Botanical Adventures: World’s Rare Plants

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The other day I fell into one of my internet research vortex holes. The kind I sometimes get into where I research tons of useful/useless information that is borderline educational while also being a black-hole-time-suck. This particular night it began with Selective Eating Disorder, which is a disorder in which one only eats a limited amounts of food which generally revolve around kid centered food i.e. mac and cheese, cheese pizza, and french fries.

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For some reason, in my caffeine induced mania (I had just drank Chinese tea for three hours with a friend), this seemed like the worst imaginable fate possible. The vortex pulled me into the world of people that eat only beef flavored Monster Munch potato chips (don’t ask, they are British), or others with eight year cheese pizza (only cheese pizza) obsessions, or the girl with a chicken nugget and french fries ten year stint.
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I just kept thinking, “How is this possible? How does a person live on bread alone?” (Or in most cases white carbs and cheese). One article I read said that selective eating disorder might be an adaptation of certain human beings in response to their own bodily needs. Which, is interesting because even though many are not in top health most of them live and look as anemic as any unhealthy fast food eating American. If you had told me that someone could live on beef flavored potato chips three times a day for 8 years, I would not have believed you.

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Lately, I have spent a lot of time thinking about diet. The building blocks of a complete meal – the nutrients and trace minerals and energy givers. I have also been thinking about anthropology and the diets of peoples throughout the millennia. The humans in the Northern regions that eat seal meat for months through the cold winters with only trace amount of vegetables, or the high sugar fruit based diets of other native tribes. You begin to get this picture that humans are adaptable. Nature is a resilient sneak in-between the cracks and attempt to prosper sort of entity (a little like the gigantic weeds that sprout in-between tiny cracks in Suburbia). Everyone is waiting for an opportunity and their is always gonna be something to fit the bill.
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Carnivorous plants are adapted survivors. When I was brushing up on my carnivorous plant trivia this morning I thought of Selective Eating Disorder because this is what they have done, they have adapted and used a single mindedness to survive. Most carnivorous plants grown in habitats such as bogs where soil nutrients are almost immeasurable. The soil is often waterlogged and toxic ions such as ammonium build up. Carnivorous plants have found a way to survive by having a hunger – a hunger for animals that provide nitrogen , phosphorus and potassium. Through millennia they have developed a sort of selective eating disorder, a singular obsessions with bugs.

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If you are traveling along the One on the California Coast. Go to Half Moon Bay. If you want to go deeper, travel along the 92 that leads you back to the Bay. On the way you will see swathes of flower farms and nurseries, my favorite one is World’s Rare Plants. You will meet the nicest set of couples who run their nursery, which is a product of fifty-six years of obsession. Their carnivorous terrariums are quaintly cute, very unique and not meant to be resisted.
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If you want to see more Carnivorous plants check out this post of California Carnivores and Sebastopol I did awhile ago.

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Plant of the Week: Armatocereus

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I had a boyfriend once who was into bodybuilding. He had that big book with tons of pictures of Arnold Shwarzenegger and he would eat that white protein powder that is supposed to make you big and strong. He wasn’t THAT successful and Thank God! because big burly men are definitely not my thing.

 Up until two weeks ago I had never been to a body building contest, the thought had never even passed my mind. Which is semi strange, because I grew up in Venice Beach, home to one of the bigger events of body building, you think I would have at least some passing interest. Yet, I continued ignorant for 29 years, continuing to show off Muscle Beach to my tourist friends, but ignorant of the awesomeness that is a body building competition.

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Venice beach is a chaotic and exciting fiasco on 4th of July weekend (especially now that it has been overrun with trendy dot com beach lovers). Drunken ribaldry is bountiful, even more than usual, and this year included more fratty looking people in capes of American Flags than I ever remember. It was on our stroll that we discovered  the annual “Mr. and Mrs. Muscle Beach” competition and I am so glad we did. If you have never been to a body building competition I recommend it. Burly cartoonish men “dancing” their slow-paced moves to chosen soundtracks as “Eye of the Tiger” or a slow paced Celine Dion. Every stereotype you can imagine of Herculean bodybuilding men is showcased at these events and it is fabulous.

