Wednesday, December 28, 2016

National Chocolate Candy Day

Chocolate Candy

Chocolate Candy: photo by Cliff Hutson
Chocolate Candy: photo by Cliff Hutson

National Chocolate Candy Day is observed annually on December 28 in the USA.

Some say that eating chocolate can improve overall health and lower the risk of heart disease. Candy may not be the best form in which to consume it. But, taken in moderation, how bad could it be?

“Like that movie "Touch of Evil" I got the Orson Wells, Marlene Dietrich blues
Where Orson walks in to the whore house and
Marlene says "Man, you look like hell"
And Orson's chewing on a chocolate bar
As the lights go on in the old Blue Star hotel
"Read my future" says old Orson, "down inside the tea leaves of your cup"
And she says "You ain't got no future, Hank,
I believe your future's all used up””



Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Yerba Mansa

Anemopsis californica

Yerba Mansa: photo by Cliff Hutson
Yerba Mansa: photo by Cliff Hutson


Anemopsis californica, is also known as yerba mansa and lizard tail. Yerba, is Spanish for herb. Some say that mansa is the feminine form of the Spanish word manso meaning tame, tranquil or calm. But, as the plant has none of these effects, the best translation is probably “soft herb”. The common name Lizard Tail derives from its family name  - Saururaceae. It is the only member of that family native to California.

What looks like a flower is actually a succession of bracts which sit below a petal-less flower with six stamens and an inconspicuous pistil. 

The plant flourishes in very wet soil or shallow water. Thus, today, it is much used as an excellent plant for water features in home landscaping. It can be planted in the water or along moist edges and will trail down along rock faces or fountain edges. 

However, it may be said that it better known for its medicinal uses.  Native peoples from the coastal Chumash to the desert Shoshone have used yerba mansa as an anesthetic and antiseptic for a very long time. Its dried roots, ground into a powder, are used to relieve sore throats Yerba mansa is used as an antimicrobial, an antibacterial, and to treat vaginal candidiasis. It has been used to treat colds, coughs, asthma, kidney problems, and venereal disease.


NOTE: This article is an examination of traditional medicinal use of a plant. It is intended for cultural and environmental education purposes only, and should not be taken as medical advice.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Netherlands Breakfast

Netherlands Breakfast: photo by Cliff Hutson
Netherlands Breakfast: photo by Cliff Hutson

Netherlands Breakfast - Gouda cheese, unsalted butter, and apricot jam; on white bread
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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

California Dodder


California Dodder: photo by Cliff Hutson
California Dodder: photo by Cliff Hutson
The astute reader of this blog may recall that I am a Nature Interpreter at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG) and lead tours for school children and adults. It was also my pleasure to have written the “Plant of the Month” article for “Oak Notes”, an in-house newsletter, for four years.

One of the sites I refer to, among the usual suspects such as Wikipedia and CNPS, when writing about a plant is maintained by the Consortium of California Herbaria  which provides information about California vascular plant specimens that are housed in participant herbaria. One can search on just about any plant and obtain a list of accessions from around the state.


California Dodder (Cuscuta californica), hits close to home as it has records dating from 1897 to 2009 for specimens found in and around Claremont. Two of these are housed in the RSABG herbarium. One was collected from the Bernard Field Station, just to the east. The other was found along Thompson Creek where I often see the plant.

Cuscuta californica, also called Chaparral Dodder, is an annual parasitic herb or vine that is native to California. It is also found outside of California, but is confined to western North America. Dodder is readily identified by its threadlike, hairless, yellow, orange, or red shoots which twine around host plants eventually creating a tangled mat. One notable feature is that it does not usually have roots that reach the ground. Instead, knoblike organs along the shoot (haustoria) penetrate the host stem. Shoots either lack leaves or have very tiny red, yellow, or orange scalelike leaves pressed close to the stem. It tends to bloom from May through October. The white flowers are tiny, only about 3 to 6 millimeters wide. The fruits are even smaller.

Dodder once had its own family, but it is now consigned to CONVOLVULACEAE, the Morning Glory Family. The epithet Cuscuta seemingly comes from Cuscu'ta a name of Arabic derivation meaning "dodder”. The common name, Chaparral Dodder, tips us to one of its habitats. It is also found through out the state in many other plant communities such as forests and grasslands. And, of course, “the City of Trees and PhDs”.
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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

National Cashew Day

Who knew?


Cashews: photo by Cliff Hutson
Cashews: photo by Cliff Hutson

National Cashew Day is celebrated annually on November 23. This day was first observed in 2015; so I am not embarrassed about not finding out about it until yesterday.

But, I have enjoyed eating them for years. Not only are these so-called nuts tasty, they are healthy. Cashews contain copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and vitamin K, along with lesser-known phytonutrients, such as antioxidants, tyrosinase, melanin, elastin, proanthocyanidins, and oleic acid, provide hard-to-ignore benefits for the body. The seed, or drupe, can be eaten on its own, used in various cuisines, or processed into cashew cheese or cashew butter. 

