Thursday, April 26, 2018

Anise - Bigleaf - Cucumber – Saucer – Southern - Star

 I walked around the neighborhood yesterday.  All the magnolia trees are in bloom.  And, they are just beautiful.  Plus, they are very fragrant so the air smells nice.  Mostly these are the native evergreen Magnolia grandiflora, the classic southern magnolia. 

I’ve had these trees at just about every house I’ve owned.  Well, not in Arizona – it’s really dry there and magnolia trees do best in a moist location.  I don’t have one at my current house because I just don’t have a place large enough that gets all-day sun.  My yard is full of pecan trees or overhung by neighbors’ oak trees. 

But, if you are looking for an ornamental tree that tolerates our humidity and heat and occasional cold spell, this is the tree for you.   Oh – one other thing – our magnolia trees grow slowly.  And, may not bloom until they are 10 or so years old.  Every tree I’ve planted in the past (with the exception of the one I grew from seed), has been at least 6 feet tall and has bloomed within a year or two after established (maybe 2 years after being planted).  And, yes, I grew one from seed and planted it in the ground after 2 years in a pot.  When I moved from that house 6 years later, it was about 3 feet tall and had not bloomed.  Just to sort of put age and size in prospective.  The biggest thing about planting teenaged trees – keep them well watered until they are well established. 

There are all sorts of magnolia trees to choose from.  My sister-in-law sent me this picture yesterday of their Star Magnolia.  This is a small tree or can be grown as a large shrub.  It’s considered small because it only grows to 20 feet.  It is cold-hardy and heat-tolerant.  Works for them – would work for us!

Our evergreen Southern magnolias have large glossy leaves and fragrant flowers.  All the various ones I’ve had, drove Michael crazy because (1) they will drop leaves all year long but specially in the spring; (2) the leaves don’t mulch down unless you chop them up; (3) the leaves don’t slip gracefully under the mower to be chopped up, you have to chase them around or rake them up; (4) all of them have insisted on having branches to the ground – which he promptly cut off; and (5) grass would not grow under them because they produce dense shade and all manner of roots.  These are good sized trees and can top out at 80 feet tall and 40 feet wide!

I’ve also had a deciduous magnolia I’ve always called a Tulip Tree – that’s what my father called it. This group is also called Saucer magnolia because of the shape and bright color of their flowers.  Mostly I’m familiar with the pink flower variety but I have seen pictures of two others one white, one yellow.  They don’t like heavy wind or salt spray and can be prone to late frost damage which might discourage any flowers.  But here the flowers pop out in February or March, long before the leaves come on, heralding the arrival of spring.

Now, this is one I’ve heard of but don’t think I realized is a magnolia - A Cucumber Tree.  This variety of magnolia has very large leaves and is generally grown as shade trees.  It does produce a pretty yellow flower that blooms in the summer and a cucumber shaped fruit in the fall.  It’s very hardy and can get 80 to 100 feet tall. 

So, no matter where you are – it’s time to enjoy the magnolias, y’all.

Take care.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Toadshade, Wakerobin, Birthwort = Trillium

 A couple weeks ago, my brother (who lives in a small town in Washington) sent me this picture with the comment “Here’s one you won’t probably see in Texas”

Yep – he’s right.  It won’t grow here in my part of Texas.  This is Trillium grandiflorum, a member of the Lily family.  The flowers are three petaled and large – up to 5” across.  It’s most commonly found in the northwest to northeast states.  And in most of those states, it is an endangered, protected wildflower. 

Why?  Well according to sources I checked with, Trillium grandiflorum is a very popular garden flower.  However, it is believed that those for sale are from plants collected in the wild.  Heavy collecting and changes to its habitat have caused fewer and fewer Trillium to survive.  Picking a trillium flower does not kill the plant but damage can result if the green leaves are disturbed. If the leaves are taken you won’t see any more growth on that particular plant until the following year or possibly not even then depending on the size of the rhizome. So, if you are ever hiking up in the frozen northlands and come across a patch of Trillium, admire it, take pictures, and walk on.

