Field of Science

Adventures in shopping - rambutan in Lincolnland

A short time ago, the first jackfruit showed up in our markets, now rambutan has made an appearance (Nephelium lappaceum) Sapindaceae, soap berry family. Lychee is a similar, and more familiar species, a fruit making sporadic appearances in our markets.  These are a little worse for wear, but not so dried out as to be ignored.  Actually they were quite juicy, tasty, and give a reasonable idea of the nature of these SE Asian native fruits.  TPP first tried these in Singapore actually.  Now they are being grown in Guatamala, so they will become more familiar. They look spiny, but the "spines" are soft.  While TPP has experimented with many fruits, you may be intimidated with unknown fruits, but they are pretty easy to eat using you teeth or thumb nail, break into the leathery skin near one end and pull this cap off. The rest of the skin peels off easily. There is a single pit and a translucent semi firm flesh (an aril actually) with a texture similar to a seedless grape is revealed. They have a sweet, and dare it be said, "fruity" flavor, rather mild and nondescript, but basically likable. Another close relative that TPP has only seen in Thailand is the Longan, smaller and with a tan-brown leathery skin.  The Chinese described it as having a "hot" quality, which TPP took to be spicy (uh, no).  They tasted like lychee or rambutan, but with a stronger after taste, however after eating 7 or 8, some 10 mins later the hot quality arrived via a sweating, a flushed face, and a more rapid heartbeat. That is a toxic reaction! Hot indeed!

Friday Fabulous Flower - Nodding onion

Here's a pretty much easy trouble-free native species to add to your perennial garden, the nodding onion, Allium cernuum.  The plant will form a clump of shoots, each producing a flowering head about 2 feet tall.  The cute thing is that the top of the flowering scape bends 180 degrees so the classic onion umbel nods.  Although all the plants TPP has seen have white to pale pink flowers, they can be much pinker.  The plant will seed in quite readily, so dead-heading is recommended unless you want seedlings everywhere.  You also have to position the plant sort of in the front because it can be easily hidden; obviously clumps can easily be divided as well.  It handles summer conditions quite well as it's native to dry open glades and prairies.

Weed of the Week - crabgrass

In the spirit of if-life-gives-you-lemons, make-lemonade, TPP decided to do a weed of the week, although this feature will probably be a bit more irregular.  Partly this is because, like other plants, weeds are different in different parts of the world, and TPP forgot that everyone might not know what crabgrass is until after being reminded of this by a reader.

Crabgrass is one of several species of Digitaria (not Digitalis, foxglove), our predominant species is D. sanguinalis, hairy crabgrass, is a C4 annual, which explains why it grows so well in our dry, hot summer season.  You may have to look up C4 photosynthesis if you don’t know what this means. The details are not important, but it means C4 plants are more efficient, or less wasteful, at higher temperatures or under drought conditions.  Crabgrass can easily overgrow other plants and because it roots down along the way it can be tough to pull, and even leave a blank space if pulled and opening other weeds can exploit.  

This is a tough weed to control and the bane of lawn purists.  In the late spring people can treat their lawns with a pre-emergent herbicide and prevents the crabgrass from germinating.  In isolated patches and small areas the seedlings, easily identified by their broader and more upright blades, can be plucked from you lawn or hoed out of a garden bed.  At a more mature stage pulling or hoeing is not practical. 

If it takes over more than 60% of your lawn, most experts recommend nuking the area and starting over.  Really dense turf grass can resist crabgrass, but that takes watering and fertilization. And TPP didn’t want turf grass in the first place, so that’s rather counterproductive unless you are a lawn purist.  In TPP's grassless-shady-lawn world where it's one weed vs. another, blue violet and creeping Charlie, Glechoma hederacea, both do better than crab grass, so the better weed wins, so to speak. Still TPP had no trouble finding some to photograph in a sunnier garden bed.

The Digitaria (fingers) part refers to the long narrow inflorescence of tiny “seeds”, in parts of Africa a species is grown for its cereal grains called fonio. 
Here overgrowing a pink's foliage.

Crab grass season

It's crab grass season again, oh, joy!  Amazing how fast that stuff covers ground. You travel for two weeks and any bare space, and some not so bare spaces are covered.  Beds that got mulched a month ago are fine, but a few neglected places are chock full of weeds.  Poke weed if just getting going as is, a small white-flowered burr-bearing member of the Boraginaceae; used to have a long-haired cat that collected these like crazy.  TPP actually threw away a knit shirt that collected do many; removing them was quite unthinkable.  Funny, the name escape right now. Mrs. Phactor actually hates weeds and she's on a rampage. But severely hot weather and dry soil have slowed her down.  Do you think a weed of the week would be a good feature? 

