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Posted (crates) in nature, Plants on April-10-2010
I had a fantastic time in Costa Rica.  It was over too soon!   I added lots of new species of birds to my life list, and saw lots of wildlife and terrific scenery.  I’ll try and talk about the trip in the future.  It’s too much to talk about all at once, so I’ll probably just divide it up into different subjects that interest me.  

        Here’s a flower that I found growing in Costa Rica. I believe it must be some sort of passion flower.  There are two small black bees on the flower.

Posted (crates) in Miscellaneous, nature, Plants on May-1-2009
I was talking to a person about the flower, Trillium ovatum, mentioning how it was blooming in the woodlands now, and they mentioned how it occurred in both white and purple colors.  I said that it was my impression that the flowers were white when it first bloomed, but that some turned purple after it had matured a while.  I wasn’t sure about this and thought that I would take some photos of some white Trillium, wait a few days and then see if they turned purple.  Here are the results of some of my photographs.  They do, in fact, start out a brilliant snow-white and then it seems that most turn purplish to various degrees.
Looking online, I realize that I am always discovering what everybody else knows!    Here is a place that specializes in native plants and gives tips on propagating these native flowers.  As a reminder, one should never pick or remove wild flowers in such a way that it could harm the population.  Here is an absolutely wonderful account of this flower, how it was used by the indians, and  how it cursed a young woman who picked the flower for her wedding day.
Sorry for the fact that these photographs are dribbling down into the prior entry.  I haven’t gotten the hang of placing the photographs exactly where I want them!
Trillium ovatum, white before turning purple.

Trillium ovatum, white before turning purple.

Trillium ovatum, once white,  now a beautiful purple color

Trillium ovatum, once white, now a beautiful purple color

B. A clump of Trillium showing their white color before turning.

B. A clump of Trillium showing their white color before turning.

D. Trillium ovatum turning purple

D. Trillium ovatum turning purple

Posted (crates) in nature, People, Photography, Plants on April-20-2009

Spring is marching on here.  A couple of days ago my feet were slipping on the front steps, and for a brief flash I thought there was frost.  Further examination revealed that there was a thin, slippery layer of what appeared to be yellow flour.   As I walked to my car I could see a fine fall in the air of tiny particles in the slanting rays of the morning sun.  It was the pollen of the Douglas Fir tree , and it had coated my car with its profligate scattering of germ plasm.  It was deja vu all over again.  I had written almost the same exact words two years ago on this blog on April 7.  Check that post for a photo of the pollen on my car windshield.   These dates lend credence to my impression that this entire season is almost two weeks late because of the unusually cold winter that we have had.  It has not been really cold, just 6 or 7 degrees cooler than usual.  This apparently has delayed the flower blossoming, etc.

Douglas Pollen on my mailbox

Douglas Fir pollen on my mailbox

I was thinking this two nights ago as I went out into the night and smelled the wonderful perfume of the budding cottonwoods.  When the trees begin to put forth their leaves, a delicious, sticky resin that coats the tender buds puts forth this incredible aroma.  This is the Balm of Gilead, believed to be that mentioned in Genesis that was gathered from the tree Commiphora gileadensis, native to southern Arabia.  I love to rub these buds between my fingers, smearing the sticky stubstance all over and then deeply inhaling the smell.  Normally I smell this perfume at the first of April, but it is just now coming forth almost three weeks late.

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin sick soul.

The horse tails are also putting forth.  Their hard bodies with silica on their cells used to be employed as scouring rushes.  They are putting forth their reproductive bodies now (strobilus, see photo) and also their vegetative structures which when fully formed, open up to provide a beautiful display of wispy plants which  has given rise to their name of horse tails.  The one photo shows the plant coming up through the hard asphalt pavement of the road.   These are all photos that I took this morning on my walk.

Equisetum strobili which produce the spores of  Horsetail

Equisetum strobili which produce the spores of Horsetails.

I just had to include another photo of a beautiful clump of Trillium that I found this morning and a shot of the early Azalea/Rhododendron(?) that is blooming in my back yard just now.

The Trilliums are at their height, and provide a visual delight on walks through the woods just now.

I didn't notice the tiny insect when I took the photograph this morning.
Vetative form of Horsetails coming up through the asphalt of the road.
Trilliums are blooming all through the woods.

Trilliums are blooming all through the woods.