Now, why won’t it grow here.  It’s hot here.  Hot and humid.  And hot.  Trillium grows best in a temperate climate, in a woodland setting.  It grows from rhizomes and will bloom from early spring to early summer.  It likes to have leaf litter mulch (as you would find in woodlands) to keep the ground moist and cool.  And, it’s not likely to bloom if under stress from excessive sun and heat (that would be here). 

Well fine!

However, I thought, perhaps I can grow one from seed, plant it carefully and keep an eye on how it does – deep shade, lots of mulch.  Well, seed germination is a real process.  The seed, produced at the end of summer can take as long as 90 – 120 days to germinate.  The seedling develops in the dark and can take almost a year before sending up one small leaf.  Then, although long-lived (like 25+ years), Trillium grows very slowly and it will be between 7 to 9 years before it blooms.  OK – so maybe I won’t do that.  I can be patient, but a year before a single leaf???? Seven to 9 years before a bloom????  No, I think I’ll take a pass after all.

OK – what else?  Well Trillium is an herb.  The young leaves can be added to a salad or cooked as a pot herb (for flavoring rather than, say spinach-like).  The root is used as an antiseptic, antispasmodic, and diuretic.  Fresh or dried, the root may be boiled in milk to treat dysentery.  Grate the root and apply as a poultice to the eye to reduce swelling or on rheumatic joints.  Boil the leaves in lard as a poultice for ulcers or to prevent gangrene.  An infusion of the root was used to help with childbirth or cramps.  And, finally, the root bark can be used as drops for earache. 

Now, lest you comment “HA! We can grow a smaller version of Trillium here!

No, this isn’t Trillium.  This is Herbertia, a member of the Iris family.  It’s a Texas native and blooms from March to late April.  It grows from a small bulb which can be very deeply planted and hard to find if you try to dig one up.  The best way to dig up bulbs - locate a plant by the spring flower, mark the area then carefully dig up and divide in the fall. The flowers are very small – about 2 inches across and are a beautiful purple color.  The flowers open for one day only.  It’s a good source of nectar for bees and butterflies.  Likes light shade and dry feet.  Grows well in any type of soil.  If left undisturbed, Herbertia will multiply and become a carpet of blue flowers.

Ok – well Trillium would have been on my list of “Things I Want to Plant”, but I’ve taken off.  I’ll just have to admire it from afar.

Take care.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

23 April – Oops – that was yesterday …

I had every intention of publishing this on World Book Day, April 23.  However, one of the drawbacks to being retired is – I never know what day of the week (much less the date itself) it is.  I was thinking today is the 23rd.  It’s not.  Ah well.  So, I’m pretending, for a while, that today is 23 April so …….World Book Day is to celebrate reading – no matter what form it may take – hard books, digital books or audio books.  It’s all reading!  Over the past months I’ve read several new books and thought to share …

Dire Earth Cycle  by Jason M. Hough
The series takes place in 23rd century Earth. So, a quick prequel - An empty space vessel piloted by “The Builders”, arrives in Earth’s atmosphere. It is accompanied by another ship which constructs the cord of a space elevator anchored in Darwin, Australia.  One man, Neil Platz, having discovered the first vessel in orbit, works out the future location of the elevator and establishes Platz Industries to exploit it by buying the land where it will anchor, building the elevator base and climber infrastructure in Darwin, and eventually establishing orbital colonies along the elevator cord. For a time, Darwin thrives as it becomes the center of the world.  However, a plague has afflicted most of the earth’s humans.  This plague either kills people out right or turns them into insane killers unable to think, speak, or reason.  The rest of the population is made up of the rare “immunes” or those that managed to get to the safety of Darwin’s aura protected safe zone around the space elevator. 

