Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Cactus Family, Cactaceae

Is this plant cute?
Opuntia polyacantha

"Of course it is," my prickly pear cactus replied. "We cacti grow well in pots, have beautiful flowers, and survive if the dumb human forgets to provide water for weeks. We're awesome!"

cactus, Majorca
Cactus in pot, Majorca, Spain.
"Ah," I replied cautiously, "then how come some people hate you, clearing you out of their pastures?"

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Dye Story--Cochineal Reds

The big prickly pear cactus had white deposits. So unsightly! And yet, the source of fortunes!

Opuntai with cochineal

Humans love red, but red dyes are few in the natural world. Europe from prehistoric times raised madder (Isatis tinctoria) which makes a strong brick red. But though they loved madder, Europeans liked colors that were almost purple even better, and those were harder to produce. The Phoenecians, Greeks and Romans made them from small molluscs (murex, link  link) gathered in the Mediterranean. That was the source of the rare royal purple of Roman togas, a red-purple. The snails were over-harvested and when Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, the technology was lost until the 19th century.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Common Names--Too Many Shared Names

Calthus palustris
Calthus palustris  Do you call it cowslip or (marsh) marigold?
Nobody regulates common names. That's one of the reasons for scientific names. The rule on scientific names is: each organism has one and only one name, not shared with any other organism. 

Common names don't obey either of those rules. I wrote previously about multiple common names for the same plant. (linkThat is annoying, because sometimes you don't recognize that someone is talking about a plant you know only because they're using a different common name. 

I think the same common name for different plant is even more unfortunate. In this day of using words on the internet to learn about things, shared common names lead to at best, time wasted working out which plant you want, and at worst, possible poisoning because one plant with that name is toxic and one isn't. 


Primula vulgaris
another cowslip Primula vulgaris
marigold, Tagetes
another marigold, Tagetes sp.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Visiting Singapore--Gardens by the Bay


video
We stood astonished. Huge metal "trees."  This was Singapore. On the Equator, with lush plants but also industrialized and high-tech. So: a tree-like metal framework for tropical vines.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
   
Here is how they looked from a distance, from a second or third story walkway.