Posted (crates) in Books, Ecology, Photography, Plants on April-16-2009
The unexamined life is not worth living.
Socrates, in Plato, Dialogues, Apology
Greek philosopher in Athens (469 BC – 399 BC)

I am reading Peter Pouncey’s book, Rules for Old Men Waiting, enjoying the wonderful writing and the images and thoughts that were evoked.  I got to thinking about how difficult it is today to lead a quiet contemplative life, and started wondering how this lack of quiet and solitary contemplation affects the minds and souls of the young people growing  up in this society.  I wonder if growing up in a quiet setting somehow deepens the thoughts and mind of an individual, as opposed to a person who grows up in a noisy, jangly type of environment.

It seems to me that when a person is distracted by the many blandishments of our modern civilization, then we can’t really pay proper attention to ourselves–to our lives.  If we can not examine our lives in a conscious sort of way as we travel through, then we may wake up late in life realizing that we have been led astray by cheap, tawdry distractions.  If we are taken from ourselves by the bright flashing lights of our society, then how can we really know what we want?  How can we come to realize just exactly what it is that is important?

It is hard in such circumstances to act with purpose.  It is hard to be deliberate and methodical in pursuing our goals.  It is hard to delve deep within to really understand ourselves.  Leading a quiet sort of life, surrounded by beautiful things, helps us to become aware of ourselves and how we fit into this amazing existence.  I’m afraid that growing up exposed to the constant external stimulation of our society distracts us from ourselves.

This not to say that external stimulation is bad.  We need the stimulation of new ideas and attitudes to grow and become.  I just fear that we have lost the ability for quietness, to sit alone, to think…

Trillium's are blooming all through the woodlands.

Trillium's are blooming all through the woodlands.

Another plant which, like the Trillium, has oil appendages on the seed and is dispersed by ants.

Another plant which, like the Trillium, has oil appendages on the seed and is dispersed by ants.

On my morning walk which I try to take as soon as I arise from bed, I saw     numerous Western Trilliums blooming throughout the woods.  They are inconspicuous the rest of the year, and I never notice them until they bloom.

I was also pleased and happy to find a flower which I have never seen before in the neighborhood.  Hidden along a steep bank of the stream bed, I found a lovely patchof Pacific Bleeding hearts (Dicentra formosa).  I wasn’t sure if I could climb safely down the embankment, but I was determined to examine this flower up close and take some photos.  The name refers to the heart-shaped appearance of the flowers, and Dicentra refers to the two spurs on the outer leaves.  The specific name , formosa, means beautiful or handsome.  I have photographed these beautiful flowers back east, but I don’t believe that I have seen them in Washington.  I took both of these photographs this morning.

Both of these species have oil rich structures (elaiosomes) which some believe attract ants which help to disperse the seeds  Seed dispersal by ants (myrmecochory) is a wonderful example of mutualism between species.  I have written about this before in a prior post.  I quote below the advantages of such a relationship from a paper on the Australian museum site:

  1. Reduces competition between young plants and their parents. By distancing the seed from the parent plant and sibling seedlings it lowers the likelihood of competition for resources.
  2. Reduces the amount of seeds lost to predation. By moving the seeds into ant nests, it is more difficult for other seed-eating animals to get to them.
  3. Provides favourable conditions for seedling growth. Soil in ant nests is less compacted and richer in nutrients than surrounding soils. This is a great advantage to seedlings in arid environments like the Australian interior, which generally have hard, infertile soils.
  4. Provides protection from harsh environmental conditions. By moving the seeds below ground they are protected from fire and high summer temperatures.
  5. Provides protection for eggs of other insects. Some insects have exploited the seed dispersal behaviour of ants. Stick insects, for example lay eggs that mimic seeds. These seed-like eggs are taken back to ant nests where they are guarded or discarded by the ants. When the young stick insect hatches, some species look and behave much like an ant. This method acts to disperse the stick insects as much as it does the seeds they mimic.

Here is an interesting annotated bibliography of the behavior.

Posted (crates) in Plants on October-5-2007

I was thinking about memory as I hurried along in the rain to make it to my fifth grade class before the tardy bell. I don’t remember the exact details of what was going on in my mind, but I decided to memorize a scene to see if I could recall it later. I looked down at my feet and saw this white rock on the ground. I tried to commit that scene of that perfectly ordinary object to memory. As I took a short cut through the boy’s rest room which had a door to the outside, I clicked the shutter in my mind to memorize a broken step. Unfortunately, I still have these scenes perfectly preserved in my mind. I hope our minds have a very large capacity, because I’d hate to be taking up limited space on such mundane things.

However, I suppose these useless memory items did have a function. It allowed me to realize that one could memorize things with a minimum amount of effort under certain circumstances. I have a few other such scenes in my memory. These were scenes that were not deliberately memorized, but scenes that somehow imprinted themselves because I simply caught a brief glimpse of the occurrence. They were like snapshots, brief, transient, but lasting.

