Friday, September 30, 2011

Sunny Side Up

“The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four Americans is suffering from some
form of mental illness. Think of your three best friends. If they're okay, then it's you."
- Rita Mae Brown -

This week’s end of the week smile is an old advertisement. What’s with old ads and the weird-looking kids in them, anyway?

Nematanthus Gregarius

I first saw a Nematanthus gregarius, also known as the goldfish plant, in person, about 7 years ago at a Home Depot. This may sound surprising considering I’ve been growing houseplants for over two decades, but it’s true. I had seen pictures of the plant in some books I own, but it never really registered as interesting or very appealing. The pictures don’t do the plant much justice; it’s much more fascinating and attractive when you see it in person. And when I did finally see one up close, I couldn’t resist its charm. It was a tiny little specimen in a 2” hanging basket, the cutest thing I’d ever seen. So I took it home. And much to my surprise, it quadrupled in size the first year and showered me with flowers for nine straight months.

Originating from the tropical forests of Brazil, this lovely plant is just one of over 30 species of Nematathus, all of which produce flowers in varying shades of reds, yellows and oranges. Nematanthus gregarius belongs to the Gesneriad family, which consists of over 2,500 species of plants. Included in this large and diverse family are common favourites such as Episcia (Flame Violet), Sinningia speciosa (Florist Gloxinia), Streptocarpus (Cape Primrose), Achimenes (Cupid's Bower), Aeschynanthus (Lipstick Plant) and the best-known member of all: Saintpaulia (African Violet).

When goldfish plants are young, the stems grow upright. As they age, they tend to trail; this makes them a wonderful choice for hanging baskets. The tough, branching stems bear bright green, glossy leaves that are succulent and waxy. The foliage, which is small and oval in shape, grows to about ¾ to 1 ½ inches long. The plant produces orange, pitcher-like flowers on and off year round, but mostly during the warmer seasons. If given proper care, older plants can flower permanently for years. Really young plants may need to mature to about a year old before they begin to bloom.

Although I personally find this plant extremely easy to grow, I have run across houseplant growers – from novices to experts – who will tell you differently. I believe that the main complaint is the lack of blooms, which can be caused by improper care. Goldfish plants do not have many demands, and they do put up fairly well with slapdash care, but if you want to see any flowers, you will need to fulfill some of their needs.

Perhaps the most important requirement in keeping this plant in top shape, which in turn will encourage it to bloom, is adequate light. The Nematanthus gregarius needs a very brightly lit location. Place it where it can receive some direct or filtered sun; this will depend on which direction you choose to grow it in. Early morning eastern or late afternoon western direct sunshine can be handled very well; filter it with a sheer curtain if your plant shows signs that it is receiving too much light. Generally speaking, these locations are rarely a problem. A southern location that offers curtain-filtered sunshine is also a good choice; always make sure that your plant is protected from the hot, midday summer sun. During the cooler months, you can allow your plant to enjoy a few hours of direct sunshine in east or west locations, and a couple of hours in the southern ones (southeast, southwest). In any case, monitor your plant for signs of contentment or discontentment and adjust the light accordingly. If your plant is not flowering, it may need to be moved to a sunnier spot.

Goldfish plants have small root systems and are quite susceptible to rot. To avoid this problem, use a fast-draining, porous medium that will not stay soggy. Water regularly during the growing season and keep the medium evenly moist. Allow the plant to dry out slightly before watering again, but never allow it to dry out completely. If you do forget to water this plant and the soil dries completely, you will discover that Nematanthus gregarius is quite tolerant of drought and can go for a surprisingly long period without water (the succulent leaves help). But don’t take the plant’s tolerant nature for granted; there will come a time when your goldfish plant will not bounce back after one too many experiences with severe under-watering, so don’t make it a habit. During the cooler months, water more sparingly. You can switch to hydroculture; Goldfish plants are wonderful candidates. Take cuttings, root them in water and pot them up in clay pellets. Or rinse the roots free of soil and pot the plant in the clay medium. Both ways work.

As a tolerant plant, Nematanthus gregarius will put up with dry air. But it won’t be happy with it. In very low humidity, the plant will most likely not flower, and if it does produce a few blooms, they’ll probably drop prematurely, usually without even opening. In addition, dry air will invite pest infestations, particularly attacks from the insufferable spider mite, so increase the humidity if it’s too low. There are many ways to do this: pebble trays, double potting, grouping, humidifiers.

Average indoor temperatures are fine. The plant can tolerate levels down to 5°C (41°F) and survive, although I wouldn’t really recommend long-term exposure to such low temperatures. During the active growing season, feed regularly (about every two to three weeks) with any standard houseplant fertilizer at half recommended strength. Do not feed during the fall and winter.