Book 1: The Darwin Elevator
The hero, Captain Skyler Luiken, an immune, leads a team of immune scavengers who can survive outside the aura where they battle sub-humans while collecting items of value necessary for day-to-day existence. Unfortunately, Skyler and his crew become entangled in the political plots and power games of those that control or seek to control the space elevator.  Book one ends as another “Builder” ship establishes itself in South America and Skyler and others make their way towards it.

Book 2: The Exodus Towers
A colony has been built around the new space elevator in Brazil, but things are far from over. There is now a new group of plague-infected humans who have been enhanced by strange alien technology.  Back in Darwin, there has been a hostile take-over by a religious cult that is moving on to Brazil to take over there also.

Book 3: The Plague Forge
In the third book Skyler and his crew must try to find a set of strange keys left behind by the aliens, in order to figure out what is the goal of the aliens, and why they have done all that they did?
It was really hard to give a brief description of these three books because so much happens non-stop.  It’s really good though. 

Hawley Book of the Dead  by Chrysler Szarlan
Revelation “Reve” Dyer grew up listening to her grandmother’s family stories about ancestors who founded the town of Hawley Five Corners in Massachusetts. Their history is steeped in secrets known by only a very few outsiders.   An ancient magic runs in the Dyer women’s blood.  Reve and her husband are world-famous Las Vegas illusionists. They have three daughters, a beautiful home, and what seems like a charmed life. But Reve’s world is shattered when her husband is murdered onstage.  Fearing for her and her daughters’ lives, they leave for the place she has always felt safest, a farmhouse in the forest of Hawley Five Corners.  There Reve searches for answers to what has happened and why it has happened to her and her children.
This is a really good book.  There is just enough mystery to be exciting and enough spooky to make you look over your shoulder.

City of Endless Night  by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

In Queens, two boys stumble on the body of a headless woman in a garage. Fingerprinting identifies the body as that of Grace Ozmian, the missing 23-year-old daughter of tech billionaire Anton Ozmian.  Lt Vincent D'Agosta quickly takes the lead in this strange murder knowing his investigation will attract major scrutiny.  Therefore, when FBI Special Agent Pendergast shows up, he is much relieved.  Before too much progress is made, more people are murdered and decapitated.  There seems to be no motive for the killings.  Although Pendergast initially comes into the case reluctantly, ultimately, it will take all of Pendergast's skill to solve and catch the murderer.
This is the 17th book in the A.X.L. Pendergast, series.  I’ve read most of the books in this series and mostly I like them.  One or two have been a little tedious to read but I really did enjoy this one..

Queen Anne’s Lace  Susan Wittig Albert.

While helping her friend and business partner, Ruby Wilcox, clean up the loft above their shops, China comes upon a box of antique handcrafted lace and old photographs. Following this discovery, China (a stout-hearted pragmatist) hears a woman humming a tune and smells the delicate scent of lavender.  Then strange things begin to happen – the appearance of old photos, a ringing bell, a sprig of thyme, a mysterious woman in the garden.  With this, China starts to investigate the story of the woman in the old photographs.
I’ve read all the China Bayles books by Susan Wittig Albert starting with Thyme of Death to this latest one.  I’ve read them in order and would suggest doing that because, life for China moves along and she changes and grows along with her family and friends in Pecan Springs, TX.  The books can be read as “stand-alones” because China does introduce herself and the primary characters in the early pages.  But, it’s better to read them in order.  I also like these books because the author includes all sorts of herb lore, information, and recipes. 

I may have said this before, as I have gotten older, I like to read things that are completely entertaining and not something I have to
1     think hard about
2     learn a “how to improve myself” lesson from
3     back track constantly to remember who is who and where and why

What have you read????

Take care

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Earth Day! End Plastic Pollution!

