The Surprising Love Life of the Fig

This is a reblog from the NewYorker.com. Please follow the link to read the complete article. Who knew fig reproduction was so unusual? 

Bite a fig in half and you’ll discover a core of tiny blossoms.

All kinds of critters, not only humans, frequent fig trees, but the plants owe their existence to what may be evolution’s most intimate partnership between two species. Because a fig is actually a ball of flowers, it requires pollination, but because the flowers are sealed, not just any bug can crawl inside. That task belongs to a minuscule insect known as the fig wasp, whose life cycle is intertwined with the fig’s. Mother wasps lay their eggs in an unripe fig. After their offspring hatch and mature, the males mate and then chew a tunnel to the surface, dying when their task is complete. The females follow and take flight, riding the winds until they smell another fig tree. (One species of wasp, in Africa, travels ten times farther than any other known pollinator.)

When the insects discover the right specimen, they go inside and deposit the pollen from their birthplace. Then the females lay new eggs, and the cycle begins again. For the wasp mother, however, devotion to the fig plant soon turns tragic. A fig’s entranceway is booby-trapped to destroy her wings, so that she can never visit another plant. When you eat a dried fig, you’re probably chewing fig-wasp mummies, too.

The fig and the fig wasp are a superlative example of what biologists call codependent evolution. The plants and insects have been growing old together for more than sixty million years. Almost every species of fig plant—more than seven hundred and fifty in total—has its own species of wasp. But codependence hasn’t made them weak, like it can with humans. The figs and fig wasps’ pollination system is extremely efficient compared with that of other plants, some of which just trust the wind to blow their pollen where it needs to go. And the figs’ specialized flowers, far from isolating them in an evolutionary niche, have allowed them to …

Continue reading at the New Yorker

 

Wild Turkeys!

Here are the ones that got away, wily iridescent birds that appear and disappear as if by magic, who live near you but you may never see.

As you enjoy that roasted fattened bird today, raise a toast to their ancestor, who, according to Benjamin Franklin, should have been our national bird. Behold Meleagris gallopavo silvanus, the Wild Turkey.

 

From Franklin’s letter to his daughter in 1784:

For in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.

Our american bird originally hails from Mexico, but got its name in Britain when the Spanish brought a similar Middle Eastern species to England. So there actually IS a connection between turkey (the bird) and Turkey (the country.)

Whatever is on your table today, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving Day, and all the blessings of connection and abundance.

Blessed Be!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Summer Painting

You can catch me at the monthly Moyaone Markets, where I often have art for sale and in progress. In good weather I love to set up outside and invite anyone to make art with me, and that’s what I did at the August 1 Market, a blissful summer’s day.

I had a variety of guest artists of all ages, and we had fun in the dappled shade, splashing our watercolors, sprinkling with salt for cool effects, and watching the colors run and bloom, just like the flowers we were painting.

Haven’t you wanted to pick up the brush or pen and make images? What’s holding you back?

Next Moyaone Market Saturday September 5
9am-1pm  •  2311 Bryan Point Rd, Accokeek MD

 

Who Lives Among the Flowers?

Photo-blogging the summer of 2014

Last weekend I took photos of the magnolia seed pods and sent them to a friend, who exclaimed: “what an awesome praying mantis!”

I hadn’t even noticed the creature when I clicked the shutter. So, I thought, how many photos do I have with accidental critters in them? A few. But if I expand the concept, I have a great many images of life among the flowers.

Most, but not all, of these images have animals among the blossoms. Human animals included. In a few, like the first, the wildlife is invisible. It’s been a colorful year!

IMG_2485

Fairy house on Capitol Hill

LilyLaikaAzaleaPoodles Lily & Laika in Congressional Cemetery

IMG_3597Compulsive Gardener Glee

IMG_2757 Jose visits from the Left Coast

IMG_2773 Lynn and her lovely daughters, plus Hunter

IMG_2948Laurels blooming on NoName Road

IMG_2708Freya

IMG_3602Pollinators at work

IMG_3274Blogger in Bliss

IMG_3387 Silver-bordered Fritellary on Echinacia

IMG_3348  Boats & Day Lilies

IMG_3217 Zebra Swallowtail on Buttonbush

IMG_3207Carol sunning

IMG_3447Lotus in the Mattawoman, flood tide. Who swims below?

IMG_3416Forest spinner

IMG_3614Southern Magnolia pods and mantis

June Garden Joy

Picspam from a beautiful morning in the garden:

pakchoi
Pak Choi

 

Horta
‘Horta” mixed greens

 

gadzuchs
zuchini and eggplant blossoms

 
sungolds1
sungold tomatoes

 
peppers
yellow bell peppers

Today in the Garden: Surprise Gifts

I went to the garden the other day for solitude. To my surprise, five children under 7 ran up alongside my car, squealing about the dogs and can we play with them?