When the colder months arrive, you may find that your plant has lost some of its luster and all of its flowers. Don’t despair. Your plant is trying to relay that it is in need of a resting period. You can continue to grow your plant as mentioned above, or you can assist in your plant’s preferred winter state: dormancy. If you wish to support your plant’s desire to take a snooze, place it in an area where temperatures are slightly cooler and light levels are slightly decreased (bright but not sunny). This extra nurturing is commendable but not absolutely necessary. I have never moved my plant to a cooler, shadier location, and it hasn’t seemed to care. It does stop flowering and growing new leaves during its rest period, but eventually it starts to put out new growth and produce an abundance of lovely blooms.

After your plant has finished flowering, you can cut it back to encourage branching and compact growth; regular pruning is essential if you want a full and bushy plant. Occasional pinching will also encourage the stems to branch; make sure you do not pinch where flowers are developing. Root the cuttings to create new plants. Repot overcrowded plants in a larger container, or divide them and pot them up in separate containers; this will increase your quantity of goldfish plants easily.

Nematanthus Gregarius, in my opinion is one of the easiest flowering plants you can grow indoors. Even when it’s not in bloom, this plant’s glossy foliage makes it an attractive specimen worthy of a bright spot in your home. With proper watering, adequate light, sufficient humidity and regular feeding during the growing season, you will be rewarded with beautiful foliage and flowers for many years to come.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tune Time – Ti Amo

A 1977 recording by Italian singer Umberto Tozzi from the album È nell'aria, this song was huge when I was in high school. Those of us who didn’t speak Italian had no clue what the words meant (aside from Ti Amo, which means I love you), but we didn’t care. We loved the song, regardless, and melted when a boy asked us to dance to it at one of those after school dances. I still enjoy listening to it. And it still makes me feel all warm and fuzzy...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Garden’s Fragrant Cloud

Also known as 'Duftwolke' and 'Nuage Parfume', Fragrant Cloud rose is one of the best-loved roses of the 20th century – and one of the best-loved in my garden.

The plant produces a steady procession of roses all season long, and the captivating blooms that are 3 1/2 to 5" wide have an intoxicating spicy aroma.

The blooms make beautiful cut flowers.

This plant has better-than-average disease resistance, is quite winter hardy (zones 5-10) and will grow anywhere from four to five feet tall.

If you’re looking to add roses to your garden, consider ‘Fragrant Cloud’. You won’t be disappointed.

Words Of Wisdom

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


It was a matter of time before I got to this rich, sweet recipe made with layers of filo, filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey. This is the most famous Greek dessert that you must try at some point. This recipe is a great way to do just that.


Ingredients For Pastry:

- 1 pound (4 cups) blanched almonds or walnuts or a combination of both, finely chopped
- 3/4 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 pound phyllo pastry
- 3 sticks (3/4 pound) unsalted butter, melted, for brushing phyllo

Ingredients For Syrup:

- 2 cups water
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- one 2-inch strip of lemon rind
- 3/4 cup honey


Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Combine nuts, sugar, and cinnamon. Keeping unused sheets covered with plastic wrap, place 8 sheets of phyllo pastry, one at a time, in bottom of an 8 x 14 x 2-inch pan, brushing each sheet with melted butter. Sprinkle top sheet generously with 1/4 cup nut mixture and cover with 2 buttered phyllo sheets. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup nut mixture. Continue adding buttered phyllo sheets, sprinkling every second sheet with nut mixture, until all nut mixture is used. Place remaining phyllo sheets on top, buttering each sheet.

Cut Baklava into small diamond-shaped pieces with a sharp knife. Place a pan of water on the lowest shelf in oven. Place Baklava on middle shelf above the water and bake for 2 to 21/2 hours, or until golden, making sure that the water pan is always full.

While Baklava is in the oven, prepare the syrup:

Combine in a saucepan water with all ingredients except honey. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add honey, and simmer 5 minutes more. Remove lemon peel and cool.

Remove Baklava from oven and pour cool syrup over hot pastry.

Note: Can be prepared and frozen, unbaked. When ready to use, bake, unthawed, in a 300-degree oven for 3 to 31/2 hours, or until golden.

Optional: The top of each Baklava piece can be studded with a single clove for decoration and flavor. (You don't eat the clove.)

Recipe yields 30 to 36 pieces.

Source: The Complete Book of Greek Cooking

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Sea Of Daisies

“The Amen of nature is always a flower.”
- Oliver Wendell Holmes -

What could be more heartwarming than a sea of daisies?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Saturday Silliness

This week’s silliness starts with yet another round of stupid criminals...

- In Redondo Beach, California, a police officer arrested a driver after a short chase and charged him with drunk driving. Officer Joseph Fonteno's suspicions were aroused when he saw the white Mazda MX-7 rolling down Pacific Coast Highway with half of a traffic-light pole, including the lights, lying across its hood. The driver had hit the pole on a median strip and simply kept driving. According to Fonteno, when the driver was asked about the pole, he said, "It came with the car when I bought it."

