Have You Ever Seen Beautiful Gray-Green, Dipped-in-Red, Soldier Moss?

Biology, Plants
I rarely ever notice the kind of car a person is driving, or the clothing they are wearing. Yet from the first time I was exposed to a tiny lichen on a piece of rotting wood, I was enchanted by its beauty. It had short shafts of pale gray-green with tips of the brightest, purest red I've ever seen in nature. But then, I've often noticed the tiny things are often the most beautiful, if you look at them closely. Soldier Moss Soldier moss is also known as British soldier. The red tips are referred to as fruiting bodies. Although the comparison is not quite the same, the mushrooms we eat are just the fruiting body. The essential part of the fungus is called the mycelium. Actually, Soldier moss is…
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Chimera African Violets – What Are They? How Do I Cultivate Them?

Biology, Plants
[caption id="attachment_23293" align="alignright" width="480"] Pinwheel[/caption] In the 1950s, if an individual owned an African Violet, it was usually a small houseplant with fuzzy green leaves and blue or purple flowers. It wouldn't be long before violets came in nearly every color except the elusive yellow. And flowers were no longer necessarily singles. All sorts of combinations were introduced. Some flowers even had curly green edges. But even more striking developments were to come. Among these were the chimera violet. We ask: what is a chimera violet? where does it come from? how can I cultivate one? What Is a Chimera Violet? First, consider the word chimera. It is a complex word with various meanings. In mythology, a chimera is a beast constructed of parts from two or more different animals.…
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Give that Old African Violet a ‘Facelift’

Biology, Plants
[caption id="attachment_23247" align="alignright" width="480"] Image: Morguefile by Ronnieb[/caption] You've grown to appreciate African Violets. You started growing them about 10 years ago. Now you have several very beautiful varieties. Your first purchase produced single purple flowers. Now the plant has a long twisted stem and is not desirable to look at. But it has sentimental value. Your mom gave it to you just before she died. You wonder if anything can be done to save it? What Needs to Change The plant lost leaves over the years, producing a long, ugly, stem. Failure to rotate the plant on your windowsill caused the plant to lean so much it tips easily. The lower leaves have discolored, curled edges. You want to fix all of this. What can you do? The Long…
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Tree Burls and Burl Wood: So Ugly They’re Beautiful

Tree Burls and Burl Wood: So Ugly They’re Beautiful

Biology, The Arts
[caption id="attachment_21404" align="alignright" width="440"] Image: Evelyn Simak CCA-SA2.0 License.[/caption] About 24 years ago, my 4th grade daughter advised us the next day her school science fair project was due. No big deal, ordinarily, we had not been told there was even going to be a science fair! I have a technical background and I hated to think my daughter would appear to be a failure at such an event, so, scratching my head, I figured I'd better come up with something we could accomplish as a father-daughter team, and in a hurry. My Wile E. Coyote (Supergenius) Idea At the time, we were living in a small house in beautiful, forested acres. Our trees included hickory, oak, cucumber magnolia, black gum, linden, tulip poplar, black locust, Paulownia, and (yes!) other…
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How the Tear Ingredient Lysozyme Fights Bacteria

Biology, Chemistry
[caption id="attachment_19802" align="alignright" width="460"] 1,4-beta glycosidic bond[/caption] Human tears largely consist of water, sodium, and potassium electrolytes. However, these are not the only important substances found in tears. There are a number of complex organic substances essential in maintaining the eye. One ingredient is lysozyme, prominent among a group of chemicals which exhibit antibacterial behavior [see the PubChem reference for an image of lysozyme]. Lysozyme Modus Operandum The University of Colorado reference (cited) makes the following statement: "The enzyme lysozyme breaks down bacterial cell walls, which are made of a unique compound called peptidoglycan." Molecular Structure of the Contenders [caption id="attachment_19810" align="alignright" width="330"] cyclohexane chair conformer[/caption] The fifty-cent name for lysozyme is N-acetylmuramide glycanhydrolase. The suffix at the end of the name, -ase, indicates this compound is an enzyme. An…
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Eye Color and Genetic Inheritance: Dominant -vs.- Recessive

