Tag Archives: botany

How Many Ostriches Do You See?

How many ostriches do you see sitting in the fynbos (fine bush) of the Cape Peninsula near the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa?  I saw only one when I took the photograph. Although the ostrich is the largest of all birds, it hides very nicely in these bushes.

How many ostriches do you see sitting in the fynbos (fine bush) of the Cape Peninsula near the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa? I saw only one when I took the photograph. Although the ostrich is the largest of all birds, it hides very nicely in these bushes. Click on the photo to get a better look.

I saw only one ostrich when I took this photograph near the Cape of Good Hope on the Cape Peninsula of South Africa in January 2013.  The ostrich is the largest bird in the world. How did I miss the other ones when I was taking the photo? Maybe because I ran back to the car as soon as I clicked the shutter a few times! Do you see the beak on that bird in front? He looks mad! (My companions took photos, too. I wonder how many ostriches were in their photos.)

I knew not to get close to this irascible bird. I was nearly pecked in the face by an ostrich in a zoo.  He came to the fence where I stood. He looked me in the eye and then attacked.  (He had big, beautiful brown eyes.) Thankfully, the fence stopped him from making contact with my face.

An ostrich struts his stuff near Cape Point in South Africa.

An ostrich struts his stuff near Cape Point in South Africa.

The ostriches in my photo were well disguised while sitting in the fynbos (fine bush) vegetation, which includes proteas, heath and reeds.  The Cape of Good Hope is part of the Cape Floristic Kingdom, the smallest but richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms, which includes 1,100 species of indigenous plants, many of which only occur naturally in the Cape area. There is also a lot of wildlife in the area, including baboons and antelope. Several species of whales can be spotted offshore, although we had missed the season, which is June to November.

A Cape Sugarbird sits in a Protea bush near the Vasco Da Gama monument near the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

A Cape Sugarbird sits in a Protea bush near the Vasco Da Gama monument near the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. The Cape Peninsula is home to 250 species of birds, including the African penguin.

Before visiting the Cape, I didn’t know much more about the area than the names of some European explorers, such as Bartholomeu Dias, who first rounded the Cape in 1488.  The Cape of Good Hope marks the point where a ship from Europe, following the western African coastline, begins to travel more eastward than southward. Portugal’s King John II named this area “Cape of Good Hope.” Bartholomeu Dias first named it the “Cape of Storms” in 1488 (it is very windy here). In 1580 Sir Francis Drake who called it the “The Fairest Cape in all the World.”

Europeans began exploring the African coast in the last 15th century after the Turkish empire blocked routes to the Far East. Limestone pillars (padrao) dedicated to two early Portuguese explorers Bartholomeu Dias and Vasco Da Gama are in the Cape Point area.

Europeans began exploring the African coast in the last 15th century after the Turkish empire blocked routes to the Far East. Limestone pillars (padrao) dedicated to two early Portuguese explorers Bartholomeu Dias and Vasco Da Gama are in the Cape Point area.

This display in the Buffelsfontein Vistors Centre shows flowers that are in bloom in January 2013 on the Cape Penisula. The Cape Floristic Kingdom is the smallest but richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms, which includes 1,100 species of indigenous plants, many of which only occur naturally in the Cape area.

This display in the Buffelsfontein Vistors Centre shows flowers that are in bloom in January 2013 on the Cape Penisula. The Cape Floristic Kingdom is the smallest but richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms, which includes 1,100 species of indigenous plants, many of which only occur naturally in the Cape area.

This is the hearth from a farm near Cape Point in South Africa that Charles Darwin visited in May 1836 while on the voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle. The hearth is now in the Buffelsfontein Visitors Center in the the Cape Point area of Table Mountain National Park in South Africa. The Beagle set sail from England in 1931. The Cape's enormous floral and fauna diversity must have fascinated Darwin.

