Thursday, 24 September 2020

tweeblaarkanniedood

The unique monotypic gymnosperm Welwitschia mirabilis, native to the deserts of Namibia and Angola was first taxonomically described according to European conventions by its namesake botanist Doktor Friedrich Welwitsch (*1806 – †1874, also credited with the discovery of the Rhipsalis baccifera, the only cactus that naturally occurs outside of the Americas).
Also going by the Afrikaans designation above meaning two-leaves-cannot-die, most of the plant is underground in the form of a taproot like trunk and sprouting a pair of leaves that branch off into smaller clusters and can thrive for millennia. Believed to be the missing link between coniferous plants and the true flowering variety (angiosperm), Weltwitschia are postulated to be the first to rely on insects for pollination and have become a national symbol, featured on the compartment of the coat of arms of Namibia along with the country’s motto.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

the creeping devil

A native of Baja California, we find ourselves acquainted with another succulent uniquely sessile in its motility. Colonies of the species Stenocereis Eruca grow recumbently and live up to their common nomenclature as they advance across the desert floor, growing from one terminus, up to a metre and a half per year, as the tail end dies, disintegrates and re-fertilises the sandy soil as it deposits a trail behind. Learn more about the cactus’ distinctive lifecycle at the link above.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

rose of jericho

Via the always wonderful and inspiring Nag on the Lake we are introduced to a shrub called Selaginella lepidophylla—a type of resurrection plant—that can cope with the arid and punishing conditions of its native habitat, the deserts of Chihuahua, and survive unscathed near complete desiccation.
During periods of drought—and researchers are looking into how they might reactivate the same dormant genes in food crops to make them sturdier under dry conditions—the plant, also known as the (False) Rose of Jericho, curls up into a ball when dry and unfurls its fronds upon re-hydration and has evolved another clever trick as has its North African cousin—Anastatica hierochuntica, the (True) Rose of Jericho—and can form tumbleweeds to be whisked away to a more favourable location. Since ancient times, farmers (and hucksters) have recognised resurrection plants as vegetable hygrometer to predict oncoming rain. See a time-lapse of the thirsty plant getting a drink at the link above.

Monday, 17 July 2017

itsy, bitsy or swimsuit edition

Over at Weird Universe, they’ve posted a pair of newspaper clipping from 1939 and 1940 that show models sporting a sun dress and hula skirt (respectively as the term bikini was not coined until 1946 as a rather dark reference to the Bikini Atoll, a captured Nazi Pacific outpost—in German it was known formally as the Eschholtzinseln whereas bikini meant the place of coconuts in Marshallese—where the US, in Operation Cross-Roads, carried out its first peace-time nuclear test) that celebrate the bounty of the harvest and local vegetation.
The prickly cactus two-piece swimwear model apparently in fact made it into the annuls of contemporary German propaganda as an indictment against America for its lack of good taste and sophistication, although those associated with the shoot were more upset that the dateline was wrongly attributed to Florida rather than the desert southwest of Arizona where members of the sponsoring Sunshine Club gathered.

Monday, 3 July 2017

halophyte

To be able to adequately feed ourselves, conserve our biosphere and transition away from fossil-fuels and release carbon that albeit isn’t without consequence but was only not sequestered for millions of years and so have a zero-sum effect on the atmosphere, we are going to have to be willing to cede lands back to Nature and no longer encroach on wildness.
One solution, as ร†on magazine puts forward, is to expand into those brackish, liminal lands and coastal deserts and bring with us those few, little studied salt-water tolerant plant varieties to raise food crops or bio-fuels. Whereas most plant-species that we are familiar with a cultivated, agricultural sense wither and die in the presence of salt—sowing tracts of land with salt was from ancient times a way to discourage re-settlement, dying the death that’s on one level equivalent to the effects of carbon-monoxide poisoning for mammals. Interest is building slowly, but with limited fresh water supplies also creeping upwards in salinity, hopefully a new approach to farming could help prevent further injury to both flora and fauna.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

haber process

Informed by Super Punch, The Atlantic presents a primer in a geopolitical snarl that’s potentially more significant for humanity’s surviving and thriving than the cartel of petroleum producing countries and all the economic booms, bubbles and bursting of the past: the virtual phosphate monopoly held by Morocco and its contested territory of Western Sahara.
Back in 1918, chemist Fritz Haber was awarded the Nobel Prize for inventing the process that fixed atmospheric nitrogen to phosphate to synthesize ammonia for fertilizers and other applications that allowed the world population to climb to the billions through improved agriculture—and while nitrogen is essentially unlimited, phosphate is finite and there’s no substitute. Currently, Morocco—which is very sensitive on the subject of Western Sahara, akin to a One China Policy or Kurdish independence but the controversy has been successfully muted and the plight of the aboriginal Sahwari people is largely unknown—cannot leverage the rest of the world with its reserves but that could change any moment, with wealth-redistribution and climate change, and suddenly food-security might mean that the Earth can no longer sustain us in the lifestyle we’ve grown accustomed to.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

offworld colonies

Messy Nessy Chic transports us to the Mojave Desert where NASA and visionary artist and Andrea Zettler share the other worldly landscape for the elective and investigative outdoors activities.
While the space agency is field testing accom- modations for the Moon, Mars and beyond, Zettler is expanding on a dream to camp like alien with these fantastic self-contained pods that recede into their surroundings. Zettler’s science-fiction รฆsthetic is an exploration that certainly has the potential for cross-over into the realm of applied engineering and design, as well as the social needs of people living in isolation. Learn more about the Wagon Station Encampment in the deserts outside of Joshua Tree at the link up top.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

