Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Interesting article

It's been a while since I've posted...I had nothing interesting and found myself repeating things from previous years.

Here's an interesting article I ran across from Wired entitled "Amazing Chemicals Invented by Nature, Rebuilt in Lab".
An excerpt:

Natural substances can treat cancer, prolong life and trigger amazing hallucinations.

But although nature can make a remarkably wide variety of chemicals — far more than the best molecule-making robots — it does not always deliver them in bulk. Drug companies and medical researchers often turn to organic chemists when they need something that is too rare or too difficult to harvest from the wild.

Click on the thumbnails at the bottom right of the article and you'll come across things like,

"The substance used to make the drug, shikimic acid, is found in Chinese star anise and was in short supply."

My favorite was on the Death Cap mushroom (not as cool a name as the "Destroying Angel A. virosa, but...), Amanita phalloides. "Eat a deathcap mushroom, and your next stop is the morgue. It contains a chemical called amantin, which destroys the liver and kidneys."

(Here's the interesting part) "But that's not all. It has another poison, called phalloidin, that sticks to the scaffolding of cells. That substance is less deadly and has a useful purpose: By attaching the toxin to a fluorescent dye, researchers can study the inner workings of cells, and watch how they divide. Those observations can shed some light on how cancer works and the way tissues grow."

So, check out the article.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Interesting mushroom, Rounded Earthstar and ramblings about the dearth of acorns

I spotted these unique looking mushrooms growing under a Colorado Blue Spruce while on the dog walk. Last year I noticed a dry husk of the same mushroom on the sidewalk where the current crop is growing. At first I thought the dry husk was some kind of dry flower like Woodrose, Merremia tuberosa but it was spongy and leathery rather than brittle like the woodrose so I thought it must be some kind of fungus.

I looked it up in my Audubon mushroom guide and found it is Geastrum saccatum the Rounded earthstar. Here's a nice website on Geastrum saccatum. It's supposed to be a common mushroom but I have only seen it once, twice now under this particular blue spruce. The fruiting body resembles an acorn - which speaking of is very scarce around these parts this year. We had a bumper crop of acorns 2 years ago and a lot last year too but nada this year, not a single one to be found on any oak tree. I heard an NPR interview with a Northeast naturalist and she also mentioned the scarcity of acorns this year. I wonder what's up??

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Color too nice not to post

These are old photos taken earlier this fall. I've been so busy I haven't had the time to post them until now. The colors this fall was exceptional and long lasting.

Service berry, Shadblow, Amelanchier laevis?

Blueberry, Vaccinium. This particular bush planted right outside our backdoor produced a load of berries and this colorful sight in the fall.

Witch hazel, Hammamelis × intermedia - yellow flower variety.

Burning bush, Euonymus alatus.

Witch hazel, Hammamelis × intermedia - red flower variety.

Witch alder, Fothergilla gardenii.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Christmas cactus blooming and Bhut Jolokia pepper taste test

The so called "Christmas cactus" is in full bloom before Thanksgiving. We put it outdoors last summer shaded from the afternoon hot sun by a maple tree and despite the pale looking plant parts it obviously has thrived. This is the most blooms it has produced since we first bought it several years ago.

The long awaited Bhut Jolokia Taste Test.

Well, I finally worked up the courage to give the world's hottest pepper a taste. I was cutting the peppers in half this weekend to speed the drying and cut a small sliver the size of 1/2 a grain of long grain rice. I popped it into my mouth and almost immediately spit it out as I could feel the burn happening. The burn continued to migrate to every part of the mouth so I'm glad I didn't try a larger piece or kept it in longer. The burn lasted a good 10-15 minutes. I made sure I cut the piece out of the wall of the pepper and not the placental membrane to which the seeds are attached - purported to be the hottest part of the pepper.

So it lives up to its reputation even when grown in less than ideal conditions in New Jersey. I would guess that smaller than grain of rice piece of Bhut Jolokia was the equivalent of a whole tiny round chilipiquin pepper. It also tastes much like a Habanero.

Interestingly, although the NMSU The Chili Pepper Institute mentions that the Bhut Jolokia pepper produce only very few seeds, but the peppers I grew have about 30 seeds in each pod. I expected about 5 seeds for each pod after reading the TCPI article.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bhut Jolokia (world's hottest pepper) update

I got tired bringing in the Bhut Jolokia pepper plants for the cold nights and taking them out on sunny days. My original intention was to see if I could overwinter the peppers indoors but the aphids infested the plants despite three sprayings of neem and insecticidal soap. The aphids hid under the leaves so it was difficult to knock them off with a blast of water from the hose and they seem to survive in enough numbers after the insecticidal spray and came back in ever greater numbers.

So, I picked the peppers. Hopefully there will be seeds to plant next year. The Bhut Jolokia peppers are purported to have only very few seeds in each pod so we'll see when I get enough courage to open one up for a taste. I only grew this variety of pepper this year so the plants should breed true.

Surprisingly there were a good many decent sized peppers on the little bush. The leaves hid many so I didn't realize 30+ peppers were growing on the bush. I'll let you know how hot those devils are. I don't think we have enough hot sunny days in New Jersey to develop the maximum hotness. At least that has been our experience growing Jalapenos, Tepin, Piquin, Thai, Cayenne peppers in previous years.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Fall colors of Japanese maple, Acer palmatum 'Sango kaku'

Acer palmatum, 'Sango kaku' 3 weeks ago. Leaves have a slight greenish tint.

'Sango kaku' one week ago - peak color.

Sango kaku today, Saturday November 08, 2008 - past peak but still nice. .

Another of the coral bark Japanese maples - 'Beni kawa', literally, red skin or bark.