 Today is Earth Day.  With its beginnings in 1970, Earth Day has grown into a world-wide time devoted to helping and educating us all to better care for our planet. This year’s theme is End Plastic Pollution.  This is a problem we see in the news every day.  A problem that is poisoning our oceans and land, injuring animal and marine life, and affecting our own health.  And yet, how many of us do anything about the problem. 

The most popular solution to the problem is recycling. Some cities and towns make that easy by supplying the blue trash cans with a recycle symbol.  We can just toss in all sorts of recyclables for pick-up.  Some places offer recycle centers where you can bring your glass, plastics, cardboard, etc for disposal.  However, for those centers, you might need to do a little checking first – what plastics will they take?  Will they actually take all types of glass containers?  How does everything need to be separated?

The ideal solution would be that food manufactures stop using plastic containers.  Probably that’s not going to happen.  When I was young you’d buy milk, soft drinks and such in glass containers which you could return.  These would be collected, sterilized and used again.  But we’ve turned into a disposable society – easier and cheaper to throw away and buy new than reuse.  Now, however, we are reaping the result of “easier”. 

Solutions?  Well, recycling is a good solution.  But, what about reusing some of those many plastic containers?  A few suggestions …..

So, if you want to start recycling and your town doesn’t offer the service as a part of standard trash pick up, set up an area in your garage for recycling bins.  Rinse out the item to be recycled and put it in the right bin.  Easy peasy.

CUT DOWN ON SMALL WATER BOTTLES.  Yes, they are easy to use.  But, in the long run, they are too expensive to the planet.  There are shelves of alternatives in most stores.  

I’m sure most of us do this – use plastic bottles as portable freezer units.  Freeze bottles of water for your ice chest.  Afterwards, you can use the water to cool hot heads and feet, wash off sand or dirt, water some plants.

This is one I’ve started doing recently.  Our garden club is having a plant sale.  Members are donating plants to be sold.  Cool.  I’ve started cutting the tops off gallon bottles and using the bottom as a plant container. 

Reuse bottles to make and contain compost tea – easy to do and good for your plants.

Our library is having a plant swap soon.  Many people bring plants that they’ve just dug up out of the ground and not repotted.  So, going to something like that?  Bring some gallon bottles with the tops cut out to hold these plants or cuttings.  Keeps your car clean.  Leave them in the trunk for future use.

Oh – I really like this one – a Slug/snail watering hole.  Take the bottom 3 inches of a bottle, sink it in the ground and fill with beer (or sugar water with a pinch of yeast).  Those little guys will make a bee-line for it!

You can make mosquito, wasp and fly traps easily by cutting the top off a bottle, invert the cone and place it inside the bottom part of the bottle, glue the two pieces together, Add 1 tsp yeast and 1/2 cup sugar to some lukewarm water (mosquitoes) or just sugar water (wasps) or something smelly (flies).  They get in but can’t get out

There are dozens of other ways to reuse plastic containers.  So, start today – Earth Day - Help End Plastic Pollution.  Make a pledge to reduce the amount you use and recycle, one way or another, what cannot be reduced!

Take care
Make a cookie cutter! 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

big giant box stop-n-shop

 My sister and brother-in-law are members of Costco.  Actually, back in the 1980’s, MHN and I had a membership at one also.  Of course, we had kids at home, their friends, our friends, and family, all in and out at different times so mass shopping made sense.  Back then, MHN called it the $100 store because you couldn’t get out of there without spending at least $100.  With inflation, I suspect these places are now the $200 stores.

Anyway, Ellen asked me if I wanted to come along today to Costco.  Sure.  I don’t buy much when I go – everything is packaged big and lots.  But, I still like to go and see what’s available there is to see.

Saturday is probably the day most of the world goes there.  The parking lot, which is about the size of 26 football fields was full of cars.  Everywhere.  And, Marc (who must be blessed with parking magic) found a place up close and personal. 

I know – looks like just a couple cars – no biggie.  However, if I were 6+ feet tall, you’d get a better birds eye view.  I’m not 6+ feet tall so this is what you get.

