vrijdag 31 mei 2013

Eye to eye with a Ginkgo tree


The existence of the Chinese living fossil ginkgo tree was revealed to me by this excellent article on E360.yale. The ginkgo is a one of a kind tree that from fossil records appears to have survived unchanged for 100 million years. It has acquired a kind of botanical cult status with people hunting for wild specimens in the Middle Kingdom and Dutch teachers running fansites

To my surprise the oldest Ginkgo ever planted in Europe is right here in Utrecht, in the Old Hortus. Established in 1723, the Hortus used to be the botanical garden of the university before it got decommissioned in 1987. With shame I must confess I never bothered to visit it but, Ginkgo power!, now I have. The puzzled look by the man working at the entrance gave me the impression that paying visitors are extremely rare, but the year-round pass he sold me for a tenner will certainly not go wasted.   
As for the ginkgo: there actually were two of them, the oldest is 250 years old, the youngest 150. The brochure does not give exact dates.

woensdag 29 mei 2013

Pics of a Flemish wild food guide from 1945

This Flemish booklet 'Wilde planten op het woudloopersmenu' (wild plants on the wood trackers menu) was published in 1945 and given its age and the brittleness of the paper it's a remarkably well preserved scouting publication. The introduction is followed by a short essay that tells of a country walk ending with a wild food feast: pure outback joy that is within your reach with this publication in your knapsack. And while the fern soup described does not appeal to me much, my lacklustre attempt to research the history of foraging has here found another important avenue for future investigation. I had hoped that the writer, a certain R. Hermans, would have said something about WWII but alas: not a word. 

Would Baden Powell's little soldiers still forage their own meals today?
Below are a number of pages from this book. Click to enlarge.


dinsdag 28 mei 2013

Lines in praise of a self-chiming clock

Lines in Praise of a Self-Chiming Clock

The skill originated in the West,
But, by learning, we can achieve the artifice:
Wheels move and time turns round,
Hands show the minutes as they change.

Red-capped watchmen, there's no need to announce dawn's coming.
My golden clock has warned me of the time.
By first light I am hard at work,
And keep on asking, "Why are the memorials late?"

Quoted from 'Emperor of China, self-portrait of K'ang Hsi' by Jonathan D. Spence. Hsi was a Qing dynasty (so Manchu and not Han, open to the world rather than self-absorbed and arrogant) emperor who reigned from 1661 to 1722. This is not a real autobiography but one synthesized from loose fragments. It's totally Poundian (as in Ezra Pound) showing the wise leader in deliberation about his tasks. The poems (c. 1705) shows the enduring prestige of poetry (and calligraphy) and it also documents a humorous (?) response from the emperor himself to the implications of radical new technology.

zondag 26 mei 2013

Plants in & near Amsterdam

The backcover to mr. Joh. Bolman's 'Wild plants in and around Amsteram' (1976) informs us that at least half of the 650 native Dutch plant occurring outside nature reserves can be found in Amsterdam. The people of Amsterdam have always been fond of bragging about the biological richness of their city. Mr Bolman writes with the flamboyancy of an Austrian border-guard but he makes up for it with geeked-out precision. Each of the ten chapters deal with a specific family of plants or environmental condition and because of the detailed descriptions he has made it easy for the reader to go out and find specific communities of plants or even individual plants. He mentions for instance a common mallow for years growing behind the fence of the bicycle parking on the West side of the Amsterdam central, I am severely tempted to jump in a train to check if it's still there. The information in this book is very time-specific (summer 1975) but Bolman often refers to the 1852 'Flora Amstelaedamensis' to illustrate changes in the flora and he also relates plants to all sorts of man-made changes in the landscape. This is an old-fashioned book that is brimful with information. It also shows that urban botany also concerns itself with urban history in the most broadest sense.

donderdag 16 mei 2013

Bacteria as material culture

In a paper published in April 2012 Benezra, DStefano and Gordon argue for the foundation of an 'Anthropology of microbes'. Taking a step further from a) the notion that we humans are really a symbiotic supraorganism of humans and microbes and b) that this synthesis bring about "intra- and interpersonal variation of these species and gene assemblages as a function of body habitat, age, physiologic status, and family relationships." The insight that results is the idea that microbial variation is another facet of what informs/creates kinship and culture. Qoute: 
Our microbial communities provide snapshots of those with whom we have lived, the diversity of our daily habits, as well as the impact of our changing lifestyles. For example, our guts are homes to our largest collection of microbes, where the number of microbial cells is measured in terms of tens of trillions. Gut microbial communities in humans are shared among family members and underscore the long-lasting impact of our interpersonal relationships. Common as well as distinct features in gut communities are being documented among populations representing varied “cultural traditions” and geographical locations. The breathtaking rate of change in food availability and preparation methods, the expansive movement of human populations, the rapid proliferation of technology, and the ubiquitous use of antibiotics emphasize the importance of studying the microbiological heritage of humans, just as we study our genetic, linguistic, and cultural heritages.
 The BacterioSphere has no loose ends.

