Category Archives: Odd plants

Travel theme: Circles

Ailsa’s travel theme for the week is “circles”. I was a bit surprised at how few usable pictures I had (partly because I’ve used some of them in other photo challenges – the subway photo I used just last Tuesday would fit right in here!)

After some searching, I found a group of pictures I took almost a year ago at the Philadelphia Flower Show. Here’s my assortment of spherical little succulents – their ancestors had a long history of surviving in deserts, so they balloon themselves with as much water as possible.  (Click on any of the pictures to see the gallery with larger images.)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Growth

This time, the theme of the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is “growth”.

How does my garden grow?

From seedlings

to bigger plants

to the outside world…

…to, okay, a lot bigger than expected! I’ll have to expand the garden next year.

Travel Theme: Mystery flower

This week, I’m jumping in on Ailsa’s Travel Themes (the theme is “flowers” at the moment). While I’m at it, I have a question: does anybody know what kind of flower this is?

I took the picture in June of 2005 at a highway rest stop somewhere in eastern New Mexico, just because it looked so strange. The flower looks like a cluster of fat greenish buds that open up to release incredibly long red stamens – longer than my fingers. Obviously it likes desert,or semi-desert conditions, and it looked like a “volunteer”, or weed, not something intentionally planted.

So – what is it?

A month in spring

Just about a month ago, my tomato seedlings were tiny, with only their first pair of false leaves showing.

They’re not tiny any more.

And this is what happens when you don’t know if year-old seeds will sprout. (They will. Believe me, they will.) I’ll be giving most of them away over the next week or so.

Wet Woodsy Thursday

What we did on the way home from visiting my mother a couple of days ago –

We visited a wildflower preserve. The road in and out is pretty rough. This picture was not Photoshopped – the motion blur (and the jolt that caused it) are real.

These are wild geraniums.

Columbine seems to like cliffs.

False Solomon’s seal was in full bloom.

The area is basically wild, but someone puts up markers for the scarcer plants.

Jack-in-the-pulpit was past its prime.

It was a wet weekday, and the place was almost empty. We did meet this millipede, but I believe (s)he lives there.

Lots of ferns…

Fallen logs covered with moss and young plants…

“In a hole in a…tree…there lived a hobbit” – no, that’s not right, but something ought to live here…

Usually, about this time of year, it’s cluttered with trilliums, but our hot March and chilly April has everything off schedule – nothing like the usual show!

But a walk in the woods is always a good idea.

52 steps, up and down, with a camera

One of the amazing things about blogging is the way it sends you hopscotching around the world. This morning, I was looking at golappan’s blog at clickdpic, because golappan had “liked” one of my posts…and that led me to katehobbs….who led me to Sherene Schmidtler at Print Sense Photography and the 52 Step Challenge.

Whew. I’m tired. But not tired enough to stop me from being intrigued by another challenge – photography this time. I don’t know if I’ll follow along with the 52 step challenge consistently, but today I plunged in with an intro post (walk 52 steps out of your front door and take a picture):

Next to my house is a freestanding garage for a house on the next street…and between the garage and its house are bird feeders.

And then I tackled this week’s idea (52 steps, take a picture – literal or figurative – of “up”):

“Up” is nice when the leaves are coming out.

After which I decided that just now, at that spot, “down” was prettier:

I think these may be mutant violets.
Until a few years ago, we only ever saw the standard solid purple ones (and there’s an old-school violet in the lower right corner of this picture). Then these pansy-faced white and lavender flowers showed up in a yard down the block, and they’ve been marching down the street, a little farther every year.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Indulge, take 2

You know, I would feel very indulged if I could spend time every day looking at sights like this…or this…or this.

Maybe, come spring, I should spend some time (well. A lot of time.) tweaking my little corner of the planet so that anyone who wanders past can feel similarly refreshed.

(Oh, yes, I am definitely going to the Philadelphia Flower Show – just the other side of the Delaware River – week after next…)

The critter construction kit

Review – Endless Forms Most Beautiful
by Sean B. Carroll

A keeper? Definitely. And you should read it too.

Okay, you have a cell – just one – containing a bunch of genes. Where can we go from here? More to the point, since we can look around us pretty much anyplace on earth and see a lot of possible end points ranging from humans to nasturtiums, HOW can we get there from here?

For a long, long time, the details were mysterious. Some of them still aren’t clear. But now, by combining DNA analysis and embryology, an overall picture is forming out of the mist. (The “evo devo” of the subtitle is short for “evolutionary developmental biology”. Cute, and much easier to say.)

It turns out that living creatures share an amazing number of basic genes that control how their bodies are formed. Some of these genes are so universal that they must go back to before the Cambrian period, half a billion years ago. Then how can there be so much variety? It turns out that “gene” is biologist-speak for “a segment of DNA that makes a particular protein”, and there are stretches of DNA that don’t qualify as “genes”. What do they do? They control details of when and how specific genes and their proteins become active in the developing embryonic creature. (This, of course, is a horribly compressed version of what “Endless Forms” has to say. There’s more, so much more.)

Carroll shows how the interaction of genes and this “DNA dark matter” works. He also explains how such a variety of animals can be formed by tinkering with reusable parts – the dozens of ways that insects and crustaceans have started from a simple limb with a pincer on the end to build legs and mouths and feelers and gills and wings, for example.

What’s wrong with the book? First, Carroll is a specialist in fruit flies, and it shows sometimes. One or two chapters told me much more than I ever wanted to know about insect development, but even here there were unexpected nuggets of interesting stuff. Second, “Endless Forms” is not an easy read. I don’t think it could be easy and still do the subject justice. Be prepared to spend several weeks on it, and to re-read some parts and think about them before that part of the picture becomes clear.

Overall, though, if you have the slightest curiosity about the “hows” of life, if you aren’t already up to date on the latest in biology, you need to read “Endless Forms.” It’s that good.

Sometimes, you just have to go with weird

I’m getting antsy for spring – the truth is, I’ve been antsy for spring ever since November. But Outdoors isn’t cooperating yet, so I keep wondering if it’s too early to try starting tomato seeds. (Yes. Definitely too early.)

Well, if I can’t coo over how cute they are as they sprout, I can at least look at seed packages, right? Of course I can. And that’s how I got trapped.

The label says they’re tomatillo seeds, some sort of second cousin to tomatoes, just what you need for a little homemade salsa verde. And ‘verde’ is the word for it – every tomatillo I’ve ever met was bright grass green, greener than grass really is unless there’s been a LOT of rain.

But not these guys. If you can believe the package, they’re going to be purple. Yes. Purpler than a plum or a blueberry.  Salsa – purpura? What would that taste like?

Maybe I’ll find out.

Sometimes things make sense. Sort of.

It’s become sort of a joke around here, the way They declare a drought warning if we go four days without rain. Especially in the summer. Silly, no?

But maybe not as silly as it looks. A large swath of South Jersey is taken up by the Pine Barrens, stunted forests of waist-high pine trees growing out of pure sand. The Pineys are prone to forest fires (I think that’s one reason the trees are so short) – probably because it takes water no time at all to percolate down through the sand out of reach, and then you’re left with a lot of dry midget trees dripping flammable resin. Wannabe torches.

Huh. Maybe four dry days really is all it takes to start a drought.

Nothing’s ever simple.