My Second Cornucopia

In my first cornucopia presentation (The Towne Crier, Feb. 25, 2004), I offered a peek into my collection of man/plant related facts, fictions, fantasies etc.. I ended with a promise to continue. It's not quite a year, but the Thanksgiving and upcoming holidays reminded me of my challenge to myself to provide another, so here it is. I hope you enjoy it.

In 1948 while on an alpine hike, Swiss mountaineer, George deMestral, became very annoyed by the burs that kept catching on his socks and pants. So annoyed, that in removing them, he saw competition with the zipper. After some time, a weaver at a textile mill in Lyon, France believed the hook and loop idea had merit. By the mid-1950's, the first nylon "locking tape" was a reality, and only a few years later, 34,000 miles of "Velcro" were being produced a year.

Tomatoes are about 95% water and 5% solids. When you purchase tomato soup, ketchup, sauce and paste, a lot of what you are paying for is water removal. Plant physiologists are breeding high solid hybrids, with solids between 8 and 15%. The tomato industry thinks a single percent increase could translate to 70 or more million dollars a year.

Wildfires frequently blaze across the brush of the dry western chaparral. In no time at all, seemingly, new plants sprout from the charred land and bloom the following spring. Long thinking it was heat that stimulated the nearly 100% germination of seeds, scientists have since learned it is the smoke. One component of the smoke, nitrogen dioxide, was shown to induce germination 30 seconds after exposure, while control seeds stayed dormant.

93% of the weight of a tree is attributed to the carbon and oxygen atoms in carbohydrates, both supplied directly by the air.

The ants on peony buds protect the flowers from attack from other insects. The ants in exchange obtain lots of nectar which provides them with sugars, amino acids, and protein.

No till farming and gardening is becoming the rage. More people are switching to this ecologically sound method of food production because it also saves money. Earthworms (nature's tillers) and their tunnels remain intact, weed seed germination is greatly reduced and herbicide use becomes almost unnecessary. Of course, the cost of fuel and labor in nearly eliminated, and soil structure is preserved instead of harmed. Glomalin is a unique protein made by a certain soil dwelling fungus and secreted by its hyphae (thread-like filaments). I serves as a glue like material that coats soil particles and binds them together into soil aggregates. Tilling reduces glomalin levels and harms soil structure.

The average garden contains 53,767 earthworms per acre (a conservative effort form Charles Darwin). To make their nests, earthworms are capable, in a six month period, of taking 20 pounds of leaves per square yard down with them to a depth of six feet. Darwin estimated that 18 tons of soil are brought to the surface per acre per year by earthworms, with ten tons passing through their bodies. Long before the plow was invented, the land was regularly tilled by these unseen earth movers, he pointed out.

Thomas Jefferson's "garden" referred to his kitchen or vegetable garden. It was 80 feet wide and 1000 feet long. Over 250 varieties of vegetables and herbs were grown including 20 varieties of English peas, a favorite.

Common table sugar may fast become another simple ingredient in our arsenal of safe products to control insect pests. Sugar esters can both suffocate insects and dissolve the waxy coating that protects them.

The oldest document yet discovered by man, a clay tablet inscribed in Babylon, ca 6000 B.C., describes the preparation of beer for sacrificial purposes. Two thousand years later the Babylonians had made 16 different types of beer using wheat, barley, and honey.

On a similar note, the chief cause for the rapid expansion of apple orchards westward in the early U.S. was the high demand for hard cider.

Marigolds are favorite flowers for gardens, but not so favored as cuts because of their peculiarly strong aroma. They do hold up very well as cut flowers, and can be enjoyed this way by adding some sugar to the water next time. It sweetens the odor.

The Celtic name 'dereu-wid' (Druid, to most) means "oak wise" or "having knowledge of the oak tree". The oak forests were sacred and frequently the sites of secret rituals

It wasn't very long ago that the U. S. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that of the nearly 50,000 edible plant species, humans consume only 250 to 300 kinds of plants, most from 20 or so species. They state that we are risking the loss of 40,000 edible plant species in less than 60 years. Don't believe it? Hundreds of both edible plants and animals used in ancient times are gone. Since 1900, Europe has lost half of its domestic breeds of horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and poultry. And, the world is moving faster.

The importance of pollination has been known since at least 3500 years ago. An Egyptian relief depicts hand pollination. Still, the sexual aspects of plant reproduction were not defined (in the Western World) until the mid-eighteen hundreds. Charles Darwin publicized and popularized the subject.

Poinsettias in their native Mexico grow into straight, tall trees typically ten feet tall or more. For a long time (up until 1997) an unknown biological agent blessed poinsettia growers with the ability to produce short, free branching cultivars. This started in 1923. Prior to this, poinsettias were sold only as cut flowers. In 1997 scientists discovered that a plant pathogen was responsible for the deformed growth habit, and that fortunately, the only manifestations were dwarfing and branching. The same pathogen in other plants resulted in disfigurement, severe damage, and usually total crop loss.

Plant life in the oceans makes up 85% of all the greenery on earth, and provides an equivalent supply of oxygen.

Until next time, I wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season and a prosperous and peaceful 2005.


From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on December 15, 2004

© 2004 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.