maandag 13 mei 2013

Alcheringa times 4

Thirteen issues of Alcheringa, the journal for ethnopoetics, appeared between 1971 and 1980. They are all online. But that is not enough for me: I want to have them! There are copies around but not almost within my budget and/or paypal-sphere. Last year I found one, last week I found three from two different sellers. Two separate issues I purchased on ebay as first/only bid. Like often with reputedly highly collectable material (less obvious William Burroughs for instance): they are not really that sought after at all. While searching for the other issues I can read these and be pleasurably annoyed.

maandag 6 mei 2013

Snooker nicknames [much improved and updated]

Snooker players are now demanded to have nick names by snooker's management. But nicknames are earned not invented. Steve Davis owns 'Interesting' but Mark Selby's 'The Jester from Leicester' alliterates but that is all that can be said in its benefit. Therefore a few suggestions from my side:

Peter Austerity Ebdon
Martin Occupy the University Gould
Barry Fine Young Cannibal Hawkins
Ronnie Day Time Television O'Sullivan
Allister Disturbed Bowel Carter
Ricky Pain in the Lower Back Walden
Mark China Loves Him Allen
Graeme Deputy Accountant Dott
Judd Almost Naughty, Almost Successful Trump
Jimmy The People's Hair-dye White
Dominic Goldilocks Dale
Stephen Maladapted Bacon Neck Maguire 
Mark The Pester of Leicester Selby 
Mark Life Begins at 40 Davis 
John Deep Fried Mars Bar Higgins
Neal Senior Citizen Robertson 
Shaun It's this or MacDonald's Murphy
Stephen Match for Sale Lee

zondag 5 mei 2013

Escaped garden plants in 2013

In addition to the 'weeds in my street' survey I will attempt to collect all escaped garden plants that I find in my daily surroundings. Deciding if a garden plant has gone 'wild' is not a self-evident task. A grape hyacinth growing through the cracks of the paving is obviously not planted but a Narcissus in a neglected flowerbed like above is a different matter. They are planted in parks and road banks throughout the city but a solitary one, hidden beneath a bush, has probably escaped, but how can one be absolutely sure? By noticing plants in unlikely situations elsewhere and by cross-referencing with similar projects (like and like) some additional certainty can be had. The distinction between a garden escape and a recognized wild plant is marked by a thin line. No sane gardener would plant a Giant hogweed or a Japanese hogweed even though both once arrived in Europe as garden novelties. Some plants are both planted by gardeners and weedy: the best example in my street is the Hollyhock that grows in abundance between the tiny space between walls and paving but at the same time you can buy three seedlings for a tenner at the market. 

A prediction: personal ignorance will make it hard to find the exact name for all plants. Your help is appreciated.

The matter of escaped garden plants is a hot topic: after three generations in the wild and when seeding, plants are recognized by the Heukels Flora (the Dutch botanical bible) as native and we are now undergoing an unprecedented influx of new species. The last edition (2005) claims 8% more plants than the 1996 edition and I remember reading or hearing somewhere that the next edition will at least repeat this increase.

All and all this should be an interesting enterprise.

The caper spurge (wolf milk in Dutch) escapes with the garden refuge. Interesting addition. 
Servian bellflowers (I think) growing in a sunny spot around the bend.
Some kind of viola, a plant that I, perhaps unfairly, associate with old ladies.   

The wood forget-me-not is a popular garden plant and well known for escaping. I have spotted a few of them at different places and expect to see more them in the years to come.

A reader suggested annual honesty rather than sweet william catchfly and I think he must be right. It is common this year, I don't remember it from last year.  
The wood viola is occurring at several places, always in tiny patches like this one. Not sure about the name.

Here is an orange hawkweed (thanx Herman) from a municipal flower bed, three meters away.

Escaped from municipal flower bed (see curb)  

Another viola with different colors.
See on Selborne

Again escaped from flower bed
Ghastly plant for right-wing above 65. The detail shows very unclearly shows blue flowers amidst leaves that normally I would recognise as wood sorrel. Any ideas?
I saw tens of this plant in the corner of a building and I think they are potted plants that escaped through a broken bin liner. After months they have finally flowered. Any idea for a name?
Unclear pic, but I assume it is a garden escape.
Another pic drowned in sunlight and photographic incompetence. A popular garden plant this. Next to it
Alkanet, a plant now well established.
No Idea about name.
2 plants, equally ugly, no names.
The flowers look the same as the plant above but it's form is very different.
Common foxglove, one of the witch herbs. It may be wild.