Persistence pays off

Our controversial yard sign that attracted so much Saturday night outrage is still posted.  It had no visitors this past weekend, showing that persistence, and having a tough sign is what it takes.  The sign if constructed of a heavy canvas material, and it does not easily tear except for the side seams and then those are easily stapled together.  Lost the wire stand one Saturday night, but our neighbor, the local source of political and cultural commentary signs replaced it.  But in a couple of weeks a new flood of students will arrive and new opportunities to annoy them will arise. And the fellow who lost his Cubs cap never came back to get it. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - wild ramp

Today's FFF is often a surprise to people because they just don't expect it.  Wild ramps, Allium tricoccum, are a native woodland plant, an interesting spring ephemeral.  The distinctive broad, oniony leaves emerge in the early spring, and disappear again after just a few weeks.  Then in mid to late July flowering stalks appear bearing a rounded umbel of white flowers; pretty typical for an onion.  Considering how naked the florest floor can be in July, patches of these flowers can be quite a surprise.  And of course many wild flower enthusiasts won't see them because who goes out looking for woodland wild flowers in July?  The flowers are followed by a small dark berry.  Since the fruit and fruiting stalks tend to persist a bit many people are more familiar with the fruiting stage than the flowering stage.  

Higher Education, the GOP doesn't have much use for it

TPP has read several articles that say the majority of GnOPe voters do not think higher education is a good value or a worthwhile undertaking.  No wonder higher education does so poorly in GnOPe run states.  Democratic voters still thing higher education is worth while.  Thinking about this while weeding and watering the garden resulted the conclusion that this difference is based on very different value systems and expected outcomes.  At present the simple-minded thinking of today's GnOPe only uses one scale to measure everything, and the unit is money.  The more money you have the smarter you are, so naturally T-rump thinks he's pretty smart, certainly smarter than you because he's richer than you.  And he's certainly smarter than us dumb-ass college professors who try to tell POTUS that we actually know something even if it doesn't neatly fit into conservative ideology, a sure sign it's true.  Damn, teaching that fake knowledge again!  TPP understands people's concerns, education if quite an investment now that the student or their parents are expected to pay rather than being state supported for the good of all.  A young fellow wanted to know if it would be worth it to study botany when it came to the salary bottom-line.  TPP did not choose botany because he thought he'd get wealthy, but because he liked it and some lucky people made a living with botany.  And as annoying as some of the common curriculum requirements were (they can be way more flexible and still work people), knowing about literature, and music, and art turn out to be good things. So that's the 2nd big difference, higher education is not training you to do a job, they are educating you to appreciate your culture and your world, and to generally have a more fulfilling life.  When the "2 guys and a truck" were hired to move some heavy furniture for us, these strong backs nonetheless appreciated our art collection.  The whole school of business thing has made people think that higher education is about career training, and while it's a great idea to keep careers in mind, I wanted to tell this young fellow, "Kid, your values are screwed up."  And should you venture into philosophy and other areas that teach you to think, why then you become a truly dangerous person, someone who easily sees through the simple-minded thinking of modern conservatives, someone who knows ideology is no way to govern, and yet they keep trying, and it keeps failing because money actually doesn't trickle down, and if the government didn't waste so much money on the military and their toys, it would easily have enough money for health, and education, and the environment.  Hopefully enough education will survive this era that our culture can recover from these disastrous policies.

Solar-powered robotic weeder

This is simply too much, a solar-powered robotic weeder, a Roomba for your garden?  Now the solar part is easy enough, although our gardens are pretty shady.  But how the heck does this thing decide if a plant is a weed or not.  And it's cute enough in a green Roomba sort of way, but this thing is tough enough to get grab grass or a dandelion, not to mention a red bud seedling.  Do any of gardeners out there buy this idea?  They show it sitting on mulch, can it perceive weeds or does it just stir things up? It can't possibly have enough AI to be selective, but having tried to train a few student gardeners, maybe it's possible.  

A regular annoyance

Just a couple of weeks ago, TPP mentioned that our "Be excellent to everyone" (Bill & Ted) sign was vandalized.  It has now happened twice more, two more consecutive Saturday nights in the wee morning hours, not surprisingly at about the time the bars close.  Something about beer produces a regression in maturity, and with each reiteration, and realization that this sign is both physically tough, and it's owners persistent, this person or persons become verbally vulgar as if they were the ones insulted by the messages on this sign.  Now you would hope that by the time someone is old enough to drink that they had mastered both the 1st amendment and their own anger; one might hope they would think about the sign and perhaps write a letter to the newspaper explaining their reason for outrage.  So now the sign is back, having been out of service for all of 1 day.  What do you think? Get out the old critter camera and see what we may see?