- In the middle of a blizzard, a New Jersey high school student decided it would be a good idea to rob the local 7-11. He walked to the store with a gun and stole $50. He walked back to his home, which was less than a mile away. The police followed the footprints to the young man's front door and arrested him.

- In Washington State, an obese man decided to rob a bank. Weighing more than three hundred pounds, the man went into the bank and announced his intentions.
The tellers handed the money over and the man promptly exited the bank. However, he had not planned well enough to have a getaway car. Running from the bank, the large man soon tired and had to pause for a break. While resting, the man was handcuffed and arrested by the bank security guard.

- Joseph Owens of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, didn't think police were listening to his complaints that someone was harassing him, so he came up with a brilliant plan. Owens convinced his friend to shoot him in the shoulder with a shotgun so police would take him seriously. After a trip to the emergency room, Owens faces up to four years in prison for filing a false police report.

- Karen Lee Joachimi, 20, was arrested for robbery of a Howard Johnson's motel. She was armed with only an electric chainsaw, which was not plugged in.

- One man thought a good way to rob a bank and not get caught was through the drive through. Pulling up to the window, he wrote the teller a note, demanding money. The man even went as far as to holding up a knife. Laughing hysterically, the woman called the police and the suspect was eventually apprehended.

- Police charged Gregory Rosa, 25, with a string of vending machine robberies when after he was arrested he tried to post his $400 bail in coins.

- Police in Los Angeles had good luck with a robbery suspect who just couldn't control himself during a lineup. When detectives asked each man in the lineup to repeat the words, "Give me all your money or I'll shoot," the man shouted, "That's not what I said!"

- Police in Oakland spent two hours attempting to subdue a gunman who had barricaded himself inside his home. After firing ten tear gas canisters, officers discovered that the man was standing beside them, shouting pleas to come out and give himself up.

- Police interrogated a suspect by placing a metal colander on his head and connecting it with wires to a photocopy machine. The message "He's lying" was placed in the copier, and police pressed the copy button each time they thought the suspect wasn't telling the truth. Believing the "lie detector" was working, the suspect confessed.

- R.C. Gaitlan, 21, walked up to two patrol officers who were showing their squad car computer felon-location equipment to children in a Detroit neighborhood. When he asked how the system worked, the officer asked him for identification. Gaitlan gave them his driver’s license, they entered it into the computer, and moments later they arrested Gaitlan because information on the screen showed Gaitlan was wanted for a two-year-old armed robbery in St. Louis, Missouri.

- Richard Avella, a 350 pound New York man, entered a Long Island jewelry store, drew a gun, and told the clerk, "This is a stick-up," then tripped and fell to the floor. He was unable to get up before police arrived.

- Ron Hoffman of Crystal, Kentucky, picked up a machete and lopped off the red roof light of a Pennsylvania state police cruiser. After his arrest, Hoffman explained it was "just something he always wanted to do..."

- Steven Richard King was arrested for trying to hold up a Bank of America branch without a weapon. King used a thumb and a finger to simulate a gun, but unfortunately, he failed to keep his hand in his pocket.

- The Ann Arbor News crime column reported that a man walked into a Burger King in Ypsilanti, Michigan at 7:50am, flashed a gun and demanded cash. The clerk turned him down because he said he couldn't open the cash register without a food order. When the man ordered onion rings, the clerk said they weren't available for breakfast. The man, frustrated, walked away.

- The two suspects had been apprehended and now sat in a courtroom at the defendant's table. A witness was on the stand being asked questions by the prosecutor. "And ma'am you say you were robbed of your purse on the street?" Yes sir, the witness answered. "And the two men who robbed you...are they here in the courtroom today?" Before the witness could answer both defendants raised their hands.

- Two criminals decided it would be genius to break into a bank from a neighboring building. They decided to drill through the wall so they could reach the bank’s vault. After hours of exhausting labor, they finally broke through. Upon entering the room, however, they discovered that had miscalculated the location of the vault and were instead standing in the middle of the restroom.

- Two men tried to pull the front off a cash machine by running a chain from the machine to the bumper of their pickup truck. Instead of pulling the front panel off the machine, though, they pulled the bumper off their truck. Scared, they left the scene and drove home. With the chain still attached to the machine. With their bumper still attached to the chain. With their vehicle's license plate still attached to the bumper.

- When a man attempted to siphon gasoline from a motor home parked on a Seattle street, he got much more than he bargained for. Police arrived at the scene to find an ill man curled up next to a motor home near spilled sewage. A police spokesman said that the man admitted to trying to steal gasoline and plugged his hose into the motor home's sewage tank by mistake.

- When his .38 caliber revolver failed to fire at his intended victim during a hold-up in Long Beach, California, robber James Eliot peered down the barrel and tried it again. This time, it worked.

