Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Milkvine or Milkweed Vine

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This is a seed pod from a milkvine or milkweed vine, and very beautifully and wonderfully made it is. It is a native vine, but one that is not so friendly if you ask me. If you let this plant set seed in your garden, you will be pulling and cutting them out for years to come. Look here for a picture of the unspectacular flowers.http://sparkleberrysprings.com/v-web/b2/images/a/ascmatgonpl.jpg
It is a member of the milkweed family (Asclepidaceae) but does not attract many butterflies, at least at my house. I have read that even when eggs are laid on the plant, they fail to mature. The genus is Matelea.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Spider Lilies In Spite of Drought

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Spider lily and surprise lily are both good names for this trusted favorite of fall gardens. Spider lily, because of the numerous stamens radiating from the flower, gives the inexact idea of  a spider. Surprise lily relates to it's  custom of springing up when you might least expect it, that is, after a long dry spell that has seen the demise of most other late summer flowers. The flowers spring up from hard dry earth without a leaf to show their presence underground. After the flowers pass, the green striped foliage will appear and persist for the winter, dying back after the weather begins to warm. (So don't forget where you planted them.) It is best to plant them somewhere that you will not be digging to plant annuals or otherwise disturbing them. They do best when left undisturbed for years at a time. In fact, digging them up and replanting may cause them not to bloom for a year or two afterward. Be sure to plant them when they are dormant (no flowers or foliage) if possible. Sometimes you may have no choice such as when you are offered some that are in foliage or flower and must get them at the time, or when you buy some cheap in the store when they have already started to sprout. These are great pass-along plants because they persist with almost no care for years at a time. And when they jump up to surprise you, you will think of the person who generously shared something they loved with you.
In August and September when it has been so dry, like this year, and you think maybe the lilies will skip a year with their cheery red blooms, here they come , marching along toward cooler weather at last.
They make nice bouquets for the house, too. They last several days in a vase and to my eye have no need of foliage or other flowers to enhance their beauty. Just stick them in a tall enough vase so their stems have several inches of water, and let them remind you of how they grow outside on bare beautiful stems. I like them in a clear vase so you can get the full benefit of those stems.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fall Is The Time For Rattlesnakes

This morning early I was outside watering a few plants in the backyard that I hoped to keep alive till it rains. I was talking on the phone and merrily sprinkling some plants beside the back steps when I thought I saw something move. I did not have on my contact, so I leaned over to get a better look. There was this pencil sized baby rattlesnake! I flung both the phone and the water hose down and ran for my trusty sharp shooter shovel. The snake did not realize it had been detected, so it was still there when I got back. I whacked it in two. The back half stayed put but the front half proceeded to crawl under a nearby flower pot. I raked it out of the leaves, and if you want to see it, take a look here.

Before you start to criticize me for killing this rattlesnake, tell me you would like it living at your back door. Rattlesnakes are somewhat hard to shoo away.
I do have to do something about all these chipmunks though. I suspect that the chipmunks are the reason the rattlesnake was there. Yum!!!
I also wonder if a lot of this wild barking Dora has been doing lately is due to her sighting of snakes.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Making Vanilla Extract

 The beans are really the seed pods of the vanilla orchid. They are fermented prior to being extracted. These were black and soft and a little wrinkled. I slit the pod along one edge. I think I should have cut it in half, but hindsight is wonderful.
The seed inside the pod were like other orchid seeds that I am familiar with, very tiny. These were black and the inside of the pod had a greasy feel. I suddenly realized what the black specks are in Breyer's ice cream and other strong vanilla tasting food- it is the vanilla seed.

Posted by PicasaPut the seed pods in a colored bottle and add 1 cup of vodka for two beans. Allow them to soak for a while. The longer they soak, the stronger the extract will be. When the extract is used up, you can add more vodka and re-extract, but the second time around may produce a weaker extract. You can add more vodka when the extract is half used up.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Foley Food Mill

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A foley food mill (except we called it a foley feed mill) was necessary equipment in my mother's kitchen. In fact, when I see this thing, I can smell the tomatoes boiling. It was used exclusively to make tomato juice for canning.The handle is turned and the tomatoes are pressed through the holes in the bottom, leaving behind the skins and seed. While this instrument makes me nostalgic, it is not a happy nostalgia. I hate the smell of boiling tomatoes, don't like tomato juice, and am happy that I do not have to can tomatoes any more. But, I do know how. My mother could jump on a bucket of tomatoes and have the juice canned in no time. It was the all day canning that I objected to, and smelling that stuff all day. We usually canned 50 to 100 quarts every summer. They were used for soup and stew but daddy liked to drink the juice. :(
I recently found a new (to me) use for the foley mill. It makes wonderful cracker or vanilla wafer crumbs. I believe people use it mainly now in baby food preparation.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Hibiscus from Gulf Shores

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I do not know the name of this hibiscus, but it is a beauty growing about 4 feet tall in my flower bed. The pink flowers are 2 1/2-3 inches wide and are much smaller and more delicate in appearance from most perennial hibiscus.  I collected the seed from a plant growing in pure sand near Gulf Shores. There were a number of these plants in the area, and I checked them all till I got a bout a dozen seed. This is one of the resulting plants from that collection. The plants I got the seed from were barely a foot tall. I guess it just shows the potential when the plant had access to better soil. I collected this on the last trip my sister and I made to the beach. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010


