Sunday, December 14, 2014

Visiting Portugal--the Algarve on the south coast

Portugal and Spain in October surprised me because dawn was at nearly 8 am. One consequence of that was that I was up to appreciate the sunrise.

sunrise off Portugal
sunrise off Portugal
I went ashore in the Algarve, the province that runs across the southern end of Portugal, to learn about the climate from the plants and about the history from the buildings.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Plant Confusion--Hemlock, Both Umbels and Conifers

The leaves were long, the grass was green
 The hemlock-umbels tall and fair
 And in the glade a light was seen,
 Of stars in shadow shimmering.
 Tinúviel was dancing there
 To music of a pipe unseen,
 And light of stars was in her hair,
 And in her raiment glimmering."

(Tolkien The Fellowship of the Ring p. 204)

As a child in upstate New York, I read and reread J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings until I had memorized a dozen of the poems. This one was one of my favorites. I imagined Tinúviel dancing in a forest under towering hemlock trees.

western hemlock

forest grove, Finland

But that was not Tolkien’s image.  He meant, dancing among plants Americans call poison hemlock.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Visiting Spain--Wandering the Former Carthusian monastery, Valldemossa, Mallorca

Mallorca
Hills of Mallorca
The island of Mallorca has beautiful beaches (earlier post), but the hills are lovely too. In the hill town of Valldemossa we visited a former monastery which was rich in plants and history.
















A rambling old building, of which I have no exterior photograph (so see link), it was begun as a royal residence, then, between 1399 and 1835, served as a Carthusian monastery. After that it was a private guest house and today it is a museum.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Plant Story--Chenopodium album, aka lambsquarters and fat hen

Chenopodium album, Amaranthaceae
Chenopodium album, Amaranthaceae
Chenopodium album is a Eurasian plant that has established itself across most of the world. But you may well walk by it without noticing.

Chenopodium album is in the plant family, Amaranthaceae, the amaranth or pigweed family. Many places you will see it listed as having its own family, Chenopodiaceae, but recent work merged the Chenopodiaceae into the Amaranthaceae. 

The scientific name says "white goose foot", the chen for goose in Greek,  podium foot, and album is white. The flowers are whitish, but so are the new leaves (picture above) so while the namer might have meant the flowers, I see white on every plant.


Chenopodium, Amaranthaceae
Chenopodium album, Amaranthaceae
Part of what is the most fun with C. album is getting someone else to realize they know it. It goes by so many common names that it can hide in plain sight. For example:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Visiting Spain--Mallorca, palms and sunshine

We set sail from Barcelona in Catalonia, eastern Spain, for Mallorca on a tour with Gohagan Travel and the University of California Alumni Association. Mallorca is the largest of the Balearic Islands, four inhabited islands and some tiny ones, in the Mediterranean east of Spain. They are currently Spainish, but like much of the area, were once Phoenician, Carthaginian (Punic), Roman, and Moorish, Catalan, independent--at least--before becoming Spanish.  

You'll see the spelling Majorca. Same place. The residents spell it Mallorca, so I will too.

Mallorca
coast of Mallorca

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Orange, oranges and carrots

carrots
Do you remember the James Burke tv series Connections showing surprising relationships between unrelated things? There are plant stories like that, for example, of orange, carrots and politics.

Wild carrots, Daucus carota, known as Queen Ann's lace in the U.S. (parsley family, Apiaceae) are native all across Europe and the Middle East. Humans have used carrots medicinally for a very long time (see for example Culpeper, 1814 edition of 1633 book; Mrs. Grieve 1932).) Carrots were first domesticated in Afghanistan, producing a readily-grown carrot that was, however, stringy and bitter. These carrots, distributed out from Afghanistan were multicolored: purple, red, orange, yellow and off-white, but especially purple and whitish. People all over Eurasia grew them for medicine, but also as a food flavoring. Like bay leaves or garlic cloves, they were added for flavor but not necessarily eaten.

About 1600, plant breeders in Holland bred a truly edible carrot. Everyone agrees that all our modern carrot varieties, even the heritage carrots, are derived from the carrot variety Long created in Holland at the beginning of the 17th century.

The Long carrot was orange.

Nobody can prove that the Dutch growers had a political agenda creating an orange carrot, but, whether or not they did, soon after that the orange carrot became very political.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Visiting Scotland--A glimpse of Shetland's prehistory

Jarlshof, ShetlandNorthern Europe has absolutely marvelous archaelogical sites dating back thousands of years. 
On Shetland I visited Jarlshof. Here, the brutal Earl Patrick Stewart built a fortified manor on the same site as a 800 BC Bronze-age village. 

Today nobody lives there, but the ruins and artifacts are from the Neotlithic (2500-1500 BC), then Bronze Age, Iron Age, Pict, Norse and Scots' settlements! (link)