Inside there were people everywhere.  Pushing large baskets everywhere.  And I could hear more languages than I could identify.  Amazing.  It’s almost as good people watching as the airport.

I am always a little surprised at some of things for sale.  I never expect outdoor stuff like plants, yard art, tents, lawn furniture, raised flowerbed frames, fountains, bbq pits, and certainly many other things I didn’t see.

There are clothes and shoes, sox and undies, jackets and bathing suits.  I would not be surprised to find wedding dresses and tuxedos. 

Yes, there are sections I just have to stay away from – like the center kiosk with all the chocolate.  And, the books.  My brain controller starts to drool and say “but we neeeeed that (fill in the blank).

Then, of course, there is the food section.  OMG.  Such huge amounts. 

Who needs this much flour?  And, it’s in a giant paper bag for heaven sake which means, here in the humid world of Texas, it would have to be repackaged into something else that will repel both the humidity and bugs (of which we have many).  Right next to the flour was bags of powdered sugar – same size.  I wouldn’t think restaurants or bakeries shop there unless they get a commercial special price unavailable to regular people but ……. stranger things.

Then, this little thing caught my eye.  I like brownies.  And, I’m assuming that there are several packages of brownie mix inside this very large box.  But, just imagine if not – you’d have brownies out the wing-wang for weeks!  It would take days to make them all.

Once in a while I find things I just don’t recognize.  Now, I know this is a large bottle of honey.  What I didn’t know was why it’s so special with its UMF rating.  OK - UMF stands for “Unique Manuka Factor” and is a grading system developed by the UMF Honey Association in New Zealand.  Interesting.  Zip – into the useless info file.

All the shelves go right up to the very high ceiling.  And don’t you just know there is some idiot that wants a “fresh” bag of whatever from one of the unopened packages on the way-up shelf.

There were multiple traffic jams at the various corners where the sample makers were passing out various items.  Sometimes, this can be a good way to have lunch!

I did get something.  I actually was looking for a package of dried blueberries.  They are good in cereal, good in yogurt, good on salads.  But, I didn’t find any this trip.  Instead I got this – it’s full of cranberries, goji berries, mulberries, blueberries, cherries, and baoberries.  I know what everything is except the baoberries.  Should be interesting.

Finally we made our way to the check out.  This hot mess is the line at just two of the registers.  The other ten were just as bad.  Still, the line moved along quickly and we were out and gone in no time.

It’s an interesting way to spend part of the day. 

Take care.

Friday, April 20, 2018


 I often have odd and sometimes unwelcome visitors to the house and yard. 

I have an armadillo that comes digging around in my front flower bed occasionally.  Really annoys Morgan who keeps watch out the front windows. 

Armadillos mostly eat insects – ants, beetles, snails and the like – which is good.  However, they are world class diggers and have no problem digging a borrow 10+ inches wide and up to 15 feet deep with tunnels going all directions.  Few armadillo facts??? – well, they have poor eyesight and good hearing, they always give birth in fours and they like to swim.  However, no thanks – I have enough problems getting things to grow in that particular flowerbed without someone always digging it up.  I usually chase that one off.

Then, for a while I kept seeing, over the fence in the open yard cattycornered to me, a large possum that looked diseased.  Had lumps all over it.  Had to get the binoculars out and look again.  A mama covered with babies.  The Opossum is the only North American marsupial.  The mom possum carries her babies in a pouch until they are 1-2 months old and then on her back for another 2 months whenever she leaves her den.  Some months later after seeing the mom, this little guy came visiting the yard.  They also eat insects, snails, berries, fruit, grass and other stuff.  They will actually “play possum” when threatened by mimicking the appearance and smell of a sick or dead animal.  I don’t mind them – they eat BUGS!

