JIM CONRAD'S
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
SPECIAL ON-THE-ROAD EDITION
issued from Jim's Aunt's house in
Calhoun, rural western Kentucky, USA

April 9, 2017

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JAPANESE HOLLY FERN IN MEXICO
Last week, travelling by bus up through Mexico to Kentucky, at Micos Cascades on the Río Salto maybe 30kms northwest of Ciudad Valles in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí, a certain fern caught my attention. It was fairly common on limestone rock and hard-packed mud right at the rushing water's edge. One fern about two feet across (70cm) is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170409ct.jpg

You can see that the fern's leathery fronds are pinnately compound, and that the leaflets, or pinnae, display wavy to slightly toothed margins. The fronds' stems, at least toward their bases, are blackish. This fern species definitely is not a frilly looking or delicate one. In fact, I wasn't absolutely sure that it was even a fern until I flipped over a frond and saw widely spaced, round, spore-producing fruit-dots, or "sori," shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170409cu.jpg.

Those sori are worth examining, as you can see up close at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170409cv.jpg.

In most fern species with sori on the fronds' undersurfaces, the sori are long or, if they're roundish, they don't look like this. In the above picture, the doughnut-shaped sori are composed of two main parts. First, there's the pale-yellowish-green, ring-shaped "indusium." Most sori indusia are long, thin flaps of tissue with one side attached to the blade while the other side opens so that those tiny, brown, seed-like things can emerge from the resulting slit. Here the indusia are circular and attached at their center -- they're "peltate." That's really interesting. The tiny, brown things along the margins are stalked, baglike sporangia, with each sporangium containing several dust-like spores. When the sporangia are mature they burst, release their spores into the wind, and the spores will be carried to a new location where, if environmental conditions are just right, they'll germinate. To get all these terms better fixed in your mind you may want to look at our Fern Page at http://www.backyardnature.net/ferns.htm.

Our pictures show the Japanese Holly Fern, CYRTOMIUM FALCATUM, native to eastern Asia, but in the wild growing from rock crevices, on coastal cliffs, streambanks, rocky slopes -- all in fairly moist places. It's on a streambank in Mexico, as well as similar environments in most of the rest of the tropical and subtropical world, because it's become a popular ornamental plant that sometimes escapes into the wild. Apparently the plants I found were either just getting established, or not in an environment entirely to their liking, because pictures of the species on the Internet show larger plants with fronds divided into more numerous pinnae. The Flora of North America says the pinnae can arise in up to twelve pairs, and that the fronds can reach over a meter in length (over three feet). The Flora also describes the species as "apogamous," meaning that its embryo can develop without fertilization having taken place -- which might be one reason this fern species has become so weedy.

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BOXELDERS FLOWERING
Here in western Kentucky most trees still are winter-leafless, but many are issuing flowers, whole trees sometimes displaying pastel hues as untold numbers of blossoms adorn otherwise naked branches. In local swamps and along streambanks one of the most conspicuous of such trees is the Boxelder, whose summertime leaves and samara-type fruits are shown on our page at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/w/boxelder.htm

At http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170409bx.jpg you can see a dense cluster of drooping stamens dangling from male flowers. A close-up of the stamens' green-banana-like, pollen-filled anthers is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170409by.jpg

Each male flower normally produces four to six stamens. Neither the male nor female flowers bear petals. I'd like to show female flowers but so far I can't find any, despite considerable searching, so this is something of a mystery.

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SPICEBUSH FLOWERING
At http://www.backyardnature.net/n/w/lindera.htm we've looked at Spicebush's leaves and pretty, red fruits as they appear in August. Nowadays in local swamps and along streambanks Spicebushes with their slender, gray, brittle, leafless and -- if you scrape them with a fingernail -- spicy stems are flowering, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170409li.jpg.

Spicebush has always been one of my favorite plants because when I was a kid beginning to learn my botany Spicebushes confirmed for me what some of my books were saying, which was that plants can possess amazing properties if you just pay attention. I'd seen Spicebushes all my life but it'd never occurred to me to smell of them, and when I did, it was the beginning of a whole life of scratching and sniffing.

Spicebushes are members of the Laurel Family, the Lauraceae, famous for its many aromatic species, such as Avocado, Camphor and Cinnamon Trees, and the Temperate Zone's Sassafras. One interesting feature of flowers in the family is that the anthers open by "valves," which on the Spicebush's anthers look like tiny manhole covers atop the anthers. You can see this at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170409lj.jpg.