One scene is a view of the sediment in the bottom of a jar that slowly crumbled as the liquid was being decanted off in Chemistry lab. Another was a flash shot of a student expectorating as we all hurried to get out of class at the end of the school day. It must have been winter, because the low slanting sun shone off the stream of saliva as it was ejected from the mouth of the student leaving a trail of tiny shining droplets suspended shimmering in the air.

I have other such “memory photos” later in my life, but fortunately they are of more interesting scenes. I have always been fascinated with capturing such instants in time. Perhaps because of this I have always loved photography which freezes such moments allowing people years later to share that particular event.

The thing that I like about the Japanese style of poetry called Haiku is that it also captures an instant of time in words. Haiku consists of three lines of 5-7-5 syllables respectively. However, in my opinion, photography and Haiku ideally should communicate something, an idea perhaps, or even better a mood or a feeling that is difficult to put into words. Such communication is hard to impart. The mere act of saying something, or spelling it out in concrete words often dissipates the subtlety of the feeling. Often the feeling or mood is best put forth by suggestion, by misdirection, by subtlety, not by pushing it into someone’s face.

For centuries Japan has had a form of poetry called waka (or tanka) consisting of five lines with syllables of 5-7-5-7-7, from which linked verses of the same type evolved called Renga. In Renga each verse (5-7-5-7-7 syllables) typically is composed by different people and is a collaborative effort often between as many as fourteen to fifteen people.

The opening verse of Renga is called a Hokku consisting of 5-7-5 syllables which established the setting: season, mood, and emotions, from which the other writers took their cue. The Hokku developed into the Haiku which now stands alone.

Traditional Haiku often concentrated on nature and contained a reference to the season (Kigo). The Kigo can just be the word for the season, or it can allude to the season in an indirect manner. Often traditional haikus included a cutting word, or kireji, which was placed at the end of the lines. It denotes a pause or a full stop and allows a moment to reflect on the preceding lines. In English this can be done by punctuation. Since Japanese is different from English, the 5-7-5 structure has often been abandoned by English speaking writers, and can follow a more free flowing sort of structure. Some advocate a 3-5-3 or 2-3-2 structure for English haiku. Here are some “rules” of Haiku. As Basho himself said, “Learn the rules and then throw them away.” More to come on this subject.

Posted (crates) in biology, Ecology, Plants on June-26-2007

     For many years I have admired this incredible stand of Western Redcedar beside the road that I travel.  Almost daily I rested my eyes upon the lush beauty of this thick growth of evergreens which appeared to form an impenetrable wall along the road.  It was dark beneath the trees in the few places that I could see an opening, and I could almost imagine that they were part of a great forest that extended for miles and miles.  I would fantasize about hiking through this forest, smelling its sweet incense and listening to the wind soughing in their branches.  In the winter they presented an indescribable scene, with their thick boughs weighed almost to the ground, their tops bent over with great masses of snow.  As the years passed, I grew fearful for their safety living as they did in a city dominated by Weyerhaeuser (“the tree growing company”) and which seems to have no zoning, allowing developers to strip vast swathes of forests to the bare earth, removing every bush, every hint of vegetation, in order to put in new housing editions, shopping centers and storage units.  I assumed they were spared because I knew that this magnificent tree loves having its roots wet, and I thought that perhaps these trees were growing in a boggy area.  I also had the naive thought that they were part of a local watershed that was being protected.

I just drove past where my old friends have been growing since time out of mind.

The trees are gone.  Only stumps remain along with “slash,” the broken branches and detritus left over from the logging operations.  A pile of these giants lie stacked awaiting the logging trucks.   A great bleeding wound is left on the earth. 

It’s not the first time that I’ve shed tears over such.

Posted (crates) in Birds, nature, Photography, Plants on April-7-2007

Yesterday morning when I walked out on the porch, it was so slippery that I thought for a moment that it had frosted during the night. I then realized that there was a film of yellow pollen over the porch and steps which acted as as a fine lubricant. Wiping the railing, I found that my finger tips were covered with the powder-like pollen. I had to hold on the railing as I climbed down the steps for fear of slipping. My car and the windshield were also covered with it. This happens every year. This year it coincided with some warm weather that we had for the past two days. I am almost certain that this pollen is coming from the Douglas Fir trees that surround my house, but I didn’t check the male cones. When shaken they produce a great cloud of pollen during this time of year. Luckily, I don’t seem to be allergic to pollen from this species.