I am not a doctor, nor do I portray one on TV, but I have read that one can lower their risk of cardiovascular and coronary heart disease by eating a serving of cashews or a tablespoon of cashew butter, a few times a week.


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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Palo Verde

What's in a name?


Palo Verde: photo by Cliff Hutson
Palo Verde: photo by Cliff Hutson
One of the things that intrigues me about leading tours at RSABG is the feed back I receive from guests. One plant that leads to many discussions is a tree we call Palo Verde. Everyone agrees that “verde” is Spanish for “green”. However, “palo” is variously translated as “stick”, “pole”, or “wood”. The “green” in its name comes from the color of the trunk and limbs which contain chlorophyll. This feature allows the tree to photosynthesize when it drops its leaves due to drought conditions, and again in winter.

Native to California, various specious of Palo Verde also occur throughout the Southwest and part of Mexico. They are found predominantly in desert washes, and occasionally in creosote desert scrub habitat, accessing seeps in desert hills up to 3,600 feet .

The most common species are: Little-leaved or Yellow Palo Verde (Parkinsonia aculeata) has a yellow-green trunk, tiny leaves, and a spine at the end of each branch. Their seeds are large with a seed pod that constricts around them; and Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida which has a blue-green trunk, larger leaves, small spines along the branch at the leaf nodes, and no spine at the end of the branch. Blue Palo Verde seed pods are larger than little-leaved seed pods, and the pod does not constrict around the seeds.

Palo Verde Blossoms: photo by Cliff Hutson
Palo Verde Blossoms: photo by Cliff Hutson
The yellow pea-like flowers bloom in spring and frequently occur intermittently through out the year. Both the literature and my personal observation indicate that the plant seems to attract the most bees and the most species of bees than any other tree. This factor, the sheer beauty of its filigreed leaves, and its low water requirement have made Palo Verde a popular landscape tree In our area.

Bee on Palo Verde: photo by Cliff Hutson
Bee on Palo Verde: photo by Cliff Hutson


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Mudville


It's all over but the shouting


I Voted 2016: photo by Cliff Hutson
I Voted 2016: photo by Cliff Hutson

“Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children
     shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out”


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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

October 2016 Reading

The books I finished reading in October 2016


October 2016 Reading: photo by Cliff Hutson
October 2016 Reading: photo by Cliff Hutson

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Apache Plume

Apache Plume Blossom: photo by Cliff Hutson
Apache Plume Blossom: photo by Cliff Hutson

Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa) is a member of ROSACEAE, the rose family. It is native to California and found in the arid habitats of the mountains of east San Bernardino County. It is also grows in the desert woodlands and scrub of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, and northern Mexico. It is the only member of its genus. Which is to say it is monotypic. 

The flower of the shrub is roselike, or to some a little like an apple blossom, with rounded white petals and a center filled with many thready stamens and pistils. The flowers are small, but not inconspicuous.

The persistent fruits have distinctive feathery plumes that look a lot like pompoms. They are formed when the ovary of the flower remains after the petals fall away, leaving the styles, each 3 to 5 centimeters long. Each style is attached to a fruit, which is a small achene. The plant is covered with these clusters. They are greenish at first, turning pink or reddish tinged later on.

Apache Plume Fruit: photo by Cliff Hutson
Apache Plume Fruit: photo by Cliff Hutson

Eventually the plumes turn white and when backlit are quite spectacular. The fruit finally disperses when wind catches the styles and blows them away.

Apache Plume: photo by Cliff Hutson
Apache Plume: photo by Cliff Hutson

The plant grows three to eight feet tall, with straw-colored branches and spreads six to eight feet. The small leaves are green on top and rusty underneath. Apache Plume can look a little scruffy, but still be attractive in a drought tolerant garden.
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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Days of the Cat

Mini and Pumpkin: photo by Cliff Hutson
Mini and Pumpkin: photo by Cliff Hutson

This week has two days involving cats. National Feral Cat Day is observed annually on October 16. And, October 17 was the twelfth anniversary of a cat, who became known as Pumpkin, walking up our driveway while my wife was gardening in the front flowerbeds, and convincing her that he should live with us.

Feral Cats

Feral Cat: photo by Cliff Hutson
Feral Cat: photo by Cliff Hutson

A feral cat is a cat that has been born to a stray or another feral cat and is unaccustomed to interacting with humans. They may be so afraid of people that they are unable to be handled, let alone adopted.