- When Raymond Lutz was stopped for going 104 miles per hour in a 45 mph zone, he had a darn good reason. Lutz told Sheriff John Strandell that "he had just got done washing his truck and was trying to dry it off..."

- When Stan Caddell wanted to wash his Chevrolet, he backed the car into a foot of water in the Mississippi River at Hannibal, Missouri. When he got out to clean the car, it floated away. Police were able to retrieve the vehicle some distance downstream. According to an officer on the scene, no action would be taken against the driver because "you can't ticket a guy for being stupid..."

- When two service station attendants refused to hand over the cash to an intoxicated robber, the man threatened to call the police. They still refused, so the robber called the police and was arrested.

- William de Lashmutt of York County was fined $100 after he was stopped at a police checkpoint with a car license plate, registration, title and driver's license issued by "the Kingdom of Heaven..."

...and ends with this funny picture:

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sunny Side Up

“What this world needs is a new kind of army - the army of the kind.”
- Cleveland Amory -

I’m a sucker for a happy story, especially when it involves children and pets. This week’s end of the week smile is about a letter that a little girl sent to God after her dog died...and went to heaven. Very sweet...

A 4-year-old's Letter To God
-- Author unknown --

Our 14 year old dog, Abbey, died last month. The day after she died, my 4-year-old daughter Meredith was crying and talking about how much she missed Abbey. She asked if we could write a letter to God, so that when Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her. I told her that I thought we could, so she dictated these words:


Dear God,

Will you please take care of my dog? She died yesterday and is with you in heaven. I miss her very much. I am happy that you let me have her as my dog even though she got sick. I hope you will play with her. She likes to play with balls and to swim. I am sending a picture of her so when you see her you will know that she is my dog. I really miss her.

Love, Meredith.
(Written by the mother of Meredith Claire)


We put the letter in an envelope with a picture of Abbey and Meredith and addressed it to: God in Heaven. We put our return address on it. Then Meredith pasted several stamps on the front of the envelope because she said it would take lots of stamps to get the letter all the way to heaven. That afternoon she dropped it into the letter box at the post office.

A few days later, she asked if God had gotten the letter yet. I told her that I thought He had. Yesterday there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front porch addressed, "To Meredith" in an unfamiliar hand.

Meredith opened it. Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers, titled, "When a Pet Dies." Taped to the inside front cover was the letter we had written to God in its opened envelope. On the opposite page was the picture of Abbey & Meredith and this note:

Dear Meredith,

Abbey arrived safely in heaven. Having the picture was a big help. I recognized Abbey right away. Abbey isn't sick anymore. Her spirit is here with me just like it stays in your heart. Abbey loved being your dog. Since we don't need our bodies in heaven, I don't have any pockets to keep your picture in, so I am sending it back to you in this little book for you to keep and have something to remember Abbey by.

Thank you for the beautiful letter and thank your mother for helping you write it and sending it to me. What a wonderful mother you have. I picked her especially for you. I send my blessings every day and remember that I love you very much. By the way, I am wherever there is love.

"Love, God"


There is a kind soul working in the dead letter office of the U.S. Postal Service somewhere...

Pilea Cadierei

My very first book about indoor plants, which also continues to be one of my favourites, is ‘House Plants’ by Reader’s Digest that I picked it up back in the early 90s. ‘House Plants’ is a compact little gem filled with attractive colour photographs, sound advice and handy information. I don’t remember where I bought it but I do remember that it didn’t take long before it became my cherished ‘houseplant owner’s’ manual.

Things were much different back in those days than they are now. For one thing, there was no internet with its wealth of information; if you were a novice with a sincere interest in educating yourself about indoor gardening to better care for your plants, you couldn’t just surf the web. Your options were the following:

1. buy a book (or two or three) about houseplants

2. borrow a few books from the library, over and over again

3. pick the brains of people you know personally who have extensive experience in houseplant care (until you become a nuisance and they all start to avoid you)

4. drop by regularly (2, 3 or more times a week) at the local greenhouse to harass question the staff about houseplant care (until security arrives to escort you outside - again)

Option 3 was not good for me; most of my friends, relatives and neighbours are not experienced enough with indoor plants for it to be worth my while to annoy them with incessant questions. Option 4 was definitely out of the question; I’m not pushy enough to do that. Plus, the security guard encounter would have been more embarrassment than I can handle. And although I love bringing home books from the library, I couldn’t be bothered taking them back. That left what’s behind door number 1, which had a price tag attached to it, but was worth every cent. By investing in a good book that I read from front to back a multitude of times, I acquired considerable knowledge that, together with hands-on experience, paved the way to a greener thumb.

So this little book played a key role in my early houseplant days by teaching me some basic – but very important – skills that are required to succeed with indoor gardening. This in turn contributed to the wellbeing of my plants. But that’s not all it did. It also introduced me to the vast selection of houseplants that I had no idea existed. No matter how many times I went through this book, I couldn’t get over the plants depicted in the photos, plants I’d never seen in person - anywhere. And I certainly wanted many of them. Many, many of them.