I am enclosing some more photos. To the left is the fiddle head from my least favorite fern–the Bracken Fern(Pteridium aquilinum) that I have mentioned before. They are coming up everywhere like weeds–which they are! They occur worldwide and is such a pest in Britain that they initiated a program to control their spread. People eat them like asparagus as I said before, but this fern contains carcinogens, and in areas where they are consumed regularly such as Japan, the occurrence of stomach cancer is among the highest in the world.

I also found that the Horsetails (Equisetum) are coming up in my yard. They used to be used as scouring pads because of the large amount of silicon in their cell walls. These are a primitive group of Vascular Plants (containing tubes) that reproduce by spores instead of seeds. The strobilus, shown here, is the spore producing body which in this area comes up before the photosynthetic stems. The photosynthetic vegetative stems can be quite attractive, especially when they catch the light in shaded areas, but they can be a nuisance because of their tendency to spread.

It is also that time of year for my old friend the Dandelion (Taraxcum sp.) to blossom forth in all its glory. I had very few Dandelions until I disturbed my yard a few years ago in order to empty the septic tank. This disturbance in the grassy lawn was all it took for them to take hold with a vengeance. I just gave in and learned to enjoy their beauty before they go to seed and become all raggedy. The Dandelions in the Northwestern U.S. are the most beautiful that I have ever seen. They seem to be larger and deeper yellow than those I have observed elsewhere.
The birds are also singing their little heads off. Like clockwork on April 1 in open areas, I heard the White Crowned Sparrow (Poor little me, deep!). About my house, I hear the species that are most common to the woods and boundary areas. The WinterWren, the Robin, the Varied Thrush along with the Chestnut Backed Chickadee are all singing loudly. The Spotted Towhee is just getting started and will remain the most vocal bird in the area through July. Also, although I have seen the Song Sparrow , it has barely begun vocalizing. Soon it will become, like the Towhee, one of the most heard bird around my house.

Posted (crates) in nature, Photography, Plants on March-26-2007

Well, there are so many plants flowering forth that I thought I’d put on some more photos. I am in the process of learning what some of these plants are, so bear with me. The shrub with the red berries are shown to the right is yet to be identified. I thought for a moment that it was the hips of the small wild rose that blooms here, but the stem and leaves are totally different. It is growing in the brushy area between my driveway and the street that runs by my house. Another red berried bush that grows here is the red huckleberry, but this isn’t it. Further research on my part needs to be done…
Below right is a view of my street in front of my house. As you can see it is strewn with the male Red Alder catkins that I mentioned in the earlier post. I believe this to be the culprit responsible for my annual bout with hayfever. Actually thus far it has been a minor problem with only mild attacks, and I haven’t had any problem with it in over a week now.

Also just in front of my house by the front street are clumps of Salmonberries (Rubus spectabilis). They are stickery bushes that are extremely common in damp areas of the NorthWest. There are places down the street where these plants cover large areas. As you can see, the blossoms are small but have a pleasing dark pink color. The berries range from a light orange to a deep red color. The taste is rather bland I am afraid, but I make sure that I don’t eat them until they are good and ripe, because they can be quite bitter otherwise. Once I was eagerly gobbling some of these very ripe berries by the Green River in Flaming Geyser park. These Salmonberries were very ripe and had begun to separate from their base. Unbeknownst to me large numbers of Earwigs (Dermaptera) had collected between the berries and their cuplike base, and I discovered too late that I had been happily munching on them!

Lichen is extremely common here (Not a plant, I know). It grows especially well on branches and the bark of trees such as the Red Alder and the Big Leaf Maple. Here is a photo I took of a dead branch covered with lichens that had blown down during a recent windstorm. You can see there are four or five different forms. Since I have no taxonomic knowledge of lichens, I can’t begin to identify them. I hope to remedy this ignorance since it irritates me not to know what I am looking at. I just know that they are roughly classified by shape–crustose, foliose, fruticose, etc). Lichens are comprised of an algae (aquatic, plant-like organism, usually green algae or cynanobacteria) and a fungus (usually an Ascomycete) in a mutualistic relationship where both partners help out the other. The fungus, unable to make its own food protects the “photobiont” and supplies water and minerals, and the algae in turn produces food for the fungus through photosynthesis. Some claim that the relationship is parasitic since the algae can do very well without the fungus, but this seems to ignore the fact that the fungus can protect the algae from dessication, allowing both to live in extreme conditions where the algae couldn’t possibly live. Apparently this habit of “lichenism” has evolved many times and often the partners have a variety of ancestors. In addition to being an example of an interesting case of cooperation between two very different organisms, lichen are important nitrogen fixers, taking free nitrogen from the air and making it available to other plants. Thus the web of interelationships gets quite complex.