This is the hearth from a farm near Cape Point in South Africa that Charles Darwin visited in May 1836 while on the voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle. The hearth is now in the Buffelsfontein Visitors Center in the the Cape Point area of Table Mountain National Park in South Africa. The Beagle set sail from England in 1931. The Cape’s enormous floral and fauna diversity must have fascinated Darwin.

Cape of Good Hope, looking northwest  from Cape Point.

Cape of Good Hope, looking northwest from Cape Point.

Cape Point in South Africa.

Cape Point in South Africa.

There's a traffic jam at the Cape of Good Hope sign as people wait to get their photos taken at this landmark.

There’s a traffic jam at the Cape of Good Hope sign as people wait to get their photos taken at this landmark.

The Cape Peninsula is a fascinating place. Cape of Good Hope.

Read more about the ostrich here.

Check this out!  Panoramic View of the Cape of Good Hope

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Tallgrass Prairie at the Herbert Hoover National Historical Site in West Branch, Iowa

A sign featuring the McDonald’s and Kum & Go businesses marks I-80 highway on the southern border of the restored 81-acre Tallgrass Prairie at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa. To the left is a West Branch water tower. A few miles farther east in Walcott is the Iowa 80, the world’s largest Truck Stop.

Today, I drove through the Flint Hills of Kansas.  I do this often enough that I often forget to appreciate that this section of grassland is rare and beautiful.  (In other words, I’m thinking impatiently “Are we there yet?”) The Flint Hills area is one of the few remnants of the vast Tallgrass Prairie that once covered the midsection of North America.  Ninety-eight percent of the great Tallgrass Prairie is now gone, plowed under for crops. Tallgrass prairie soil is very fertile, and some parts of the prairie have some of the deepest topsoil ever recorded.  The Flint Hills were spared the plow, because the ground is so rocky and hard to cultivate. Part of the Flint Hills is now a national preserve. (See link below.)

On a driving trip in June, my husband and I visited another remnant of Tallgrass Prairie at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa.  The restored 81-acre prairie is just north of I-80 in the eastern part of Iowa.  Nearby is the grave site of Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou.  A block away is Hoover’s birthplace cottage, which is in its original location. There are also several 19th century buildings, including houses, a school, Quaker meeting house and a blacksmith shop.

Black-eyed susan wildflowers are among the dozens of wildflowers that were re-introduced to the restored Tallgrass Prairie at the Herbert Hoover Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa.

Coneflowers sway in the wind in the restored Tallgrass Prairie at the Herbert Hoover Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa. In the background are orange milkweed plants, also known as butterfly weed.

At the top is the small cottage where Herbert Hoover was born in 1874 in West Branch, Iowa. At the bottom are the graves of Hoover and his wife Lou, which are near the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. The graves are about a block from the Hoover birthplace cottage.

About the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas.

Plants at the Tallgrass Prairie at the Herbert Hoover Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa.

About the Tallgrass Prairie.

Iowa 80, world’s Largest Truck Stop.

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The Prairie Center

 

Botantist and Environmentalist Frank Norman displays a sumac shrub on a recent nature walk at The Prairie Center in Olathe, Kansas. Smooth Sumac is a native shrub that is widespread across the country.

 

October is a favorite time of year in the Midwest.  It’s not too hot, there’s a crisp feel to the air, and a tangy fragrance wafts in the wind.   This smoke-tinged perfume could be just the dying breath of trees as they shed their leaves and hunker down for winter, but it brings back sweet memories of apple harvests, and trick-or-treating and shuffling in the leaves on the walk home from elementary school.  (On the way to school, I trudged rather than shuffled through the leaves.)

I’ve lived in the Kansas City area for most of my life, but I’m still discovering its treasures.  One is the Prairie Center in Olathe, Kansas. On Oct. 10, some friends, family members and I joined two dozen others on a stroll through part of the center’s 300 acres.  Frank Norman of Norman Ecological Consulting led the walk, which focused on native medicinal prairie plants.  Sue Holcomb of Grasslands Heritage Foundation also pointed out many of the native plants in the prairie preserve, which includes 45 acres of virgin prairie. Virgin prairie means that the land was never plowed, which is very rare to find.  Only five percent of the original tallgrass prairie remains today in the United States.