oasis or mรถbius-farm

Via the brilliant Nag-on-the-Lake, a company by the name of OAXIS is pitching the concept of a long train of modular green-house cars to help alleviate the monetary and environmental costs of exporting produce to arid countries. Relying on solar power to both grow the food and to transport it—the system running on a continuous loop, a conveyer belt—sort of like those sushi diners where entrees are constantly being replenished—the green-house units are slowly rolled out into the desert for cultivation within a closed-system to better capture water and nutrients for reuse and then returned to the city for harvest and local distribution. The idea is certainly visually stunning and presents an elegant solution, opposed to the fields of plastic sheeting or water-intensive putting greens of more traditional methods.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

cactus is our friend, he will point out the way

The prickly pear or paddle cactus has sprouted dozens of hands and continues to grow. With each new bud, I speculate whether it is a fig blooming or another new appendage, and the cactus spreads. The scientific name for the genus is Opuntia, after the Greek settlement of the Locrian tribe. The Homeric figure of Patroclus was from this region and forty black ships assailed Troy from here under the leadership of Ajax. This cactus is a new world species, from Mexico, but does thrive in the Mediterranean as well. I don’t see the connection between our brave little cactus and the Iliad but other new world oddities, like the strange Echidna of Australia, after the mother of all monsters in Hesiod’s Theogony, are given fanciful old world designations, as well as wholly newly discovered worlds. According to some traditions, though, one of the hundred-handed giants, the Hekatonkheires (the Centimani in Latin), lived in the surrounding region of Euboea, where the Locri were located, as challenger for Poseidon for control of the Aegean, the monster having invented the warship to further his claim by proxy. I could imagine the resemblance there and an inventive etymology.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

orchestra baobab

We have a venerable old Affenbrot-baumchen (Monkey Bread Tree, Baobab or Adansonia) growing against the window pane for support. Without a prop, the young clones grow sort of crooked and ratty, like another one of my ugly plants, also an old Baobab, gnarled and twisted like a genie forced back into the bottle, growing slowly inside a honey jar.
Having found it abandoned in a vacated office, I am not sure how old the less-manicured plant is--the bits of leaves, however, that fall off of that one when they become too unbalanced have produced some mighty sprouts that have become plants in their own right. The tree in the window, we noticed, is beginning to blossom, an occurrence that's never happened with this one before and does not, apparently, happen until the plant is at least eight to ten years old. In India and Madagascar, there are groves of the trees that are over five-thousand years old. Next comes bread-fruit (Gongalis) but I am not sure just when that crop comes.
There are a lot of traditional uses for the plant's seeds and produce, but the fruit apparently has an acquired taste and even local lore has it that the gods were so revolted by the taste that they cursed the tree to grow topsy-turvy, crooked and ratty.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

blรผmchen

Every spring, one little, rather horizontal cactus blooms with vibrantly red flowers that cascade over the window ledge. For this monumental effort, there ought to be a very local festival in honor of this accomplishment, like harvest celebrations or Spargelzeit (Asparagus Time) in Germany. The gardens put on dazzling, perennial shows of their own too. I have never seen, however, the big schefflera tree in the corner go to fruit and flower before.
Sometimes they are called umbrella plants but I call it a big old mall tree, for the potted tropical vegetation one finds larger shopping galleries. They have no fragrance and these little grape-like clusters have just now bloomed but I will have to monitor them. It seems strange that such a lush plant has maybe anticlimactic blossoms, while a creeping, fuzzy desert plant would put forth such a performance.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

strange blooms

How does your garden grow?  The geraniums on the balcony and all the greenery survived in our absense, and even the more unusual plants are starting to blossom.  There are two cactuses in the window, one that has these bright red drooping flowers alternating years and this other who sends out bizarre alien feeler antennae.  This other plant lives in a glass Bier MaรŸ and leaves under the soil where daylight can get in. Also every other year, it sprouts weird, little and sticky white flowers.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

ersatz

Quite possibly it is acceptable, from time to time, to fool Mother Nature. Either manifested as these great fly-swatters in the desert or as a non-descript kiosk about the size of a bank of public toliets, environmental researchers are developing a pretend tree of sorts--one that can snatch and sequestir stray carbon in the atmosphere. It doesn't seem like a great improvement from the original design, at first, since trees rather just happen and one only has to take care not to cut them down. These synthetic trees, however, grab carbon dioxide from any source (though it's not as if real trees are discriminatory and insistent on taking carbon dioxide only exhaled from the lungs they gave oxygen to) year round (trees only breath-in for half a year) and inside of producing wood pulp or fruit, the carbon collected can be compressed and liquified for other uses.

In other ugly plant news: the EU has lifted a regulation governing the aesthetics of produce on grocery shelves. The headlines read praise all-around for lifting the almost 20 year ban on wonky fruit and veg. Apparently, there was a law stipulating that 26 varieties of fruits and vegetables ought to be show-bread material, defining roundness and uniformity standards, while perfectly edible knobby carrots and lumpy tomatoes were wasted. This is a good thing, to not associate nutrition with the ideal apple or pear. Maybe shoppers were just averse to finding suggestive plant bits in their shopping carts--a great phallic cucumber or hinder-shaped apricots like H and saw at the super market, yesterday, just hours after the ban was rescinded.