On the umpteenth time of flipping through the pages of this book, I decided to add sticky notes to all the plants that I wanted to grow eventually – if I could find them. The list of houseplants that I longed for was quite long and included: Vriesea splendens (Flaming Sword), Beaucarnea recurvata (Ponytail Palm), Aphelandra squarrosa (Zebra Plant), Sansevieria trifasciata (Snake Plant), Ficus elastica (Rubber Plant), Araucaria heterophylla (Norfolk Island Pine), Neoregelia carolinae Tricolor (Blushing Bromeliad), Aechmea fasciata (Urn Plant), Maranta leuconeura (Prayer Plant), Cordyline terminalis (Ti Plant) and numerous others.

I flipped through my Reader’s Digest book a few days ago and was surprised to find that I have, at some point, grown almost every single plant that I had marked with a sticky note. And the plant I’m writing about today is Pilea cadierei, which may not be one of my top ten favourites, but it certainly is pretty enough to mention.

Caring For The Aluminum Plant

Pilea cadierei, native to Vietnam, is grown for its beautifully-variegated foliage. With fleshy leaves that look like they’ve been splashed with ‘aluminum’ paint, this Pilea is generally quite easy to grow, even for beginners. An interesting thing that I read in my RD book about this plant is that the silver markings on the leaves are raised, giving the foliage a quilted look. I’ve never really noticed this, to be honest, and if I had a Pilea cadierei growing in my home right now, which I don’t, I’d take a closer look to see if this is true. In the meantime, I’ll just take my book’s word for it. Or you can check the leaves of your own Pilea cadierei, if you have one, and let me know. This effect, by the way, is caused by pockets of air under the upper surface of the leaf. Or so I’m told. Fascinating, no?


Pilea cadierei does not need to bask in the southern sun all year round; the leaves will probably burn to a crisp in such a location. Nor does it want to be placed in a shady position the whole twelve months. What it wants is good light, year round, which may require a change in its location when the low light seasons (fall and winter) shift to the high light periods (spring and summer) – and vice versa. Without sufficient light, it will grow leggy and quite unattractive – very quickly. And with too much light, it will sunburn.


During the fall and winter, place your plant near a window that offers very bright light. I would also suggest allowing it to enjoy some direct early morning eastern or late afternoon western sun. In a southern location, you can attempt a couple of hours of direct light through a sheer curtain and watch your plant for signs of contentment or discontentment. If your Pilea can handle the direct sun, great, if not, filter it through a sheer curtain, move the plant further back from the window or try another location, like the east or western ones.

When the spring and summer seasons arrive, curtain-filtered sunlight in the east or west should be handled very well. During this period, especially in mid-summer, move your plant out of the direct path of sunlight if you have it in a southern location; always protect it against the strong, midday rays of the warmest months of the year. You can attempt to grow your plant in a northern location, right up against a window where it may do reasonably well during the spring and summer, maybe, but I won’t recommend it as an ideal location, particularly during the fall and winter days.

The plant will thrive in a room where it’s warm but not too hot. Average home temperatures between 18°C (65°F) – 24°C (75°F) are ideal, although not much of a fuss will be made if levels go as low as 16°C (60°F) or as high as 27°C (80°F) or 29°C (85°F). Although the plant would prefer to be placed in areas where it’s not too hot, it will tolerate warmer temperatures that are imposed upon it if the humidity is high (above 60 percent). Make sure to protect against the cold; keep your plant out of the direct path of cold drafts and move it off the windowsill on frosty nights.

Plenty of humidity, between 40 to 60 percent, is required to keep your Pilea happy. If the air is too dry, the tips and margins of the leaves will turn brown and crispy, and an invitation will be sent to overjoyed spider mites to move in. Improve humidity levels by placing your plant on a pebble tray, by keeping a humidifier nearby, by double-potting and filling the space between the containers with damp peat moss, by grouping plants together to form a microclimate with higher humidity or by growing your plant in a room where humidity is naturally higher.

Use an airy, quick-draining soil and keep it evenly moist during the warmest months of the year. Allow it to dry slightly between each watering session, and then water thoroughly. During the cooler months, water carefully to avoid rot; allow the soil to dry out a little more. Never let the soil dry out completely; the plant does not handle drought very well. The root system of this plant is quite small therefore repotting is seldom needed. Pinch out growing tips regularly to keep the plant shrubby. Cut back the plant to rejuvenate it when it starts to become leggy and unappealing. Shower the plant frequently to keep pests at bay.

Switch to hydroculture for an alternative growing style. Conversion is fairly quick with few signs of stress. You can transplant the entire specimen, or you can take cuttings (the easiest way), root them in water and then plant them in clay pebbles when water roots form. If you decide to transfer from soil to pellets from the get go, provide your plant with high levels of humidity to help it get through the transition effortlessly.