The Japanese maple, Acer palmatum, 'Sango kaku' was nicely turning color just before I left on a trip to Seattle 2 weeks ago. I am amazed that almost all the leaves on the tree will turn at the same time with the exception of new branches that put on a growth spurt in late summer. When I got back from the trip, the tree was almost past peak and a week later definitely past it's prime but still quite nice to look at. We've had a mild fall so far and that accounts for the still good color.

This was a tree I almost gave up on. I planted it in a north western exposure where the winter winds blasted it unmercifully. After three years of no growth, I finally moved it to a sheltered place in the backyard and the tree immediately put on a growth spurt. When I bought the tree it was about 4 feet tall. It is now about 10 feet tall, more than double it's original size in 3 years.

If you plant but one Japanese maple, this cultivar would be my recommendation. Even after the leaves drop the red branches provide some color in an otherwise drab winter scene.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Camellia sasanqua

Returned from my trip to Seattle but unfortunately no pictures because I didn't take my camera - my free time was very limited and I didn't think I would see much to photograph. I did see a couple of interesting plants which I couldn't identify. One looked like a very attractive weed with dark green leaves and purple stem with small yellow flowers on stalks.

There were also many varieties of Japanese maples starting to turn. We lived in Seattle about 10 years ago and noticed the many Japanese maples planted in peoples yard but I didn't realize there were so many varieties - I just lumped them into one "Japanese maple" category. But even with the limited exposure to the Japanese maples I had this time, I noticed several different kinds by the leaf patterns.

Anyway, I'm back at home now and the Camellia sasanqua 'Marti' is in full bloom. It started blooming sporadically about 3 weeks ago. The Camellia japonica 'Spring's Promise' is full of buds too but has not bloomed yet.

I took these photos before I went on the trip.

The Tiarella I planted in late summer bloomed for the first time. I like this plant more and more.

The Corydalis 'Blackberry Wine Red' has been blooming quite a while now and seems to be unfazed by the frosty mornings we've experienced for the past week.

Flowers of the Italian basil. I find these small flowers quite charming though they usually remain unnoticed when the larger and more colorful, decorative flowers are in their full glory.

Thai basil flowers. I think these are even more attractive than the Italian basil.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Spring in Autumn?

We bought an end of season flowering cherry in mid-summer to replace a crab apple severely affected by cedar apple rust. Since we have many more cedar trees than crab apples it was easier to eliminate two rather than a dozen trees even if one of them was the cherished tree marking the grave of our much beloved cat, Wily. We planted the cherry to replace the crab apple marking the grave. I thought our cat wouldn't mind.

Surprisingly, the tree is blooming now! I take this as a sign Wily approves of the choice.

The mild fall we've been experiencing has the plants a bit confused. Bulbs are sprouting but not flowering in our yard. But I did see some crocus blooming in someone's yard today. The Golden Chain tree is also blooming but it has done that for a couple of years now.

The cherry tree is a Prunus ‘Accolade’ a hybrid cross between P. sargentii and P. subhirtella. We bought the tree without knowing what the flowers looked like because it didn't have a picture tag but with a name like accolade, I thought we couldn't miss and I was right. It has beautiful flowers.

Of the 5 different kinds of cherries growing in our yard, Kwanzan, Yoshino, weeping Higan Cherry?, purple-leafed Kwanzan and now Accolade, I am leaning toward the Accolade as my favorite. I think the very dark green leaves make a perfect backdrop for the semi double flowers. I can hardly wait for the real Spring to see it covered with flowers.

None of the other cherries have flowers or buds.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Anemones and Tricyrtis

Two Anemones I bought a couple of years ago are finally blooming. The first photo is Anemone Japonica 'Mont Rose'. Quite a lovely tall flower. It is a mystery that not many nurseries online offer this variety for sale.

The second Anemone may be A. 'Pamina' but I can't be sure. I received a very small plant and the leaves shriveled within a month so I thought it was dead and lost the name tag. But it sprouted again late next spring but it didn't flower. I thought it died again but it produced three small flowers this year so hopefully the plant will become more robust in a few years.

Anemone Japonica 'Mont Rose'.

Anemone hupehensis var. japonica 'Pamina'

More of the Tricyrtis we bought in late summer are blooming.
** Update. Well I really botched the identification of the Tricyrtis. The first one is actually T. lasiocarpa 'Amethystina' and it really is a beauty.

Tricyrtis lasiocarpa 'Amethystina'. In my opinion, a very beautiful toad lily. I've corrected the names of the other Tricyrtis too.

Two photos of Tricyrtis formosana 'Sinome'

Tricyrtis variegata

Tricyrtis formosana 'Dark Beauty'

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Wordless Wednesday? Not quite ...

Hydrangea paniculata 'Quick Fire'. Quick Fire is quick. It blooms about a month before Hydrangea paniculata floribunda or H. paniculata 'Lime Light'. I am a bit disappointed that the color isn't redder. The picture on the label was distinctly bright red. The plant has grown and filled out quite a lot, producing many more flowers as a result.

Hydrangea paniculata floribunda under mackerel skies. This is a prolific bloomer and surprisingly the flowers are a deeper dusky pink than the above H. paniculata 'Quick Fire'. Our favorite H. paniculata.

Deciduous Holly, Ilex verticillata 'Winter Gold' Winterberry.

Geranium 'Rozanne' still blooming.

Volunteer Ageratum. We planted Ageratum last year, but none this year. This one came up very late and is only blooming now. I wonder why it took so long for the seed to germinate? No other plant has appeared.

Black Cohosh.

Tricyrtis 'Togen'.

Tricyrtis formosana 'Gilt Edge'.
My Photo
Location: Zone 6, New Jersey, United States

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