 

 

The Downy Gentian (Gentiana puberulenta) is a beautiful, rare find. It's small, but because of its brilliant blue color, it's easy to spot if you're lucky enough to find some.

 

 

The partridge pea (Cassia chamecrista) is a bright spot among the browning fall grasses at the Olathe Prairie Center.

 

 

In Autumn, sunflowers tower above the asters and other plants at the Prairie Center in Olathe.

 

 

Milkweed pods and willow-leaf purple aster at the Prairie Center in Olathe.

 

Here’s a post I wrote in the summer of 2008 about the Kansas City Symphony’s performance in the Flint Hills: Kansas City Symphony in the Flint Hills.

To learn more, click on these links.

Olathe Prairie Center

Grassland Heritage Foundation.

Dennis Toll has stopped blogging here, but the blog still contains a lot of information about the prairie, as well as useful links.

Flint Hills, Tall Grass

Sumac.

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Filed under Biology, Conservation, Education, Environment, History, Kansas, Kansas City, Life, Nature, Photography, Science

Second Annual Strawberry Photograph

This is one of my favorite times of year.  Every day I find these jewels in my garden.  These were so fresh that they steamed up the glass.  The fragrance was so better than any perfume. Best of all, I got to eat them!

This is one of my favorite times of year. Every day I find these jewels in my garden. These were so fresh that they steamed up the glass. The fragrance was so much better than any perfume. Best of all, I got to eat them!

 

My strawberry patch has grown even larger this year.  Hurrah!  Here’s my post with photographs from last year, in case you missed it.   Strawberry Fields.

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I’m a Tasmaniac

Sheep graze near the ocean in Tasmania.  You can see the mountains in the distance.

Sheep graze near the ocean in northcentral Tasmania. You can see one of Tasmania’s many mountain ranges in the distance.

I’m envious.  Janelle of “What Makes Me Laugh” won a trip to Australia for herself and her husband by writing an essay about Jurlique products, based in Adelaide.   Her niece told her: Get your butt to Australia before my college year abroad ends (or something like that…)  So with only a few months to spare, Janelle figured out a free way to get to Australia by the deadline.

St. Columba Falls tumbles 295 feet into a dense rainforest of tree ferns, myrtle and sassafras, not far from apple orchards and meadows where dairy cattle graze.

St. Columba Falls tumbles 295 feet into a dense rainforest of tree ferns, myrtle and sassafras, not far from apple orchards and meadows where dairy cattle graze.

I’ve wanted to go to Australia for thirty years, but I just made my first trip there in January — and it wasn’t free.  I tried the contest method  (the 25th caller will win a chance to be in the drawing), but can you believe it, no one drew my name!  Janelle really did it the smart way, literally. (The link to how she did it is at the bottom.)

One week of her trip will be spent driving around Tasmania, which is one of Australia’s states.  I’m avidly reading her posts as she travels.  I’ve become a Tasmaniac.  I never even thought to go there until my friend Anita suggested we include Tasmania on our itinerary.  Now I’m enthralled with this island at the bottom of mainland Australia. (Tasmania is an archipelago of one main island the size of West Virginia and almost 300 much smaller ones.) The following is going to sound like an advertisement for Tasmania, and I’m not even getting paid.  What kind of fool am I!

Lavender fields.

Lavender fields.

Tasmania is a wild and beautiful place, a combination of pastoral scenes and unspoiled wilderness. It boasts four mild seasons, 1,000 mountain peaks and about the cleanest air in the world.  There are wild rivers and a wide range of forests from pine to eucalyptus to tree ferns and myrtle.  It has 2,000 species of native Australian plants, 200 of which are found only in Tasmania.  Forty percent of Tasmania is a park or nature reserve, but Tasmania is also a top world producer of lavender oil and medicinal opium poppies.  Vineyards and wineries thrive there.  Sheep and cattle graze in picturesque meadows.