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So you ask me, what does this have to do with the Plant of the Week? Nothing really. Except, since I have plants on the brain most of my days it seems I find myself making farfetched connections between people and plants and plants and people and thus  anthropomorphizing the plants I see. This weeks plant is most definitely a plant on steroids.
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It was also Fourth of July weekend wandering through the haze of drunken partiers that I also found this massive cactus, Armatocereus. I had no clue what it was, I have never seen anything like it, but in that moment it reminded me of those bodybuilders, fittingly, it is also nicknamed the “armed cereus”.

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I know little else of this tree, and scoured the internet to even just get the little I could, other than its genus. It is quite uncommon in cultivation and they are said to be difficult to grow. Armatocereus is from South America and it is  known to grow nearly 40 feet. It’s distinct features is its “pinch points”, the segmented yearly growth cycles on its otherwise cylindrical and ribbed stems.
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Armotocereus, the ‘roided out, muscly, and jaw dropping body builder of the plant world. 

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The Superhydrophobicity of Kale

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Kevin is Portuguese. He grew up on salted cod fish and boiled things thrown together. Unfortunately, I dont like either of those things.  I try to find a middle ground, in the end I end up making this dish often. It is that perfect agreement between any relationship – he gets his chorizo and I get to feed him a hefty amount of kale. We both win. Spicy smoked meat combined with a veggie that is one of the nutritionally dense – with a serving containing significant amounts of vitamin c, calcium, carotenes, B vitamins, chlorophyll etcetera etcetera.

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It is also my favorite thing to grow in the garden. It grows all year long (here in Berkeley) and one plant can be harvested endlessly (or so it seems).

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These days Kale’s reign over the lesser vitamin packed veggies is known (to the point of becoming trite), but the thing that has always amazed me the most about it was the when washing it there would be little beads of water that would form and slide off its waxy cuticle. Scientific and very magical.
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This was my first encounter with Biomimicry and as I now know something called “The Lotus Effect”. It is this superhydrophobicity (as they call it) that has inspired water repelling clothing and paints. It is a natural mechanism that through a microscopic rough structure and protrusions of hydrophobic waxy nature allows a plant to self clean, which happens when the water droplets slide off effortlessly taking dirt away with them.

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This soup is a consistent hit and insanely easy and malleable to additions.
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New Bedford Portuguese Kale Soup
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Bundle or two of Kale
One Large Onion
2 Chourico or Chorizo
8 Cups of Chicken Broth
Olice Oil
6 Cloves of Garlic
Can of Cannellini Beans
Paprika or Cayenne
Salt and Pepper
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Saute onions first in olive oil and then add garlic. Add slives chourico for a minute. Add liquid and simmer for 10 minutes.
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Rinse kale and tear leafy portions from stems. Add kale. (You can add potatoes here to if you like them) Simmer for 30 minutes. Then add beans if desired.

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Plant of the Week: Achillea Ageratum ‘Moonwalker’

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My first interaction with Yarrow was almost ten years ago when an ex-boyfriend cut himself in the shower unexpectedly (don’t ask). One of my industrious friends said that we should put yarrow on it because she had done so once when diving head first into a swimming hole and her gaping wound had healed wonderfully. So we made a poultice and pressed it against the wound. At the time, it seemed very magical to gather something from the garden and use it as a medicene, which is something I had never thought of.

Yarrow or Sweet Maudlin or English Mace or Sneezewort or scientifically known as Achillea can be found all over the world, though the origins of its name is most certainly Greek. It’s name being derived from the Greek myth of Achilles. In the Iliad, Achilles soldiers use yarrow to treat their wounds.

These pictures are of Achillea Ageratum “Moonwalker” my most favorite of all the yarrows.

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Yarrows uses are prolific and varied and go back centuries and can be seen very clearly even today. The phyto-therapeutic uses of Achillea can be inspected in the many papers I was able to find that study the anti fungal, anti-imflammatory, antimicrobial (just a few of its) properties. Some of the papers having names such as,

“Cytostatic activity of Achillea ageratum L.” or ”Essential oil composition and antimicrobial activity of wild and cultivated Moroccan Achillea ageratum L.: a rare and threatened medicinal species.” or ”Study of the topical anti-inflammatory activity of Achillea ageratum on chronic and acute inflammation models.”