One day I went to get into the car and found this guy on the mirror.  Kinda makes me think of Bowtruckles.  Walking Sticks are just weird.  They can shed and regenerate their limbs to escape attacks by predators.  They are a nation of Amazons, able to reproduce almost entirely without males.  They don’t bite but can vomit or “bleed” a foul-smelling substance.  And, when all else fails, they can play dead.  They eat leaves but not all types of leaves.  If you capture one for a pet, you’ll have to offer different things until you find the right leaf – and they have to be fresh leaves.

Then again, while wandering around the yard, I found this guy.  A Praying Mantis – I think they are aliens from another galaxy, far, far away.  They are unique in that they can turn their heads 180° and look over their shoulder at you.  Yes, it's true, the females do cannibalize their sex partners – and sometimes will behead the poor guy before they've finished consummating their relationship.  They're often considered beneficial insects however, a praying mantis is just as likely to eat a bee that's pollinating your plants as it is to eat a caterpillar pest.  They have two large, compound eyes that work together but just a single ear, located on the underside of its belly

This one was new.  While I have a large number of chrysalis and cocoons everywhere, I’ve never seen a Hawk Moth hanging around before.  They are known for their hovering and swift flight patterns. They are pollinators for flowers such as orchids and petunias.  They produce loud chirping or squeaking sounds.  They have the world’s longest tongues of any other moth or butterfly (some up to 14 inches long).  The caterpillar is the tomato-growers nemesis – the green hornworm.

And, finally, I have these guys all over the house.  They are going to be Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies.  The caterpillars are all over my Dutchman’s pipevine.  Which is fine because the vine always comes back.  And, the butterflies are beautiful!

Take care.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Plants and Stacks and New Things

A friend invited me over today.  Said – “I’ll take you somewhere you’ve never been”  Oookay – sounds kinda Star Trekkie.  So, I made the drive to the big town of Boling.  We walked around his yard looking at all the very cool plants
Leopard Lily – I think I need one of these.

Swamp Rose – I need one of these too.

and then along the roadside looking at all the cool wildflowers.

Ox Eye Daisy

Then we headed off in the truck to see the “not seen before” sight.  We drove through the used-to-be town of Newgulf (now a community called Lasata of Newgulf). 

Newgulf was a company town for TexasGulf Sulphur.  The TexasGulf Sulphur Company, founded in the early 1900’s, mined sulphur, first in Matagorda County and then at the huge Boling Dome.  I had to ask here – so, did they dig a big giant hole and work it like a coal mine?  No, they did not.  They drilled wells and basically boiled the sulphur out of the ground.  As with most things, the sulphur industry began to decline and everything started closing down in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s.

The town of Newgulf was established in 1928 and, at one time, had over 1500 residents.  At its peak, it had a cafĂ©, two dry-goods stores, two grocery stores, two pharmacies, a barbershop, a tailor and cleaning shop, a movie theater, three garages, a hospital, a library, a school, a post office, a clubhouse with a nine-hole golf course, four churches, a Scout clubhouse, and a guest lodge with two guest houses.  As the company business declined, so did Newgulf.  Today there is not much left of this little community except the two huge smokestacks from the mine.

 And that was our destination.

So, these two smokstacks are built completely of brick.  Now, that was amazing all by itself.  Then, Bobby said – “Follow me” and crawled on hands and knees into a little opening on the side of one stack.  Uhhhhh – I’m just a bit claustrophobic (A LOT).  But, I followed and the short hallway opened into a large round area.  Very COOL!

Looking up to the top of the stack

See those rungs – that’s the
“ladder” to get to the top

OK, he sez – lets climb up there!

Hey – I know this looks easy
but the first rung was about 4ft
off the ground and each one was
a big giant step apart!

Just joking – get down from there!!!

We wandered through some of the deserted buildings which are still full of rusting equipment and other strange stuff.

What a fun day!

Take care

This was taken looking up to the top.  Thank goodness
I do Yoga as it took “Standing Backbend” to take!