Many people object to feral cats as they can create problems by urinating, defecating, digging in yards and gardens. I did not really mind them  jumping on my car, but some people can see why others take umbrage at the paw prints.  The feral cats can also be upsetting to owned cats. But, perhaps the main problem is that, left to their own devices, they will reproduce like the proverbial rabbits. Since a female cat can become pregnant as early as five months of age, the number of feral cats in a neighborhood can rapidly increase if cats aren't spayed or neutered. Trap-neuter-return (TNR) is a solution to this problem. 

TNR is a program through which feral cats are humanely trapped; sterilized and medically treated. The tip of one ear surgically removed - a "tipped" ear is the universally-recognized sign of a cat who has been spayed or neutered. The cat will then be returned to the location where they were found. Those cats found suffering with terminal or untreatable illnesses or injuries are euthanized. 

My next door neighbor participates in TNRShe feeds them after their return, so they tend to stick around and form a colony. Her cats like to hang out on our adjoining wall, and in my drive. (They also liked to sleep on the hood of my car. I don’t think that they have fully forgiven me for switching to a SUV which is too tall for them to reach.) Many people on the block assume that they are mine. This enhances my reputation as "that strange old man".

Actually, only two cats, Pumpkin and Mini, live with me. Both were stays.



Stray Cats

Pumpkin: photo by Cliff Hutson
Pumpkin: photo by Cliff Hutson

A stray cat is a pet who has been lost or abandoned, is used to contact with people and is tame enough to be adopted.

Pumpkin had a collar, but no tags nor ID. Our first thought was to find his owners by putting up posters. We took him in to the IVHS to see if he was chipped - he was not; or if anyone would inquire about him - no one did. So, he came to live with us. We thought we were really clever naming an orange cat "Pumpkin". (Especially in the month of October.) But, it seems we were not the first. "Pumpkin" is fortieth on the list of 100 popular cat names.

Mini: photo by Cliff Hutson
Mini: photo by Cliff Hutson


We adopted Mini not quite a year later. She came from a cat rescue group that had found her in a vacant house. Picking a name for her was more difficult. It seems that during the first week it changed on a daily basis, if not hourly. She was very tiny, being only about five months, and it looked like she would always be small. So, I hit up on "Mini", after the car, and it stuck. 

Cats make great companions in the right household. My cats and I have what could be called a strong bond. Both got along well with our dogs, too. The only downside for me is that they never encourage me to go for a walk, and I have gotten a little lazier as a result. 


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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

National Metric Week

National Metric Week: photo by Cliff Hutson
National Metric Week: photo by Cliff Hutson

Each year, the week containing October 10 is National Metric Week. While not observed by most Americans, it was begun by our National Council of Teachers of Mathematics on May 10, 1976, approximately one year after the Metric Conversion Act of 1975, Metric Week serves as an opportunity for teachers, students and the public to learn about the metric system, and/or promote its use. The tenth day of the tenth month  is a clever way of recognizing the importance and convenience of the metric system, which is based on 10s.

While it may be true that - ”The pint's a pound, the world around” - only three countries, Myanmar (Burma), Liberia, and the USA, have not adopted the metric system (or the International System of Units (SI)) as their official system of weights and measures. This makes the US the only industrialized country that has not adopted the metric system as its official system of measurement.

However, its use has some mixed results. The United Kingdom uses the metric system for most administrative and trade purposes, Imperial units are widely used by the public and are permitted or obligatory for some purposes, such as road signs. Americans may know it better than they think. A lot products, from bottled drinks to medicines, are already sold and talked about in terms of their metric measures. And, I notice that automobile reviews cite engine displacement in liters while giving all other dimensions in feet, inches, and cubic feet.

I am somewhat comfortable with the metric system. As an aficionado of European sports cars, dating back to my teenage years, I have long been used to discussing engine size in liters. Then in my thirties, I ran a lot of 5Ks and 10Ks - though I was a “miler” in high school. And, I have owned at least one car where the speedometer was marked in both miles and kilometers. And, at one time when I was still in to such stuff, had two sets of wrenches so that I could work on my wife's car and my own.

But, I can see that making a full conversion will be a tough row to hoe. The change over of signage and packaging will be a tremendous undertaking. For example, one pint [Fluid, US] = 473.176473 Milliliters. I also think, as the rancor of our current presidential campaign has underscored, many of my country people will object on the grounds that it is foreign.

The first practical realization of the metric system came in 1799 in France during the Revolution. It fell out of favor for sometime but was readapted by France in 187. Then during the first half of the 19th century was taken up by the scientific community.

The meter was defined in 1793 as one ten-millionth of the distance from the equator to the North Pole. Today, under the auspices of the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures is the distance travelled by light in a vacuum in 1/299,792,458 seconds. Just in case you are wondering, the liter is the unit of volume and was defined as one thousandth of a cubic meter. 

I should point out that the SI is the simplified modern version of the various metric systems. As most metric units are not part of SI, it not strictly speaking “the metric system.” And, a large portion of the American economy is now largely SI, including automobiles, heavy equipment, farm machinery, medicine, science, electronics, computers, cameras, bicycles, the military, and several sports.  