No matter how experienced a grower you are, you cannot stop the inevitable demise of the Pilea cadierei. As it ages, it will eventually get so leggy and unattractive that it’ll end up in the trash. Under the most ideal conditions, you can expect 4 or 5 good years with this plant, although I’d say about 2 or 3 is more realistic. Cuttings root very easily, so instead of trying to retain old specimens year after year with incessant pinching and pruning, which will eventually not make much of a difference, start new plants each spring.

Pilea cadierei may not be one of my top ten favourites, or anyone else’s for that matter, but it’s so easy to grow that you end up picking one up just for that reason alone. It’s a plant that strokes your plant-growing ego when some of the others – like the Alocasia – bruise it. And we all need a little ego stroking now and then, no matter how experienced – or not - we are with houseplants.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tune Time – At Seventeen

Released in 1975, this song is Janis Ian’s most successful recording; it is a commentary on adolescent cruelty, the illusion of popularity and teenage angst. It is told from the point of view of a woman who was an ‘ugly duckling’ at that age, and completely ignored in high school. (Lyrics below)

At Seventeen

I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth...

And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone
Who called to say "come dance with me"
And murmured vague obscenities
It isn't all it seems at seventeen...

A brown eyed girl in hand me downs
Whose name I never could pronounce
Said: "Pity please the ones who serve
They only get what they deserve"
The rich relationed hometown queen
Marries into what she needs
With a guarantee of company
And haven for the elderly...

So remember those who win the game
Lose the love they sought to gain
In debitures of quality and dubious integrity
Their small-town eyes will gape at you
In dull surprise when payment due
Exceeds accounts received at seventeen...

To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
the world was younger than today
when dreams were all they gave for free
to ugly duckling girls like me...

We all play the game, and when we dare
We cheat ourselves at solitaire
Inventing lovers on the phone
Repenting other lives unknown
That call and say: "Come on, dance with me"
And murmur vague obscenities
At ugly girls like me, at seventeen...

Today's Trivia - Bats

Because of folklore, superstitions and Hollywood-style horror movies, people associate bats with vampires, haunted houses, witches and an assortment of spooky and evil things. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, not only are these creatures gentle, they are one of the most beneficial mammals around (yes, folks, bats are mammals, like us, NOT rodents...). These flying mammals are extremely vital to the survival of plants and animals. If the imperative pest control that bats provide came to an end, tons of pests would be left to destroy crops and spread disease.

Below are some interesting and “useful” little-known facts about bats. I urge you to take a moment and learn a little about these fascinating animals, which hopefully will help change your mind about them.

- There are about 1,100 bat species worldwide.

- About seventy percent of bats are insectivores. Most of the rest are frugivores, or fruit eaters. A few species such as the Fish-eating Bat feed from animals other than insects, with the vampire bats being the only mammalian parasite species.

- Bats are present throughout most of the world and perform vital ecological roles such as pollinating flowers and dispersing fruit seeds.

- Many tropical plant species depend entirely on bats for the distribution of their seeds.

- Kitti's Hog-nosed Bat, also known as the bumblebee bat, is the smallest species of bat (it’s 1.1 to 1.3 inches long and weighs about 0.071 ounces) and may be the world’s smallest mammal, depending on how size is defined.

- The largest species of bat is the Giant Golden-crowned Flying-fox, which is about 13 ½ inches long, has a wingspan of almost five feet and weighs approximately 2–3 pounds.

- Apart from the Arctic, the Antarctic and a few isolated oceanic islands, bats exist all over the world.

- Although the eyes of most bat species are small and poorly developed, leading to poor visual acuity, none of them are blind.

- Bats hunt at night to avoid competition with birds.

- Bats travel long distances in their search for food.

- The wings of bats are much thinner than those of birds, so bats can maneuver more quickly and more accurately than birds.

- The teeth of microbats are very sharp; they are able to bite through the hardened armor of insects or the skin of fruit.

- Bats make up the second largest order of mammals in the world.

- Bats rarely fly in rain as the rain interferes with their echo location, and they are unable to locate their food.

- The social structure of bats varies, with some bats leading a solitary life and others living in caves colonized by more than a million bats.

- 70% of bat species are insectivorous. Of the remainder, most feed on fruits. Only three species sustain themselves with blood.

- Bats use echolocation to locate and catch their prey. When bats fly, they produce a constant stream of high-pitched sounds that only bats are able to hear. When the sound waves produced by these sounds hit an insect or other animal, the echoes bounce back to the bat, and guide them to the source.

- When bats that eat insects are on the lookout for food, their rate of pulse emission is low, around ten pulses per second. However, once they zero in on their prey, they can emit as high as two hundred pulses per second when chasing their prey.

- Many garden insects and pests can hear a bat coming.

- Predators of bats include bat hawks and bat falcons.