Two girls and three boys were looking for something to do while their families set up for a big wedding at the community center. They chased the dogs in happy circles and were hugely comical trying to help me move the heavy wheelbarrow with a flat tire. They were so eager!

A fellow gardener had ordered a truckload of leaf mulch and my mission was to spread this wonderful black soil around my irises, radishes, spinach, broccoli, red cabbage and day lilies. I had lots of help. There was great competition for the big shovel. Then everyone wanted their own trowel, so more were found.

“Tuck those plants in, put that nice black blanket around them, like your mommy tucks you in at night.” And so they spread the leaf-gro around the young plants then helped me water.

Before they left, I showed them how to pull a carrot. One of my all time favorite things is to watch a child discover a natural miracle. It’s so rewarding to see the astonishment on their bright faces when the familiar orange food comes out of the soil, and after hosing off the bright orange root, they experience the taste of real food.

I was looking for solitude when I went to the garden. But I received a different kind of gift. I guess we don’t always know what we need, until we get it.

Today in the Garden – Surprising Rewards

Every time I visit the garden, I am rewarded, even when I dread what I might find.

I’ve been neglecting my garden. There, I’ve said it, and can heave a sigh of relief. The end of summer was terribly disappointing, as my tomato crop failed due to an aggressive wilt. Then we had a month of deluging rains. I confess I fall into a despondent state, don’t even want to look at my failure as a farmer. And it’s easy to avoid since it’s at the community garden, not at home.

Well, imagine my surprise when I came home with a heavy bag of food from yesterday’s visit! And not only that; this striking creature, the Argiope or common garden spider, who I had noticed in August, is still on duty, only she’s grown enormously. I’ve scaled the photo to about the accurate size — I’ve never seen one so big!

You may know that I have life-long arachnophobia, and I have worked diligently to educate myself about these useful and amazing creatures. I’m proud that in recent years I see them and feel admiration more than terror. I can really enjoy this wild thing who’s home is in my garden. She’s spun her web from a jalapeno plant to the stalk of a deceased tomato, and there she will stay until her work is done.

I recently learned that the signature zig-zag in her web is made by the much smaller male. I wondered… it’s an interesting and artful addition to the weaver’s art.

So last night I feasted on a salad rich with red leaf lettuce, arugula, yellow beans, radishes, the last red tomato and scallions. The stir fry was purple potatoes with sweet and hot peppers, onions and mushrooms. Only the mushrooms came from the store.

After harvesting, I cleared the old bean vines from half of one bed in preparation for garlic planting next month. All in all, a very satisfying visit.

Spring Abundance!

a little over one year ago I posted a photo of my produce haul from my first veggie garden in ten years. I was delighted with the delicious food and beautiful colours I was reaping so early in the season. I’m ready to repeat the tradition, the first harvest that feels like abundance:

first vegetable harvest of spring

My strawberries, zuccini, chard, kale and radishes are all so lush, and everything else is growing while you watch. It’s magic. (and delicious!)

Pollen, Flowers, Flying Things & Food

It’s that time: the air is filled with …. stuff!

Maple seeds helicoptor down. Dusty white oak ‘flowers’ cover my patio and clog my gutters. I’m sneezing and sweeping. There’s a fly buzzing on the screen. I swat a mosquito. A cabbage butterfly and a honeybee cruise by.

This week members of the Local Food Forum gathered to view the film Vanishing of the Bees. It’s an academy award nominated documentary about the rise of Colony Collapse disorder that reveals the impact of agribusiness on honey and bee farmers worldwide. Until I saw this film I had no idea beehives were trucked all over the country. Or that monoculture agriculture provided no food for bees, leaving 1000s of acres essentially sterile, absent of the buzz of insect life.

Of course, for our immediate comfort, that’s what many of us want. I don’t want creatures who sting and bite, eat my blood, may give me a disease, eat my crops, even my clothing!  I even hate the look of certain creepy things on the wall. OUT! It’s easy to think: “Go away, die, life is better without you, you horrible thing!”

Insects are not easy to identify with. They seem very alien to us, in fact many fictional aliens are based on arthropods. They do not have the soft liquid single eyes of mammals, but weird compound orbs. No familiar warm mouth with pink tongue, but a frightening orafice with pincers and palps. Their skeletons are on the outside their bodies, and muscles inside, the inverse of our structure. They appear sneaky, subversive, ugly, evil, insidious.

But know that the bees, the butterflies, the wasps, even flies and mosquitos pollenate our food and flowers, and provide the food for birds, fish and other wildlife. Know that like us they are born, learn to live, walk, fly, feed themselves. They struggle to find food and shelter, mate and create offspring. Bees live in a highly organized social order, a matriarchy devoted to creating a sustainable community that makes more than enough food in order to insure survival of the community.

When they are successful, we have the sweetness of honey. And, oh, yes: fruit and flowers.

Please consider this when you wish the bugs away, or reach for that pesticide. There is a web of life that connects all things, and we, and the insects, are intertwined within it.