Biology, Genealogy
[caption id="attachment_18792" align="alignright" width="440"] Brown eyes, blue eyes.[/caption] Upon dying, a parent may leave his or her child a pecuniary inheritance. Yet, this is not the first one. Even during life, a parent provides his child with more than one genetic inheritance. One such inheritance involves eye color. Each parent contributes one eye color gene to his child. This means there are two different genes that determine the color of a child's eyes. But if the two genes represent different colors, what color will his eyes be? Observe, Note, Predict During the mid-1800s, an observant man, Gregor Mendel raised pea plants. He noted different plants produced peas with predictable variances. Using deductive reasoning, he uncovered the principle of dominant and recessive genes. After his death, his findings were applied not…
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What Is It Good For? The Blood Sucking Mosquito

Biology, Medicine
[caption id="attachment_18353" align="alignleft" width="440"] Gorged with blood[/caption] It's night time. You nuzzle up to your pillow, leaving one ear exposed. Suddenly, disrupting the silence, you hear the kind of music you don't want to hear! The music of the blood-sucking mosquito. Although we continue to grow in knowledge with the passage of time, do we know enough to say the blood sucking mosquito serves a good and useful purpose? We'll present more than one example of how the answer is, Yes! Blood Sucking Mosquito as Food Most of us realize mosquitoes serve as food for many birds. Ever seen bats, at dusk, circling around dipping and diving? You can be sure that a sizeable number of the "bugs" it is eating are mosquitoes. But we would be mistaken if we…
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Where Does the Spit on My Plants Come From? Spittlebugs

Biology, Plants
[caption id="attachment_18007" align="alignright" width="420"] Adult spittlebugs[/caption] It was not until I was in my 50s that I became deeply intrigued with nature. I made up for lost time. I became intimately acquainted with the wildflowers, trees, and other plants and insects of my local county. One of the things that aroused my curiosity was the presence of spit on some of my plants. Have you ever noticed this? If so, you will be interested in its source - spittlebugs. Fingering the Spit Well, there is no better way to unravel the mystery than to finger the spit. I carefully did so, noticing its consistency, its feel. I found within it, a soft bump, a little critter. Researching it, I found the tiny “bug” called spittle bug, due to its shape,…
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Our Year-Round Indoor Red Wiggler Earthworm Farm

Biology
[caption id="attachment_17753" align="alignleft" width="380"] Eisenia fetida or red wiggler.[/caption] About 35 years ago, a friend and I decided we would raise red wiggler earthworms for gardening and for fish bait. Not simply for personal use, we decided we’d raise hundreds of thousands and possibly millions, for commercial sales. Friend Huey was already immensely successful growing garden produce for his wife and twelve kids. He enjoyed reading publications by the Rodale Press that showed him how to achieve success. But he also was an avid reader of publications penned by red wiggler enthusiast Earl B. Shields. Shields promoted raising earthworms outdoors. Our Take Times were tough. Work was hard to come by. We were in a position to devote time to developing our own red wiggler business. At first we were…
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Cedar Apple Rust Gall – A Troublesome Look-Alike

Biology, Plants
[caption id="attachment_17604" align="alignright" width="440"] Eastern red cedar rust gall. Image Ohio Department of Natural Resources[/caption] I live in Nelson County, Virginia. I frequently travel the county and as I do, I always look around for whatever I can discover. I’m sort of a naturalist, I suppose. Well the other day I saw a “horse chestnut” on the ground—or, rather, several horse chestnuts. But there were no nearby horse chestnut trees. When I picked one up, I realized a horse chestnut was not what I had found. I’d found something new. It looked like a small chunk of horse manure with short protrusions covering it. Searching online, I discovered I’d found a late winter cedar apple rust gall. Quick Sketch of a Cedar Apple Rust Gall [caption id="attachment_17606" align="alignleft" width="320"] Horsechestnut,…
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