough job, but someone has to do it. Later on there will be some long sessions of wildlife watching. And then when the feeders are at home, two or three hours of regularly reminding anyone in the kitchen that dinner time is rapidly approaching, or actually their grave concern that the clocks are in error and it is much later than you think. After dinner is the younger cat's chief period of activity, while the older cat wedges herself between TPP's let and the arm of his chair until eventually it's bedtime.  What a tough life these cats have. 

2015 Gardening Resolutions

Here's all the resolutions that came to mind.  Probably  have forgotten a couple, but these are enough to try to avoid breaking for now.  The main resolution is to take time to enjoy the process and the results. 

No Onesies – This remains a problem in our gardens, too many single plants especially herbaceous perennials.  This happens because of experimentation with new plants to see if they can survive the particular rigors of our gardens. Planting in groups makes for more expensive experiments. But planting in drifts and clusters is what produces more dramatic results. So resolved more group plantings. 

Less Grass – This is certainly a pretty easy resolution because our gardens continue to gradually enlarge and even coalesce. Grass is just so darned boring and so is lawn mowing.  

Plan Way Ahead – Let’s pay attention to information about the ultimate size of trees and shrubs, and for long term landscaping, plan way ahead.  About 12 years ago a thread-leafed Chamaecyparis was planted with plenty of room to grow, so much room that it looked a bit funny sitting there, but now it a massive, broadly conical bush encroaching on the front steps. It can be carefully pruned back some, but not enough to actually significantly reduce its size.  New plantings around a neighbor’s house have one of these false cypress shrubs about 3 feet from the house and surrounded by other plants. It was planted that way to look nice now with no planning ahead other than to sell the house.  Or the house with two young bald cypresses each about 10 feet on either side of their front sidewalk. Hint: they get really big. 

Double Check the Cold-Hardiness Ratings on Labels – Please understand, they (plant producers) lie. TPP bought a zone 5 plant that promptly died over the next winter and then further research from various other sources never found a rating above zone 6. This is unethical labeling of course. They also lie by omission when they market an alpine plant as winter hardy without telling you they cannot handle our hot, dry summers.  

Do More Garden Designing – TPP is not really a good desinging gardens on paper. Our gardens have never had a plan; he makes it up as he goes along, sort of organically.  Drawing up a plan to scale helps greatly with the spacing and purchasing of trees and shrubs to integrate new plants into the existing plants.  But, hey, when a new magnolia bargain presents itself, plans or no plans, buy it. 

Refurbish the Kitchen Garden – The past two seasons have not been kind to our kitchen garden that suffers from small size and too much shade. Without enough space to do significant crop rotation pathogens seem to be getting the upper hand. Some success with large container gardening is suggesting a new direction for this garden.  

Use Better Record Keeping – A comprehensive list of the plants in our gardens is lacking. It’s in the neighborhood of 300 species. A flowering log is kept, but records of when and where some plants were acquired is spotty at best (mostly marginal notes in our old Dirr).  Building a database is a retirement project. 

Find Durable Garden Tags – Tags really take a beating out there.  And this is also true for TPP’s field research. Apparently a lot of animals have to chew on things to determine if they are good to eat or not. Several different types of tags have been tried, and their longevity has not been good, and some of the tough ones, the real survivors, tend to lose their information.  Any suggestions along these lines would be appreciated.
Don't Be Too Fastidious - A weed here or there just doesn't matter. And gardens don't have to be all neat-freak tidy to be attractive.  So in general, so long as things are not seriously out of control, don't sweat the small stuff. Now if a wedding is being planned to take place in your gardens, then someone will probably want this resolution to be broken, but you know people should be paying attention to the event and the happy couple, and not to the neatness of your garden edges.