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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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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Growing African Violets – Common Misconceptions

Plants
[caption id="attachment_23222" align="alignright" width="480"] The truly historic Athena.[/caption] A newly found friend heard the story about my mother and me, that we were African Violets aficionados. The story was true. We raised hundreds of them in dozens of varieties. My friend had many questions concerning the care and welfare of her violets. My Background Mom was always taking day trips of eight or ten hours length. To view antique glass or bisque, drop by a cemetery, listen to a recital at the Academy of Music, or visit a greenhouse complex. However, she hated to travel alone. So I was drafted. I was easy to get along with. As to greenhouses specializing in African Violets, we frequented Fischer's in Linwood, NJ and Tinari in Bethayres, PA. If it had been close-by,…
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Purpose of the Plume Poppy (Macleaya cordata)

Plants
I recently discovered this plant with very decorative leaves plus a kind of flower that didn't actually look like a flower growing on top. Although I didn't recognize it, I thought somehow this plant seemed familiar. I took a few snapshots with my tablet and edited one so that only one leaf remains. My mind began to squeak out the beginnings of recall, with the single letter "p". That's all the further I got, so I contacted a plant identification site and was informed what it was. A few weeks later, I visited the owner of the house and plants with the intent of informing him what the plant was (since he didn't know either), when I realized the plant, with leaves about two inches in size, were now huge,…
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Capillary Action from the Forces of Adhesion and Cohesion

Chemistry, Plants
What is capillary action? The easiest way to define it is to give the simplest example of it at work. A capillary is a tube with a fine bore, typically less than a millimeter. For the purpose of our discussion, we will use a scientist's glass capillary tube, which is both straight and clear. The liquids we will discuss as examples are water and mercury. Not All Liquids Exhibit Capillary Action Take note of Figure 1. Two capillary tubes (not drawn to scale) are immersed in liquid – the left tube in water, the right in mercury. The water rises up its tube and forms a concave meniscus at top. The mercury does not rise up its tube. It forms what looks like the upper portion of a sphere –…
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What Is It Good For? Poison Ivy and Other Toxicodendron Species

philosophy, Plants
[caption id="attachment_18375" align="alignright" width="460"] Poison Ivy Leaves[/caption] Toxicodendron radicans is the Latin name for poison ivy. Images of various aspects of the weed are included in this article. An attempt at providing a thorough physical description of it can be found elsewhere at the reader's convenience. We wish to discuss whether there is at least one useful purpose for the presence of poison ivy on this "good earth". In discussing poison ivy, we encompass poison oak, poison sumac, and other plants. A Kind of Mission Statement In discussing T. radicans, we will consider all of its component parts. No, we will not give an encyclopedic description, as is commonly found in articles concerning poison ivy. Instead, we will demonstrate the plant's better aspects. Personal Contact Most of us are careful…
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What Is It Good For? The Osage Orange

Humor, Plants
[caption id="attachment_18317" align="alignright" width="440"] Osage oranges[/caption] You've heard of the Osage Indians, but have you heard of the Osage orange? Latin name Maclura pomifera, the Osage orange is a grapefruit-sized, pale green, bumpy, ordinarily uneaten fruit with a woody, pulpy consistency that smells a good deal like its citrus namesake. If these fruits are seldom eaten, are they useful for something else? If so, what about the tree? Finally, if the tree is generally undesirable, what of its wood? Is Osage Orange Fruit Worthless? Most foraging animals pass by an Osage orange, with exceptions being the squirrel and the deer, which eat its tiny seeds. Is there something useful in its chemistry? The fruit does contain two isoflavones, namely osajin and pomiferin. Of the two, only pomiferin is classified a…
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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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