- Bats may have one to three litters in a season. Females generally have one offspring at a time, which could be a result of the mother's need to fly to feed while pregnant.

- Female bats nurse their youngsters until they are nearly adult size; this is because a young bat cannot forage on its own until its wings are fully developed.

- Female bats use a variety of strategies to control the timing of pregnancy and the birth of young, to make delivery coincide with maximum food ability and other ecological factors.

- Females of some species have delayed fertilization, in which sperm are stored in the reproductive tract for several months after mating. In many such cases, mating occurs in the fall, and fertilization does not occur until the following spring. Other species exhibit delayed implantation, in which the egg is fertilized after mating, but remains free in the reproductive tract until external conditions become favorable for giving birth and caring for the offspring. In yet another strategy, fertilization and implantation both occur but development of the fetus is delayed until favorable conditions prevail. All of these adaptations result in the pup being born during a time of high local production of fruit or insects. (This is simply amazing...)

- A single bat can live over 20 years, but the bat population growth is limited by the slow birth rate.

- The bat droppings found in caves support whole ecosystems of unique organisms, including bacteria useful in detoxifying wastes, improving detergents, and producing gasohol and antibiotics.

- Tropical bats are key elements in rain forest ecosystems, which rely on them to pollinate flowers and disperse seeds for countless trees and shrubs.

- Desert ecosystems rely on nectar-feeding bats as primary pollinators of giant cacti, including the famous organ pipe and saguaro of Arizona.

- Each bat is typically able to consume one third of its body weight in insects each night, and several hundred insects in a few hours. This means that a group of one thousand bats could eat four tons of insects each year.

- If bats were to become extinct, the insect population is calculated to reach an alarmingly high number.

- Bats’ dung, or guano, is so rich in nutrients, that it is mined from caves, bagged, and used by farmers to fertilize their crops.

- Guano was used in the U.S. Civil War to make gunpowder.

- Bats consume huge amounts of flies, gnats, mosquitoes, beetles, and cockroaches, as well as other insects. Without the natural pest control that bats provide, literally tons of pests would be left to destroy crops and spread disease.

- Bats are slow to reproduce. Mothers usually give birth to a single pup per year.

- Female bats are caring mothers; they typically nurse their young for six months, and often coo to their pups as a human mother coos to her baby. cute...)

- Even though pups stay in a nursery which may contain millions of other pups, the mother bats can locate their own babies by their particular squeal and scent.

- Most bats do not drink blood. Of the more than 1100 species of bats, only three feed on blood. Two of these species of bats will only drink the blood of birds. The third type, known as the common vampire bat, will drink the blood of cows and other large animals, but only if the victim is asleep. These vampire bats are afraid of moving animals.

- Some seeds will not sprout unless they have passed through the digestive system of a bat. Fruit bats spread millions of seeds every year from the ripe fruit they eat, thus helping many types of plants and trees to grow and bear more fruit. Ninety-five percent of tropical rainforest reforestation is a result of this seed dispersal from bats.

- Like honeybees, some species of bats pollinate plants. In fact, some types of plants would not survive without the bats that feed on their nectar and pollen. Avocados, bananas, peaches, mangos, figs, and dates are all pollinated by bats, and would have a hard time reproducing without this service.

- The largest urban bat colony in the world is in Austin, Texas. Crowds gather nightly to watch 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats shoot out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge. The bats leave their home each evening and eat thousands of pounds of insects, including numerous agricultural pests. (You go, bats...)

- Bats have a built-in sonar system that allows them to navigate by sound, rather than sight. This echolocation system is so sensitive that bats are able to detect an object as fine as a strand of hair or the footsteps of an insect.

- Bats have been around a long time, since the age of dinosaurs.

- The bat’s fingers are very long compared to its body. If we had fingers like a bat, they would be longer than our legs!

- As winter approaches, a large portion of bats migrate hundreds of kilometers to a warmer climate. Some enter a torpor state in cold weather, rousing and feeding when warm weather allows for insects to be active. Others retreat to caves for hibernate, sleeping together in groups of hundreds for warmth.

- Bats represent about twenty percent of all classified mammal species.

- Mother bats have one baby in their litter; it is called a "pup." When a pup is born, it usually has no hair and its eyes are closed. It clings to the mother bat and drinks milk from her. When the pup is about four months old, it learns to fly.

- Although some people say all bats look like flying mice, their heads sometimes look like tiny dogs, bears or foxes.

- Depending on the species, bats can be gray, brown, white or reddish brown.

- Bats are very sociable animals, and live in large colonies.

- Bats like to live in dark places. Caves, holes in trees and even buildings are favorite homes.

- Bats sleep upside down. They use their feet to grasp onto a twig or board, and when it is cold, they hang close together.

- Fewer than 2% of bats submitted for testing have rabies (2% of all bats acting strangely, dead, or have possibly bitten a human or pet). In the overall population, this percentage would be much lower.