In that picture the open flower at the right displays nine stamens, which is typical of the genus Lindera to which Spicebushes belong. Each stamen bears an anther consisting of what looks like two grown-together bananas -- the anthers are "2-locular," as botanists say. Not visible in that picture are the flower's female parts, because in the genus Lindera flowers normally are unisexual, with staminate and pistillate blossoms on different plants -- though sometimes a few bisexual flowers occur on certain plants. On a different plant you can see female flowers with no stamens, but each blossom with a green, spherical ovary topped with a slender style with a brownish stigma at its tip, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170409lk.jpg.

Spicebush occurs throughout most of the eastern US, except in Maine, most of Florida, and the northwestern forests, plus it can be found in southernmost Ontario.

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PAWPAWS FLOWERING
At http://www.backyardnature.net/n/w/pawpaw2.htm we've looked at southern Mississippi's Small-flowered Pawpaw tree, Asimina parviflora, and its delicious, mid-summer-ripening fruits. In the swamp next to my aunt's house in Calhoun, nowadays the nearly identical small trees known just as Pawpaws, ASIMINA TRILOBA, are flowering. You can see a flower and a flower bud on a leafless Pawpaw stem in my hand at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170409pp.jpg.

Notice that the flowers have three sepals -- an unusual number for a flowering dicot -- and that the sepals are covered with short, rusty-colored hairs. Also a little unusual is that the corolla consists of six petals arranged in two "whorls," each whorl of three petals. Petals of the inner whorl are 1/3 to 1/2 the length of petals of the outer whorl. Inside the corolla the whitish, spherical item is composed of many spirally arranged, immature stamens. A flower close-up, provided just so we can feast our eyes on the petals' rich maroon color and their elegant wrinkles, is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170409pq.jpg.

Pawpaws are members of the Custard Apple Family, along with trees producing such delicious tropical fruits as the Sweetsop, Guanábana and Cherimoya. A few weeks ago in the Yucatan we looked a Guanábana flower broken open to show the anatomy. You can see how similar the structure of that flower was to our PawPaw flower at At http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170108gx.jpg

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TRUMPISM AS PART OF NATURE
In past Newsletters we've applied insights revealed by patterns and events in Nature to regular life. As are all Earthly things, including humanity and what humans think, feel and do, the Trump phenomenon is part of Nature. Trump America -- no matter whether it's "good" or "bad" -- is a working out of the human species evolving forward in its Earthly and spiritual environment. As such, during these first days of my temporary immersion in Trump America I've looked for patterns that might explain why Trumpism has arisen here.

I'm visiting my aunt in the riverside town of Calhoun, population 763 in the 2010 census, which is the "seat" of McLean County in rural western Kentucky. Despite Calhoun being a pretty town, many young people leave here looking for jobs as soon as they graduate from highschool. This means that much of Calhoun's population is gray haired. My impression is that most of those who remain like Calhoun and are more or less happy. However, a very striking feature for me is that so many residents have health problems and spend a remarkable amount of time dealing with doctors. Here are facts about the general Kentucky environment gleaned from the Internet:

Having noted those details, it's true that this part of Trump America in spring still is a delightful place. You can see a view down Main Street, Calhoun, Kentucky as it appears on the day I write these words at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170409cn.jpg

In the picture, the white sign below the US flag says "McLean County History & Geneology Museum." For me one of the best moments of my visit here has been when I met several white-haired ladies who volunteer their time and efforts at the Museum. They very consciously realized that to keep healthy in physical, intellectual and psychological terms they needed to keep themselves busy doing things like developing the museum. Their level of enthusiasm and loving generosity for the community was just a wonder to behold.

When I talk to local people about what's going on here in politics and society in general, most say that these are crazy times, that Trump is a rough character who might say or do anything, but also that they believe that Trump will change things for the better.

A person can choose how he or she directs the mind's potential. With regard to my own mind, certainly there's enough here to form a kind of knot in my stomach if I obsess on it. However, that would only depress and weaken me. As I wander Calhoun's streets, besides meeting great folks like the ladies at the museum, I pay special attention to yellow Dandelions in green grass, to how optimistically the Robins sing and tug on straws destined for nests, how sunny days alternate with rains that freshen the landscape, and how details of flowers, leaves, feathers, and crystal faces in sandgrains delight me when I pay attention. Quietly to myself I recite names of wild and beautiful things I see, as if those names were part of a mantra spoken during meditation, and consciously and thankfully I accept the gifts of fresh air, odors of rich soil, and the feeling of sunlight on my skin. Consciously I make the effort to keep myself sensitized to all these other forms of life around me breathing, feeling, being part of this still-gorgeous biosphere...

My guess is that we're heading into times when many people will be more depressed and upset than ever. This week I have reminded myself that the best way to keep that from tearing us down physically, intellectually, psychologically and spiritually, is to focus on Nature.

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Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

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