Sunday, July 27, 2014

Visiting the Faroes--Grass-covered Hills and Marsh Marigolds in the Sheep Islands

Faroe Island view
Faroe Island rainy morning, through the bus window
The Faroe Islands are in the North Atlantic, between Norway and Iceland. (See map. ) I visited them about the first of June on a tour with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, organized by Academic Arrangements Abroad. There are 18 islands, 17 with at least one inhabitant. 

It was cool and raining when we arrived. On the same latitude as the middle of Hudson Bay, the Atlantic's Gulf Stream keeps the temperatures mild. Average highs are about 51 ( 11 C) in summer and 37 (3 C) in winter. It rains more than 16 days a month all year round, though the rain may be a passing shower or a day of drizzle. Total annual rainfall varies between islands but in the capital, Tรณrshavn, it is about 50" (1280 cm).

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Visiting Southern Colorado--the Great Sand Dunes

Great Sand Dune against the mountains
Great Sand Dunes against the mountains
I have seen sand dunes--Jockey's Ridge in North Carolina, Sleeping Bear in Michigan, the Nebraska Sandhills--so although I put the Great Sand Dunes near Alamosa, Colorado on my "to see" list, I didn't expect to be impressed. 

I was.

The road out of Alamosa takes you northward in open sagebrush country. The mountains draw closer. At some point you realize that the light area at the base of the mountain is a sand dune!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Wandering Plants -- Coconuts of Medieval Iceland!

coconut palm on beach, Pacific coast, Panama
coconut palm on beach, 
Pacific coast, Panama
A coconut in Iceland? in the Middle Ages?

I'm sure I could find one in the market in Reykjavik today. Coconuts are tropical but lots of tropical things are traded all over the world. For example, Icelandic chocolate is a favorite across all Scandinavia.

However, looking back into history, travel was slow and often difficult. Coconuts are native far, far from Iceland. 

Coconuts are the seeds of the coconut palm, Cocos nucifera (palm family, Arecaceae). Palms, like bananas and bamboo, are not strictly trees, because they do not form wood. The tough and flexible coconut palm trunk is made of the very tightly overlapping bases of the large leaves. Coconut palms can grow 80’ (24 m) high. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Plant Story -- Colorful Columbines, Aquilegia

Rocky Mountain columbines,  Aquilegia coerulea
Rocky Mountain columbines,
Aquilegia coerulea
Everybody knows columbine, right?

Columbines, Aquilegia species, are distinctive plants related to anemones and buttercups (in the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae). 

Actually, where you live makes a big difference to what you think a columbine looks like. In eastern North America, there is only one native columbine, Aquilegia canadensis. It has red sepals and spurs on the outside with yellow petals, stigmas and stamens inside. Click on the LINK !

The situation in Europe is similar. There is one common columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris. It has blue to purple sepals with white petals, stigma and stamens. Click on the LINK ! There are almost 20 rare columbine species in the mountains of Europe, but A. vulgaris is far the most widespread. In Latin, “vulgaris” means common, so the common European columbine is aptly named.

If you live in either of those areas, you are likely to have a particular image of columbine in your mind.