Posts Tagged 'plants'

Tree Omnibus

The trees are singing. If only we would listen. Tolkien suggested it might be quite hard to hear them, since they sing on a whole different time scale. David George Haskell is listening with microphones and an acute biologist’s senses. The Songs of Trees was one of last year’s best naturalist books, beautifully written and globe-spanning in reach. If you missed it, go get it.

The fig is absolutely remarkable. Of course, there isn’t just one fig; the Ficus genus has 750 plus members, from the house plant standard to the edible fig to the strangler species which dominate tropical forests. Each one of these species has at least one tiny fig wasp species that specializes in pollinating the “fruits” — which actually aren’t fruits but rather collections of inward growing flowers — in what are essentially suicide missions. I’ve written about figs before. Mike Shanahan has written a short, engaging book on the genus, and the vital role figs play in vast life webs around the world. Go exploring Ficus with Shanahan from the bodhi tree to Wallace to the Rhinoceros Hornbill to the Mau Mau rebellion, with a dozen or so creation myths thrown in. Was the fig the forbidden fruit of Eden? It sure is sexier than the apple, which definitely wasn’t the verboten fruit.

Shanahan notes that a 100 meter by 100 meter piece of old growth rainforest in Borneo (what’s left of it, anyway) can harbor 600 tree species. In Britain, by contrast, there are 36 native tree species. There, in 1664, John Evelyn’s Sylva was published by the Royal Society. This famed work, one of the first English language books about the cultivation of trees, was inspired by the Royal Navy’s worries about the shortage of timber for its boats. An example: the Mary Rose, launched in 1511, required 1,200 trees, mostly oaks but some elms as well; later and larger ships gobbled up 2,000 oaks each. The white pines of North America were a major draw for the journey across the Atlantic.

Now comes The New Sylva by Gabriel Hemery and Sarah Simblet to update things. There are certainly more than 36 tree species in Britain today. Actually, Hemery and Simblet say there are 60 native species, subspecies, or hybrids in Britain. They note that the native cut-off (1492 for us) stretches back circa 8,200 years for Britain, to when the land connection to continental Europe was submerged by the rising ocean. American readers, meanwhile, will recognize quite a few of the species in the transatlantic botanical exchange, species we gave them/species they gave us. Note that this book is primarily about silviculture, or timber-hunger, not the complex ecosystems known as forests, but then the un-human touched woodlands is non-existent today. Which reminds me: shouldn’t we date the Anthropocene back to the killing of Huwawa/Humbaba, the guardian of the sacred cedars, by Gilgamesh?

Simblet’s black and white drawings, from microscopic to landscape in detail, are wonderful. This book certainly works on a coffee table.

Off the subject, but Mike Wallace’s Greater Gotham, which I’m still reading, is majestic. It covers just two decades of NYC’s history, but these were the years the city became a world capital of capitalism. More than a century later, we still live there.

And the new edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein “Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds” turns out to be quite a course in ethics.

Acer Color

Is that spotting something amiss? (Well, not amiss if you’re a fungus.)
*

Trump’s corporate puppet on the FCC is trying to end net neutrality, a disaster for democracy. So it’s “break the internet” in protest in advance of Thursday’s vote. Once again, I’d rather join people in the streets, but until then…

Botanisk Have

A selection from Copenhagen’s botanical garden. Their native plant section was mostly gone to seed, but a few flowers were still bravely waving.

Yes, a little awkward cataloging this post under “Sweden” but the Danes held the part of Sweden we visited for centuries, so I’m sure, in the spirit of Scandinavian cooperation, everybody’s going to be chill about it all now.

Speaking of identity: a fascinating look at Northern Ireland’s tripartite either/or/and, with lessons for all of us citizens of Earth.

In Sweden

I particularly wanted to see some sloes, the marble-sized drupes of the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa). My walking stick, which saw me around Dartmoor, is made from the storied wood of this shrubby, hedgy, sometimes-tree. There’s much legend associated with this species; and (black) magic, like, for instance, how they find a long straight piece for a walking stick… Meanwhile, Slån is the Swedish name for this source of sloe gin. The drupes are not very palatable until they’ve been soaked in gin and sugar… but we did see some young Wood Pigeons gobbling them up.I hadn’t realized that hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) or Igelkott was on the menu, so to speak, of sights. But our nighttime safari-leader Evan turned one up not two blocks from our lodgings in Skanör. The animal was bigger than expected, about the size of an American football. They bulk up for winter hibernation. After we determined it was not a rock on the lawn, the critter took shelter in a mess of rose and ivy and some kind of diptera aroused by our light. We searched again the next two nights but found no others; this source says they can forage for up to 2 km during the night.

I haven’t yet downloaded my camera camera, as opposed to my phone camera, so pictures of the Kingfisher will have to wait. One was definitely on my list of things to see (we saw two)… But here is a fine consolation prize, worth two in the camera:A Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus) after being ringed (or banded, as we would say) by members of the Falsterbo Fågelstation bird observatory. This little songbird is on its way to central/southern Africa, presuming it survives the gauntlet, including the Sahara, along the way.
And then, all things being just, it will return north in the spring.

Great numbers of migrating birds fly over the Falsterbo peninsula, which sticks out like a T from the southwest corner of Sweden, during the fall. It’s the shortest distance over water to Denmark and non-pelagic birds don’t like being over the water too long. The observatory keeps a daily count of passing birds and rings a few in the lighthouse garden and the nearby Flommen reedbeds, where the warbler above was netted, ringed, sexed/aged, weighed/checked for body fat, recorded, and released.

On the Button

The deciduous shrub known as Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) for its round flower heads is a fantastic pollinator-magnet. The plant loves its feet (roots) wet, and, as we discovered recently at the edge of Beaverdam Reservoir in Virginia, it also attracts hummingbirds. Who knew? Well, everybody in the pollination biz, but it was a lovely discovery for us. This Ruby-throated (Archilochus colubris) was supping at the last remaining flower head.

Swamp Loosestrife

Decodon verticillatus is also called water-willow and whorled loosestrife. The flowers are spectacular, but you sure have to get close to them.These leaves certainly look rather “willowy,” but the species isn’t related to Salix. It is related to Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), the dreadful invasive, but D. verticillatus is a native from Maine to Louisiana. Talk about liking to get its feet wet! It grows in fresh water. One source says muskrats like to munch on these bulbous underwater bits.

Milkweed Madness

A field of Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, home to just above everybody.Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus).Fourteen-spotted Ladybeetle larva, Propylea quatuordecimpunctata.Large Milkweed Bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus.Above and below are two variations on larval stage Harmonia axyridis, the Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle.Don’t forget all the flies and bees. Also, Yellow-collared Scape Moths.Anthrenus genus carpet beetle, I think. Tiny.And Oleander aphids (Aphis nerii).


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