In the Middle Ages, Achillea Ageratum, was used as a strewing herb to repel moth, lice, ticks and to spread a generally good smell. (At that time people did not shower as often so the spreading of fragrant herbs upon the floors of a household became popular and as people stepped upon the herbs the smells would emanate and their benefits released.)

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Yarrow stalks were also famously used as traditional tools for casting the I Ching.

If divination weren’t enough, yarrow is also of use to the single woman, it is said they were used as aids to find a husband. In Ireland women would dig up the plant and place it under their pillow and supposedly would then dream of their future husband.

I have also read it to be an ancient Viagra leading to other names such as “Old Man’s pepper-pot” and “Bad mans plaything”.

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Other than being a marvelous plant with medicinal properties and a fantastic history they are EASY! I have been the laziest bum in the entire century this season and in this horrible year of drought and my insistence in not watering once, it has come back in all it’s glory, persistently and perfectly. Drought tolerant and an easy cut flower, it’s ferny foliage is delicate, hardy, and beautiful. It is beneficial to insects and makes the perfect landing pads for butterflies. Ageratum is especially beautiful in my opinion and the roundedness of each of its little flowers makes me love it.
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(P.S. This is Maggie. A lifelong friend and a clown! She is about to run off to Peru for the sixth time to join Patch Adams on one of his yearly humanitarian clown missions. The garden is also in sort of full bloom and it was a pleasure to spend some time with her. )

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Into Out There

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Susan Sontag once was quoted saying, “What I really wanted was every kind of life…..”

 With those words is my most prized trait and the pain in my side. I want so much. With occasional effort I attempt to rein it in but in the end it is the engine that moves me towards new tomorrows and impractical hobbies, so I go with it. It really is bothersome to want so many things at the same time. This weekend was no exception to my never-ending love for everything, these days though I do try to harness it into all things natural and the inherent processes of the beauty and movement of it.

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 It is so familiar to see how when one makes a decision, billions of smaller compromises follow suit, agreements not made, but consequences of said decisions. Build a house, care for a cat, make a home that strangely begins to becomes part of your identity, try to create a business that attempts to synthesizes hopeful dreams. It goes on and on, one thing building upon the other. One decision is a hidden glacier of other decisions beneath it. Decision making, if one is consistent (and all the best decisions usually are) can often be the glue that binds you to space and a specific path.  Decisions are really what make a person and define them into a form.

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Conscious decisions have bound me, and since consistency is an aim, I try, but some days I just really am all wanderlust. Why can’t we just run off for a month and hike the John Muir Trail? What if we moved to Portugal for six months? Let’s just move to Alaska so Kevin can go fishing? Trans Siberian Railroad?
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Wandering is a decision that is the anti-decision, the erratic resolutions of youth.

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We went to Yosemite and around this weekend. There we met wandering travelers, Disneyland like nature scenes, we met a woman with blue hair and cancer braid that symbolized recovery, saw ruins of abandon mining towns, proud girls traveling alone across the country, middle-aged and elderly joy seekers, soaked in sulfuric water with mud with remnants of hair, and we walked.

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Walking, the march up the mountain, gave this weekend a sense of  comprehension and spoke to me of how important it will be for me to go into out there. There, meaning this space that is quiet and a little bit dangerous but really just beautiful and tiring in the best way possible.
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And then there are plants. It is amazing to see plants in the spaces they were meant to be. I see how disconnected the words are when I see that a plant is native to a certain location and then I plant it and it becomes mine in my own space, without origins. I like discovering origins. Oh, the Wild flowers! – that are really wild and surviving in the places they fit perfectly into. Consistent, dependent, and form fitting to place.

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I made a decision this weekend that I would like to walk more. It takes away the edge off of the practically sedentary lifestyle of an urban environment. That sort of expansiveness really connects you to the whole circle and picture of why and where and how decisions are made.
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In the end, what I really want is an every kind of life, surrounded by lots of plants and views.

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