Posted (crates) in nature, Photography, Plants on March-18-2007


This wonderful Big-Leafed Maple (Acer macrophyllum) is one of my favorites on my walk to the beach. It is only about two hundred yards from my place, and I always have to stop and admire its moss-covered branches which are festooned with the lovely epiphytic Licorice Fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza; aka P. vulgare). The Licorice Fern is called such because of its licorice-flavored rhizomes. I usually see it growing in the thick moss on the Big-leafed Maple, where it can be instantly identified by its distinctive pointed tips. The Indians of the area often chewed the rhizomes for their flavor, and they were used as a medicine for sore throats and colds.

These ferns are luxuriant during the rainy season, and I have seen them growing in great abundance on the eaves of an old shed. They shrivel up, however, during the dry months. The generic name, Polypodium, means many feet which apparently applies to the footlike appearance of their rhizomes. Glycyrrhiza means “sweet root” which refers to the fact that the rhizomes contain ostadin, a steroid, which is three thousand times sweeter than table sugar! No wonder that the people in this area used it as a sweetener also.

Read a detailed description here with a mention how these ferns have been involved in forming polyploid species. Instant speciation involving nondisjunction is a topic for later I think!

All the early spring flowers are pretty much in bloom now. Forsythia, flowering crab apple, and of course camellias are blooming. The camellias in this area are amazing with large bushes tall as the eaves of a house being common in the older sections of town, where they usually begin blooming about the middle of January. I am always disappointed in the camellias that I see, however, because they all seem to be touched with what I call the “brown blight” which causes the petals to turn brown and ugly. This is especially evident in the white camellias. Apparently this is caused by a fungus. The Great Northwest is a fungus heaven! I hope to photograph the many mushrooms this coming autumn.




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Posted (crates) in biology, Ecology, Evolution, nature, Photography, Plants on March-17-2007

Western Trilliums (Trillium ovatum), the beautiful early Spring wildflowers, are now blooming in the nearby woods. As you can see the white flowers (sometimes pinkish or purplish as they age) are arranged above three offset leaves or giving the plant a pleasing symmetry. This set of “threes” is reflected in their name, latin for “threes.” The arrangement of threes is also reflected not only in their petals and leaves but also the flower parts–sepals, stamens (6) and stigma. They often occur in moist, shaded woodlands in this area. I first encountered Trilliums in Northeastern Kansas and have also observed them in Northeastern Iowa, and Maryland. Another common name is “Wake Robin” since they appear in early spring about the time that Robins become more active.
Apparently, ants carry the seeds back to their nest, where they eat an oil-rich appendage (elaiosome) that is on the seeds. They then discard what’s left of the seeds and thus disperse the seeds in the quiet forest floor. Some believe that this structure produces a pheromone that elicits a “dead corpse response” in the ants. This interesting hypothesis states that the fatty acids in the oils of the elaiosomes of certain plants have undergone convergent evolution to resemble those of arthropods resulting in them being more attractive to carnivorous and omnivorous ants (Hughes et al. 1994) . Apparently this mutualistic relationship is common in eastern north America where ants disperse (myrmecohory) as much as 30% of the spring flowering herbaceous plant seeds in the deciduous forests. The more I learn about the ecology of ant seed dispersal the more interesting it gets. This great site discusses the entire subject and talks about how certain stick insects lay eggs that look like seeds and are taken back to the ant nest and cared for. The hatchlings of some species of these stick insects even look and behave like the ants!
I like Hansen’s site for it’s interesting descriptions of his plants of the Northwest that he offers for sale.

I went out and cleaned out some more of the dead bracken fern from the flower beds this morning. The bracken fern is one of those annual ferns that is so very common here. I’ll take some photos soon of the edible fiddle heads that are just now beginning to emerge from their winter dormancy. They are beautiful when they first emerge and in the fall when they turn a golden yellow, but they quickly become leggy and take over your gardens and flower beds if you let them. Also they die back in the winter and leave their unsightly brown foliage which has to be cleared out.
I also encountered on one of my walks a dead tree covered with woodpecker holes. The common Pileated Woodpecker appears to have made most of the holes, judging by their large rectangular appearance. These are the types of trees that foresters, working for the most part for the large timber companies such as Weyhauser, want to eliminate. They talk of the diseases that they carry and advocate cleansing the forests of such “trash.” In a tree farm this might be the thing to do, but in a balanced forest ecosystem, such dead trees provide an invaluable source of food and living places for numerous species of insects, fungi, amphibians, birds, etc.

Hughes,L; Westoby,M; Jurado,E (1994): Convergence of elaiosomes and insect prey: evidence from ant foraging behaviour and fatty acid composition. Funct. Ecol. 8, 358-365.