JIM CONRAD'S
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
Issued from Rancho Regenesis
in the woods near Ek Balam Ruins north of Valladolid in
Yucatán, MÉXICO

November 27, 2016

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AIR POTATO EDIBLE BULBILS
One of the most surprising plants found growing at the rancho is the one shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161127ym.jpg

From the first glance it was clear that this was a kind of yam, a member of the viny Yam Family, the Dioscoreaceae. This is one group of plants in which the leaves are diagnostic, not just the flowers. Our rancho plant's typical Yam Family leaf is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161127yn.jpg

What's distinctive is the way the leaf's secondary veins connect the primary veins radiating from the sinus's base, forming more or less rectangular "windows." Except for these rectangles, the leaf could belong to a morning glory.

And what's so surprising about our plant is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161127yo.jpg

That angular, potato-like thing is attached to the stem at head level. We think of the Yam Family's yams as subterranean root tubers, but the thing in our picture is not a tuber, but rather an aerial "bulbil," and it's edible.

In English our plant usually is known as the Air Potato, because of those bulbils. It's DIOSCOREA BULBIFERA, from tropical Asia, and it also produces regular underground tubers.

In our picture, notice that our bulbil has sharp edges. Those edges are important because in some places Air Potatoes have gone wild, also produce bulbils, but they're spherical and their edibility is questionable. In fact, several Air Potato cultivars are in circulation and from what I read some produce bulbils that are variously toxic. However, since our plant was bought with the understanding that its bulbils are edible, and general consensus seems to be that cultivar bulbils with sharp edges are edible, I'm looking forward to eating it. Bulbils on plants receiving plenty of sunshine and water can be several times larger than the one in our picture.

Our vine also produces an underground tuber, but there's debate and confusion as to whether those are edible. Probably they are, but only after special preparation, which may go as far as crushing the tuber, drying it, baking it, leaching the powder, and then using it. A good review of the Air Potato tuber toxicity problem is provided at Green Deane's Eat-the-Weeds website at http://www.eattheweeds.com/yam-b-the-bulbifera/

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JÍCAMA VINE PRODUCING PODS
In recent Newsletters certain Bean Family vines who folks here had forgotten the names for were identified, mostly on the basis of the flowers. This week another Bean Family vine turned up, but this vine's flowering time had long passed, and all the vine's blossoms had developed into handsome clusters of dangling legume-type fruits like those shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161127pc.jpg

The legumes weren't mature yet, so the flattish beans neatly lined up in the pods were still green, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161127pe.jpg

However, at Chichén Itzá back in 2010 a friend showed us mature beans from this vine species, so we know that eventually they turn a rich, dark brown hue, as our picture from 2010 shows, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/10/100822g8.jpg

Despite there being no flowers on this week's vine, the connection between our rancho vine and the Chichén Itzá beans could be made because the vine's large, trifoliately compound leaves are of a very distinct shape, very unlike the leaves of most common garden bean vines, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161127pd.jpg

This week's Bean Family vine is the Jícama, PACHYRHIZUS EROSUS, sometimes also known as the Mexican Yam Bean and Mexican Turnip. It really is native to Mexico, as well as Central America. Jícama is a cultivar developed from "Wild Jícama," with the same scientific name. You can compare this week's cultivated form with the wild plant on our Wild Jícama Page, at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/jicama.htm

I won't be sampling the Jícama's beans because they're toxic, containing the compound rotenone, which is used to poison insects and fish. It's the tuberous roots the Jícama gives us to eat. Under ideal conditions the root can grow to 2m long (7ft) and weigh up to 20kg (44lbs). The root has a yellow, papery skin, but inside it's creamy white with a crisp texture like that of raw potato. The flavor is sweet and starchy, usually eaten raw, in Mexico preferably with salt, lemon or lime juice and chili powder. The root also can be cooked and stir-fried in dishes. It's a good source for potassium and vitamin C.

This is another native Mexican plant that has spread to tropical countries all over the world.

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MIZUNA IN THE GARDEN
Last February when volunteer identifier Bea in Canada visited me at Chichén Itzá she brought along several packages of garden seeds. Among the packages was one whose seeds produced the plants shown growing in my garden here at the rancho at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/16/161127mz.jpg

According to the seed package's label, those are young Mizuna Mustard Spinach plants. Mizuna's Wikipedia page tells us that Mizuna is BRASSICA RAPA subspecies NIPPOSINICA. Brassica rapa is the Turnip, so we can think of Mizuna as a kind of turnip plant with edible leaves but no turnip.

The leaves do have a turnipy taste, but it's much subtler. Fact is, they don't have much of a taste at all and probably do best in one of those salads where the main feature is a fancy salad dressing.

The seed package describes what's in our picture as an early maturing Japanese mustard that can be eaten raw in salad, or cooked. At least sixteen Mizuna cultivars have been developed, with such names as "Kyona Mizuna", "Komatsuna Mizuna", "Kyoto Mizuna", "Happy Rich Mizuna", "Summer Fest Mizuna", and "Tokyo Early Mizuna."

It's always fun to grow new things, and I like seeing its green, nutritious leaves in my morning stews these chilly mornings when I sit beside the campfire watching the sun rise -- even though I can't see that they contribute much taste.

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TEXTING AND GOING WITH THE FLOW
People in the outside world know better than I how feverishly people nowadays exchange messages through cell phones, FaceBook and other media. Even here the village Maya can be seen compulsively checking for messages throughout the day. This behavior is completely in line with the insights offered by the Six Miracles of Nature concept as outlined at http://www.backyardnature.net/j/6/

The Six Miracles manifested one after another, like footsteps through time. The first was that something miraculously arose from nothing, and the most recent miracle, the Sixth, is that from genetically programmed innate behavior arose a kind of mentality capable -- among other things -- of countermanding the genetic code's programming.

The step-by-step feature of the Six Miracles indicates that the Universe's evolution has direction. From what can be seen here on Earth with current technology, that direction is from simple to complex, and toward ever greater diversity, with the diverse parts interrelating with one another in ever more complex and sophisticated ways.

"Interrelate" is the keyword here. Today when people text, check for emails, and for remarks on FaceBook, we're satisfying a craving for interrelationships hardwired into us by the coding in our genes. Genetic coding manifesting as innate behavior was brought about by the Fifth Miracle.

The Fifth Miracle programmed our ancestors to crave sweets and fatty foods because on the African veld where humanity arose, it was hard to find high-calorie food. Today, the Sixth Miracle enables some of us to visualize the healthy, beautiful bodies we want, and countermand our genetically based urge to gobble down doughnuts and sizzling sausage. In the same way, the Fifth Miracle hardwired us for texting and other forms of interrelating, while the Sixth Miracle imparts to some of us the abililty to moderate our texting and, if we do text, to rise above superficiality in what we say.

I say "some of us" because not everyone can or or is willing to make the conscious effort to recognize and harmonize with the Universal Creative Impulse's flow -- the flow toward the Universe's ever-more-diverse parts interrelating with one another in ever more sophisticated ways.

But, making that effort is worthwhile. It's worthwhile because for the first time ever -- at least here on Earth -- the Sixth Miracle is enabling part of the Creation (us humans) to consciously participate in the creation of the increasingly diverse and complex Universe. We consciously contribute when we make the effort to recognize the flow of things, and choose to go with that flow.

When we take carrot sticks even though our bodies lust for doughnuts and sausage, we're going with the flow, and adding to it. When we put down the cell phone and think deeply and feelingly about what we can say to others the next time we text, we're going with the flow toward a Universe with parts interrelating with one another in ever more sophisticated ways.

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Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

All previous Newsletters are archived at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/.