Friday Fabulous Flower - To Day Lily

Got a fabulous(?) flower picture sent from a friend and then decided to use one of Mrs. Phactor's daylilies, and then it sort of dawned on me that both were in a sense lilies at least in the old taxonomic sense of the lily family.  So first up is the genus Sansevieria, snake plant, or mother-in-laws tongue, or bow string hemp.  Lots of people grow this plant because it is tough and easy to grow, and not many people use the leaf fibers for bow string anymore, but you could.  Most people don't notice the little white flowers although the inflorescences can be fairly large.  So our friend thought that it was sort of fabulous to have their semi-mistreated plant flower, and now here it is certified fabulous.
Daylilies (Hemerocallis) are one of the most widespread and colorful of summer perennials, and TPP has no idea what this particular yellow-orange variety is called.  Our current yard had a lot of daylilies when we moved in but they were all the invasive (stoloniferous) orange ones (H. fulva), so-called "ditch weed" type. They have mostly been removed by Mrs. Phactor using sheer stubbornness to eliminate them.  Her tip: never plant stoloniferous daylilies.  This particular variety has really big flowers and makes for a large display.  The lily family was a giant glump of lineages and TPP hasn't yet even figured out all the families the former lily family has been broken into.  Snake plant is in the Asparagus family, and daylilies are now in the Asphodela family, the "true lilies" TPP thinks.  So today, lilies, or two lilies today, or to day daylily.

Friday Fabulous Flower - wallow in mallows

This is nothing new, rose mallows, but they  are one of the biggest flowers you can get in your summer garden.  For a dramatic impact, plant a whole patch of them (following a Phactor gardening rule: no onesies).  A big patch of big flowers (about 8" diam) can catch almost anybody's attention.  Some gardens label these as "hardy hibiscus", and while they are herbaceous perennials and reasonably hardy, and they are members of the mallow family, and even a species of Hibiscus(H. moscheutos), calling them the rose or rose swamp mallow in preferable, as most things called hibiscus are woody. Only problem, Japanese beetles love them.  

More big money culture - Philbrook Museum

Plenty of old oil money exists around Tulsa, and some of it (Phillips 66) has resulted in the Philbrook Museum of Art.  The Museum is housed in Waite Phillips' Italianesque mansion.  Strangely they were featuring a collection of Chicano art collected by Cheech Marin, and it was a very impressive collection.  Saw way to many Madonna & Child paintings from their old Italian masters collection. TTP thought he'd seen all of them in Florence, but no. This museum also had a WWI retrospective on propaganda posters, sort of a strange parallel with the Gilcrease, but this one didn't have another theme included.  The Philbrook's grounds are quite extensive, very formal around the mansion, but the "informal" garden was also quite handsome and worth a walk around now that they have been rennovated, Glad it wasn't too steamy hot.  Here's a view of the mansion from way down in the informal garden.  Formal garden is above.

Fourth of July

Today our OK friends took us to see the Gilcrease Museum, a wonderful collection of American art, and a lot of native American art and artifacts. Some of the art is just about the American west.  The newest and most surprising exhibit dealt with the subject of the depictions of black Americans in WWI war propaganda posters where images of black Americans were used mostly for recruitment.  Some of the posters from other countries presented quite racist images.  A lot of the research on these posters was done and annotated for the History Detectives PBS TV series by Tukufu Zuberi.  A very interesting exhibit to compare with posters we had seen in the WWI museum in Kansas City (a very good and little known museum). Another newish exhibit was of artifacts of the plains dwelling native Americans, and a big exhibit of historical art by White Swan, Indian scout and survivor of the battle of Little Big Horn.  This was a perfect combination over all to take in to celebrate the 4th of July.

July 4 2017 - friends and art

The Phactors are spending the holiday and a bit more with some of our oldest friends, the Texans.  We've visited Eureka Springs, a sort of funky place (the cabins associated with the Crescent Hotel are great), and Crystal Bridges, the American art museum in nearby Bentonville. The museum itself is quite amazing, and free, and a totally world-class museum (it's a fantastic use of Walton money), but they have a Dale Chihuly glass exhibit going on that occupied not only several galleries, but a dozen or so locations on the expansive grounds surrounding the museum.  This is definitely worth seeing in our opinion.  The image is a portion of one outdoor installation, some of which use dozens of pieces of glass.  And the Arkansas early July weather cooperated, but even still the yummy  adult (alcohol laced) peach popcycle TPP bought from a cool food truck was to die for.  This would be a great franchise to get the rights to.  Hopefully this image of royal fern with Chihuly purple glass reeds won't get TPP in trouble.  If TPP had Walton money, he'd have such a garden display.  Go see the rest. Some totally free advice. The links are worth exploring.