Black Walnut: A Beauty and a Beast Among Trees

Nature, Plants
What comes to your mind when you think of black walnut trees? Do you visualize the tree's attractive bark hiding the beauty of its deep rich-brown wood? Or perhaps it is the green globe husk-encased nuts hanging in clusters, typically in twos and threes. Maybe it is the kernels of nut-meat that are so bitter and hard to remove from their shells? Others think of the earthy brown dye that can be produced from the hulls, or the elixir they yield that kills parasitic worms and bacteria. Finally, there are others who see the half-empty glass. They are concerned by the knowledge that some plants don't thrive in the presence of black walnut. [caption id="attachment_27121" align="alignright" width="300"] Nuts in shells; husks removed.[/caption] Juglans Nigra The Latin name for the black…
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What Factors Caused the 1840’s Irish Potato Famine?

History, Plants
[caption id="attachment_27084" align="alignright" width="480"] Great potatoes![/caption]I've already written about how one disaster led to my being alive today. Nothing less than a war – the War of 1812. Yet another disaster, worse than the first, that led up to my existence was the tragic 1840's Irish Potato Famine. I wrote of that, as well in Misfortune Gave Me Life. But what factors combined to produce the Irish potato famine of the 1840's? Irish Potato Famine: A Cause or Causes? An occurrence attributed to one particular factor is all-too-often actually results from a number of significant factors. Event X did not have a cause, it had causes. What causative factors led to the great Irish potato famine? [caption id="attachment_27086" align="alignright" width="200"] Phytophthora infestans infected potato.[/caption] A Fungus Among Us It is…
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The Indian Strawberry Vs. The Wild Strawberry

Food, Plants
[caption id="attachment_27024" align="alignright" width="480"] Indian Strawberry - Image by Kurt Stuber[/caption]The Indian strawberry, also known as the mock strawberry (Duchesnea indica) with its small yellow flowers and red fruits is often seen in lawns. It resembles a tiny strawberry, but the seed to pulp ratio is high and, despite its name, affords the eater little in the way of flavor. The Wild or Woodlands Strawberry There is another fruit that is often seen in similar terrain as the Indian strawberry. It is the Wild or Woodlands strawberry (Fragaria vesca). Differing from the Indian strawberry, the Wild strawberry offers lovely fragrance and rich flavor. [caption id="attachment_27020" align="alignright" width="380"] Wild Strawberries - Image by Ural-66[/caption] Additional differences include its small white flowers. And its seeds are not on top of the pulp,…
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The Wild Potato or Indian Potato Vine – Desirable or a Pesky Weed?

Food, Plants
[caption id="attachment_26946" align="alignright" width="480"] Ipomoea pandurata on fence. Image by Kevin Ternes[/caption]Also called the wild sweet potato or the man-root, this tuber-producing vine is viewed by some as the free source of tubers that smell like sweet potatoes and have a tasty, unique flavor. By others, it is viewed as a pesky, invasive weed. Which will it be for you? Although these "potatoes" are free, it takes a little work to gather them. Many hands make the work light. One thing about these natural treats is, they are certainly easy to identify. [caption id="attachment_26951" align="alignright" width="200"] Ipomoea pandurata root. Image by Kevin Robertson, Pebble Hill Plantation, 2015[/caption] The wild potato can grow quite large, one lone potato weighing as much as an entire 20-lb. bag of grocery-store potatoes. But, as…
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The Dandelion – What Is It Good For? A Lot

Beauty, Plants
When my firstborn son was very young, I took him out in the backyard and showed him a dandelion¹ gone to seed. We called 'em puff-puffs. He was awed. He was excited. We'd pick up one after another and blow them (if a neighbor had seen us, he might've been aggravated). The floating white parasols were a joy to see. Images The dandelion flower is a remarkably bright yellow, symmetrical, even beautiful. The flower can be used to make... you guessed [caption id="attachment_26899" align="alignright" width="351"] A few seeds (resembling ballerinas) hang on.[/caption] it... dandelion wine! Strange as it is, an older kid in high school once saw me on the road, hopped out of his car (drunk as a skunk) and poured some dandelion wine on my head. Ever since,…
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Algae – When Life Hands You a Lemon

Plants, Technology
You purchase a fish tank, obtain the gravel, fixtures, pump, and filter. You set it up, making sure the tank chemistry is correct. Finally, you purchase a modest number of compatible fish, adjusting tank temperature to fit their needs, adjust the light for their comfort. It's beautiful! But after a while you notice... what's this? A kind of green slime, algae! Oh, bother. Why does that stuff have to come along and ruin things? So you purchase algae eaters and wage the same war that other enthusiasts fight. It seems that life keeps giving you lemons. So make lemonade! The Good, the Bad, and the Algae A little algae here or there is a part of nature and not ordinarily a problem. But sometimes it just plain takes over. Notice…
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What is Peat Moss? How Could It Harm the Environment?

Plants, Technology
[caption id="attachment_24609" align="alignright" width="480"] A beautiful peat moss bog.[/caption] Peat is composed largely of sphagnum and other mosses, although some other plant material may be included. Because these plants grow in wetlands, the abundance of water decaying plants breakdown slowly and without the presence of oxygen. That is, decomposition is anaerobic, more than aerobic. Commercializing Peat Moss Harvested peat is employed in a number of ways. Perhaps best known is its use as a soil amendment and in the manufacture of peat pots for seed germination. In some regions, dried peat is used for the generation of electric power. There might not be much impact from this, except over large periods of time, meters-deep peat bogs form. They become a valuable resource. However, the need for peat is sometimes less…
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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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The Curious, Ever-Circling, Bee-Eating Robber Fly

Nature, Plants
About 25 years ago, I entered a phase of my life in which I envisioned a kind of nature reserve for the 5-acre plot surrounding my home. The land was beautiful. It was wooded and rocky and the soil was rich. Recently, I had fallen in love with native wildflowers and since I tend to focus when I'm interested in a thing, I soon became well-acquainted with hundreds! The Trees There was a wonderful assortment of hardwoods on the property. Hickory, oak, black gum, cucumber magnolia, linden, sassafras, cherry birch, and tulip-poplar. I'm not even sure I haven't missed a few. Well I planted black locust. If I still lived there, I'd have planted Osage orange, too. The Flowers I am not going to attempt to name the hundreds of…
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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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