I believe this may be an Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis) photographed in east central Alabama. This is a common species all over Alabama.. It was checking out the swimming pool (mistake) and was rescued by a hand. Dragonflies typically live around water as their nymph stage is aquatic. They eat  other bugs, like mosquitos (hence the name mosquito hawk), flies, bees and ants. They have legs but are not able to really walk. They use their legs for perching. For me at least, dragonflies are difficult to photograph  because of the translucent nature of their wings.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


This is our native passionflower Passiflora incarnata (May Pop), much loved by children for their beautiful flowers and lovely rounded green fruits, and much hated by farmers for their perennial and spreading nature. As a child I gathered the green fruits to make the bodies and heads of animals and connected  them with matchsticks and/or toothpicks.While I played, my Daddy tried to cultivate the vines out of existence, a tactic that never worked. It simply broke the roots into more and more pieces so that more and more plants came up. However, it did keep them from choking out the crop.
In 1609 Jacomo Bosio described the parts of the flower as a depiction of the passion of Christ where the tendrils were the lash of Christ's scourging, the anthers represented the 5 wounds, the 3 parts of the stigma were the nails, the fruits were the round world that Christ came to save, and so on through every aspect of the flower.
There can be no doubt that the flowers are uncommonly beautiful and intricate.

This is a Passiflora coccinea, the red passion flower, a native of South America (probably). The foliage is much coarser than P incarnata and overall the vine is much stouter with stronger stems and climbs higher also. I overwinter this one in the greenhouse but i have had it to come back from a planting in the ground if the winter is not too cold and wet.  It blooms from mid/late summer till frost.
This is Passiflora caerulea, the blue passion flower. I planted one of these in the yard this year and it is already springing up several feet from where the original plant is. I have taken cuttings and now I am searching around for the Round-Up. Beautiful, but I do not want to wrap the world in it. It is a more definite blue than incarnata which is lavender.

This picture shows the great diversity in the species. This is also P. incarnata, but is much different from the flowers in the top photo. I cannot remember where I got this one, whether someone gave it to me or I collected it somewhere. It is very beautiful in any case.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

More Big butterflies

When I first saw this butterfly I thought it was a big swallowtail, but when I looked at the picture I knew that it was NOT a swallowtail. Where are the tails?? I consulted Gary Mullen who told me it was a female Diana Fritillary and it normally lives farther north in Alabama, in the northeast of Alabama, in fact. He was surprised and pleased to see one  this far south (Waverly). This species has seen a decline recently. It's caterpillars feed on violets. I was surprised and pleased to have found something at least semi-rare, even if  I didn't know it when I took the picture.
Posted by PicasaThis butterfly is a Giant Swallowtail.. It can be identified by the X across its wings and the eyespots on the upper wings, and of course its tails. I have seen quite a few of these last year and this. The butterflies seem huge this year.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Tallapoosa River

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This is the Tallapoosa River and some wild women playing in it.At this point it is wide and fairly shallow. You can see the weedy vegetation growing in the water. Apparently this material has recently begun to spread. At night when water is released from the dam these weeds are covered but it does not seem to bother them. Maybe it would if the coverage lasted longer.
At any rate, this is a beautiful place.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ethiopian Opal

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This is my last picture from the gem and Mineral Show at Cartersville. I really enjoyed the show as well as the Tellus Museum and highly recommend it as a field trip. This picture is of Ethiopian opals and the bits of color you see are the opals. The matrix is a soft material that can easily be scratched off with a fingernail. Some of these are the "new"  (recently discovered) chocolate opals and are brown (not surprisingly). However, I think the blue, green, and red ones are the most beautiful.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Decorative Polished Stones

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These polished stones at the gem and mineral show at Cartersville were so beautiful, I just had to take a picture. I believe the ones in the foreground with the white blotches are called Chrysanthemums and you can easily see why. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mesosaur Fossil

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This Mesosaur (Mosasaur) is the fossil of a marine lizard. They may be the ancestors of snakes. At any rate some grew very large and were formidable predators with their many huge teeth. This is a small one and thus not so spooky. It is beautifully preserved so that most of the bony articulations are visible. This is another treasure from the Tellus Museum.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Petrified Wood from Arizona

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This petrified wood from Arizona is in display at the Tellus Museum in Cartersville. The first shot shows a slice through the petrified wood and the second shows the outside, perhaps bark part of the tree. I have been to the Petrified Forest and it is a truly amazing site.Huge petrified logs are laying on top of the ground. There are also small pieces laying around everywhere. Before it became a park, people used dynamite to blow the logs apart to search for crystals that sometimes appear in the rock.  These petrified trees occur over a large area and are also found outside the park. That explains why you can buy pieces of the wood as well as novelties like bookends made from the petrified wood. These petrifications are much prettier than our Alabama petrified wood, which appears very much like wood but looks like mud.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Beautiful Crystals

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On my recent trip to the Tellus Museum at Cartersville, I found out that quartzite is a silica based mineral but it may be many colors depending on what the contaminates are. This huge amethyst is a type of quartzite. The purple color is linked to the presence of iron. What must the person who found this have thought! I cannot imagine the joy of such a beautiful find. It would be like someone in heaven sent you a special gift.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

When Will An Angel Trumpet Bloom?

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Want to know whether your Angel Trumpet (Brugmansia) will bloom this year?  Take a look at the stalk. After it branches, the flower buds will start forming, and once they start forming, you will likely have blooms till frost. Some years they begin blooming  earlier; mine are a bit late this year. In the first picture you can see the branching beginning and one bud hanging down near the top left. The second photo shows the branching but no buds yet.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Big Swallowtails

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This summer had some of the biggest swallowtails I have ever seen. There were some huge yellow ones but I never got a good shot of one of them.
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