- Rabid bats often lose their ability to fly, or do not fly well. They rarely become aggressive.

- Bats are very clean animals; they groom themselves regularly.

- When moths hear the echolocation calls of bats, they are known to protect themselves. They do this by dropping to the ground, trying to escape.

- The footsteps of a beetle can be heard by an African heart–nosed bat from a distance of more than 6 feet.

- An anticoagulant found in the vampire bat’s saliva may soon be used to treat human heart patients and stroke victims.

- Little Brown bats are able to bring down their heart rate to 20 beats per minute and can even stop breathing for 48 minutes at a time, while in hibernation.

- Tiny Woolly bats of West Africa can be found in the large webs of colonial spiders.

- Some bat species eat small frogs, lizards, birds and fish.

- Frog-eating bats can distinguish between an edible and an inedible (poisonous) frog by listening to the mating calls of male frogs.

- To attract their mates during courtship, male Gambian epauletted bats of Africa are blessed with pouches in their shoulders that contain large, showy patches of white fur. The Chapin's free - tailed bats have large tufts of white hair on top of their heads which they use for the same purpose.

- Bats are the only mammals that can fly.

- A mother bat can locate her pup (baby) out of millions in a roost, by tracking down its scent and sound. (Moms are so great...)

- Agricultural plants like bananas, bread-fruit, mangoes, cashews, dates and figs rely on bats for pollination and seed dispersal.

- Bats seldom transmit disease to other animals or even humans.

- During winter hibernation, Red Bats can withstand body temperatures as low as 23 degrees.

- Many species of bats roost together in large groups known as colonies.

- Studies have indicated that the Old World fruit bats and flying foxes might have descended from early primates.

- Honduran white bat is completely white in color, with the exception of a yellow nose and ears.

- Vampire bats are one of the few mammals who risk their own lives to share food with the less fortunate roost-mates.

- A colony of 150 big brown bats can protect local farmers from up to 18 million or more rootworms each summer. (Wow...)

- The 20 million Mexican free-tails from Bracken Cave, Texas, eat 250 tons of insects nightly.

- Tequila is produced from agave plants whose seed production drops to 1/3,000th of normal without bat pollinators.

- Contrary to popular belief, bats are not blind.

- Nearly 40% of American bat species are in severe decline or already listed as endangered. Losses are occurring at alarming rates worldwide. (Very sad...)

- The common little brown bat of North America can live up to 33 years, though the average lifespan is shorter since about 50% of little brown bats die in their first year.

- Mexican free-tailed bats sometimes fly up to two miles high to feed or to catch tailwinds that carry them over long distances at speeds of more than 60 miles per hour.

- The pallid bat of western North America is immune to the stings of scorpions and even the seven-inch centipedes upon which it feeds.

- Fishing bats have echolocation so sophisticated that they can detect a minnow's fin as fine as a human hair protruding only two millimeters above a pond's surface.

- Red bats, which live in tree foliage throughout most of North America, can withstand body temperatures as low as 23 degrees during winter hibernation.

- The Honduran white bat is snow white with a yellow nose and ears. It cuts large leaves to make "tents" that protect its small colonies from jungle rains.

- Vampire bats adopt orphaned bats. (Sweet...)

- Male epauletted bats have pouches in their shoulders that contain large, showy patches of white fur, which they flash during courtship to attract mates.

- Bats sleep during the day and feed at night. The place that bats sleep in is called the "roost”.

- Bats emit ultrasonic sounds to communicate with each other.

- Bats always turn left when exiting a cave.

- African heart-nosed bats have a keen sense of sound; they can hear the footsteps of a beetle walking on sand from six feet away.

- Vampire bat saliva has been responsible for many advances in research into stroke recovery.

- Contrary to popular belief, there never has been a bat stuck in someone’s hair.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

September’s Still Blooming

I’ve started cleaning up and putting away garden décor while the weather is still warm enough to handle a garden hose comfortably. It’s a depressing job, to say the least, since it’s a reminder that winter is on its way with its short days and cold days and snowy days. Ugh...

But until such time, I am still enjoying some flowers in the garden. Hey, I’ll take whatever my garden has to offer.

Not all the photos below are recent (some were taken last month), but most of the plants producing these lovely blooms are still going strong. I’m hoping they hang on for a little while longer.

Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’

Rosa ‘Fragrant Cloud’

Echinacea ‘Hot Papaya’ keeping company with Rudbeckia goldsturm.

Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’

Rosa ‘Morden Sunrise’

Gaillardia ‘Dazzler’

The bees just love these flowers!

Weigela ‘French Lace’ (back in bloom)

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Sonora’

Helenium ‘Ruby Tuesday’

Rudbeckia ‘Autumn Sun’

Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Summer Nights’

Tricyrtis ‘Empress’

Rudbeckia goldsturm

That’s it for this week’s garden post. Have a great day, everyone.