The British established Port Arthur as a penal colony in.  Beaue of its remote location on a penisula on Tasmania, it was thought that prisoners wouldn't be able to escape.  A few succeeded, but didn't last long in the bush.

The British established Port Arthur as a penal colony in the mid-1800s. Because of its remote location on a penisula on Tasmania, it was thought that prisoners wouldn’t be able to escape. A few succeeded, but didn’t last long in the bush.

There are scores of fascinating animals, such as Tasmanian Devils, poisonous tiger snakes, duckbill platypus and fairy penguins. You can see many of these animals in nature parks.  You might find a wallaby lounging in a rutabaga (or swede) field.  Tasmania’s unique plants included some of the world’s oldest and tallest trees.  Flowers flourish in the mild climate.

Thousands of boats are anchored along its rugged, gorgeous coastline.   Australia’s oldest bridge still in use is in Richmond, Tasmania.   In one northeastern area, you can tour a Chinese tin mining museum, buy locally made cheese made from the cattle pasturing in a nearby field and visit the 295-foot-tall St. Columba Falls, which tumbles into a dense rain forest of tree ferns, myrtle, blackwood and sassafras.   Charles Darwin noted many interesting plants and animals when he visited Tasmania in 1836 while on his voyage on the Beagle  — nothing like he’d seen anywhere else.

The swashbuckling actor Errol Flynn was born in Hobart, Tasmania, the charming capital city situated on a beautiful harbor.    A modern Tasmanian is Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark.

Beautiful, lush parks like this one in Hobart are common in Tasmania.

Beautiful, lush parks like this one in Hobart are common in Tasmania.

One of Australia’s the first penal colonies was established at Port Arthur in Tasmania.  It’s now one of Tasmania’s top tourist destinations.   It’s a park-like area now, with tours, gardens, restored buildings, a museum with cafe (of course!) and a cruise on the harbor, where we saw a fur seal fanning its flippers.  I could go on and on (as I usually do….) but I’ll spare you…..this time.  You can check out the links and watch this space for more Taz Mania, including our encounter with the highly venomous tiger snake while on a bushwalk.  Crikey!

Discover Tasmania.

More about Tasmania.

Here’s a plug for my two posts on Tasmanian Devils.  I’m a Friend of the Tasmanian Devil and More Deviltry.   I’m re-reading a book I first read twenty years ago called, “The Fatal Shore, The epic of Australia’s founding” by Robert Hughes.  It includes a lot of history about Tasmania, including a tale of some convicts who escaped from the prison at Port Arthur and their grisly end.

You can get a great view of Hobart from the top of Mt. Wellington, but it's cold and windy even inthe middle of summer. Fortunately, there's a visitor's center.  Hobart was just a small town when Charles Darwin climbed to this site in 1836.

The view of Hobart is great from the top of Mt. Wellington, but it’s cold and windy even in the middle of summer. Fortunately, there’s a visitor’s center. Hobart was just a small town when Charles Darwin climbed to this site in 1836. These days, you can drive to the top.

Lavender Field.

This is one of the fields of Lavender House farm near Rowella, Tasmania. Lavender House grows 70 types of lavenders in a rural setting surrounded by vineyards.

Tasmania produces about 40 percent of the world's medicinal opium poppies, under strict regulation.

Tasmania produces about 40 percent of the world’s medicinal opium poppies, under strict regulation. This is a field of poppy pods nearly ready for harvest.

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Snow

Paper birch in my front yard.

Snow fell in big, soft flakes this past week, swirling around this river birch tree (Betula nigra) in my front yard. I love the way the bark cracks and peels. So many textures, and the snowflakes add another dimension.

Red Cedar in my back yard.

This red juniper (Juniperus virginiana) is flourishing in my backyard. According to one of my botany professors (long ago), the red juniper (also known as red cedar) is the only evergreen conifer native to Kansas, where I live. Another evergreen fact: Kansas is the only state in the continental United States, plus Alaska, that has no native pine trees, according to my professor. I thought Hawaii also had native pine trees, but thanks to Ed Darrell, I discovered that pines were introduced to Hawaii, as were so many other species. I don't know whether pines will propagate themselves in Hawaii. They don't seem to in Kansas.