So, at some time in the future I am sure that all of us be using the system. But, in the meantime, I am going to celebrate the completion of this post by lifting an Imperial Pint (568.26125 ml) of ale.






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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

National Drink Beer Day

Drink Local: photo by Cliff Hutson
Drink Local: photo by Cliff Hutson

It seems that September 28th is National Drink Beer Day here in the US of A,  marking the closing of the Oktoberfest season. Many people apparently will enjoy it by having a glass of their favorite beer at a local tavern; and will use #DrinkBeerDay to post the occasion on social media.

I am truly puzzled that something called Oktoberfest takes place in September. But, it is what it is, any excuse to drink beer is a good excuse to drink beer. Is it not?

My late wife and I first partook of the festivities in the mid-1970s at a place called Alpine Village. It was a lot of fun then. And, a lot more low key that it seems to be today.

Last Name Brewing: photo by Cliff Hutson
Last Name Brewing: photo by Cliff Hutson
These days, I am loathe to travel so far afield. Close to home, I am torn between Last Name Brewing (originally called Dale Brothers) and Claremont Craft Ales.

Claremont Craft Ales: photo by Cliff Hutson
Claremont Craft Ales: photo by Cliff Hutson

My favorite brew at the former is Runway IPA; at the later it is Jacaranda Rye India Pale Ale.
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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sunflowers

Coast Sunflower: photo by Cliff Hutson
Coast Sunflower (Encelia californica): photo by Cliff Hutson

The drought in California over the past five some odd years, and the resulting restrictions on watering, have been rough on home gardens, public plantings, and native plants. However, one plant that has been holding its own, at the botanic garden where I work, is one of the sunflowers.

Helianthus annuus 

Helianthus annuus, the common sunflower, is an annual herb that is native to California and is also found elsewhere in North America .  Sunflowers belong to the what is probably the largest family of flowering plants  - the Asteraceae (or Compositae). The name sunflower may derive from the impression that the blooming plant appears to slowly turn its flower towards the sun as the it moves across the sky, or from the shape of the flower which resembles a child’s drawing of the sun.

Sunflowers do display heliotropism in the bud stage. The motion is created by special cells in a flexible segment of the stem just below the bud. However, mature sunflowers become fixed in an easterly direction, with only their leaves continuing to track the sun. This motion, from east to west, is believed to increase photosynthesis.

The term Compositae, i.e., composite, comes from the fact that the “flower”’ is actually composed of many flowers. The flowers on the outer margin are ray flowers. The flowers at the center of the head are the disc flowers, which will mature into seeds. Many sunflowers are beautiful ornamental flowers in an annual bed or a mixed border. They attract bees and are also a good choice for butterfly gardens; monarch butterflies are especially attracted to sunflowers.

“Claremont Sunshine” Sunflower

Claremont Sunshine: photo by Cliff Hutson
Claremont Sunshine: photo by Cliff Hutson

RSABG is home to a cultivar of  Helianthus annuus, “Claremont Sunshine”, the plant that is doing pretty well.  Cultivars are bred from exceptional plants of an existing variety because they possess a desired attribute. I read that Bart O’Brien was driving on I-5 and spotted some wild sunflowers that were a very pale yellow, instead of the golden color. So he marked the spot, came back and harvested the seeds, then cultivated them. 

The Fall Planting Festival at Grow Native Nursery will showcase this and thousands of other California native and water efficient plants on October 1, 2016, 10 am - 4:30 pm - Members only, 8 -10 am. 

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden has been selling California native plants since 1978. So, , if your are in Southern California, don’t miss this ideal opportunity to purchase hard-to-find, one-of-a-kind natives and to get your gardening questions answered by friendly, experienced botanic garden professionals and volunteers.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Dessert and Sex

Carrot Cake: photo by Cliff Hutson
Carrot Cake: photo by Cliff Hutson

Most men my age probably do not follow posts on BuzzFeed as much as I do. We are not their target demographic. My excuse is that my granddaughter works for them as a Social Media Strategist. And, it can be greatly amusing.

Cookies: photo by Cliff Hutson
Cookies: photo by Cliff Hutson

Dessert Test Will Determine How Sexy You Are


Last night I took a quiz that is supposed to determine one's sex appeal based on their choice of a cake, cookie, candy, and pie.

Candy Bar: photo by Cliff Hutson
Candy Bar: photo by Cliff Hutson

I can say that never before have been likened to a molten lava cake. It seems my choice of desserts outstrips my actual life, by far. Why not try it and see how you do.


Pie: photo by Cliff Hutson
Pie: photo by Cliff Hutson

By the way, as to my age, let's just say that I am no longer a sexagenarian. (See what I did there.)
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