 

a cardinal grabs a snack in the snow at the bird feeder outside my kitchen window.

A cardinal grabs a snack in the snow at the bird feeder outside my kitchen window.

 

I didn't venture far to get this photo of snow on a holly bush in my backyard.

Holly berries! After three years of no berries, I thought the original owner of my house had planted only males. What's the point of that? But there were three holly princesses, after all. A holly prince was tucked in a corner (Who needs to see him? He doesn't have berries!) to pollinate this holly harem. I don't know why the romance took so long to blossom.

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Don’t Fence Me In!

Hedge apples are the fruit of the Osage Orange tree, but unfortunately they aren't very tasty.  Too bad, because they are everywhere in the early fall in the lower Midwest.

Hedge apples are the fruit of the Osage Orange tree, but unfortunately they aren't aren't edible. Too bad, because they seem to be everywhere in early fall in the Midwest.

Devon, England, has some of the most ancient and renowned hedgerows in the world. I haven’t been there in person, but Paula of Locks Park Farm in Devon (link below) took her readers on a virtual tour of the hedgerows on her farm.  You could almost hear the song thrush singing in the trees as we “walked” along the path.  It was a sunny day after weeks of rainy weather in the Devon countryside.  In her photographs, the rose hips, crab apples and elderberries are explosions of color among the green leaves.  Somewhere dormouse nests (Alice in Wonderland!) are hidden in the hedges.

I told her we have “old” hedges here, too — not a thousand or more years old, of course.  One hundred and fifty years old is an ancient hedgerow here in the Midwest.  Our hedgerows consist mostly of Osage Orange trees, Maclura pomifera, which were planted densely together to confine cattle in the days before barbed wire.  Because these trees are so durable, they still mark the pastures, even though fencing is now used.  Paula describes her county’s hedgerows as part of a patchwork field system and imagines ours as vast fields, which in the Midwest is often true.  There’s a Cole Porter song that begins “Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above, don’t fence me in.”  Everyone from Bing Crosby to ABBA has sung it.  (Videos below.)

Osage Orange thorns make a menancing hedge.

Osage Orange thorns make a menacing hedge.

Osage Orange wood is very dense and prized for bows, tool handles and other uses.  It’s sometimes called ironwood, because it’s so hard to cut. Other plants, including varieties of dogwood shrubs and wildflowers such as goldenrod and sunflower, grow among the Osage Orange trees, providing homes for wildlife.  The trees were named for the Osage Indians of the area, for the color of the wood and for the fruit, called hedge apples, which are about the size of a large orange.  They aren’t toxic, but they’re not a good food source, either.

Hedge apple "harvest" on the curb.

Hedge apple "harvest" in my neighborhood. Hedge apple cider, anyone?

Extinct animals such as the giant ground sloth and the mammoth from 10, 000 years and longer ago may have eaten hedge apples, but now only squirrels seem to find any part of them nutritious.  They tear apart the apple to get at the seeds, leaving a mess.  A few other animals, such as horses and cattle, will eat the fruit, but it’s not very good for them.  

In my neighborhood, Osage Orange trees grow in a wild area at the edge of the landscaped areas, and the hedge apples fall on the street and are smashed by passing cars.  To learn more click on all about the osage orange tree.

To read Paula’s beautiful post and see the gorgeous photos of the Devon hedgerows click on “our amazing hedges.”  A video of Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters singing “Don’t Fence Me In” is below the photograph of a partial hedgerow in my neighborhood. Beneath Bing Crosby is a video of ABBA singing “Don’t Fence Me In” on the Dick Cavett Show.

Sunflowers, goldenrod, dogwoods and other plants grow in the hedgerow.
Sunflowers, goldenrod, dogwoods and other plants grow in the remnants of a hedgerow in my neighborhood.

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