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Search Results for ' Quirky'

PAL Questions: 10 - Garden Tools:

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Keywords: Catha, Medicinal plants, Quirky

PAL Question:

Recently I found an Ethiopian man and his wife in my front yard. They were picking the reddened leaves on an otherwise green bush/tree. The man explained this was a "cat" or "Chat" tree, the leaves produce a drugged like state when ingested. He asked me if he could harvest the tree,and not to tell any Somalians, Ethiopians, or Eritrean folk about my tree. He also told me that if I lived in Mogadishu I would be a wealthy man with this tree. He ate some leaves in front of me, and I tried a couple, but they were bitter and unpalatable to a westerner like me. I experienced a feeling of empowerment, strength, and mental alertness. Obviously the "Chat Tree" has some relationship to the "Bongo" young Somalians chew on like a cud.

During the worst of the Anarchy in the late 1990s in Mogadishu there was a lot of news footage of the street gangs, high on the plant they were chewing, and armed with machine guns and machetes, creating havoc.

Do you know the history of this tree?
What are the properties that cause the poisoning?
What is the tree`s botanical name?
Should I report the tree`s existence to the authorities?
Can you tell me what I have here?

P.S.-These trees are common front garden bushes that were widely planted in Perth, Western Australia. Next time I see an African hanging out under one of them, I think I will know why!

View Answer:

The ‘chat’ or ‘khat’ tree is Catha edulis (Celastrus edulis), and the leaves and branchlets have properties that stimulate the central nervous system. In addition to the euphoric or inebriating properties, chewing the leaves can cause irritability, decreased appetite, gastric upset, constipation, and inflammation of the mouth. Habitual use can lead to periodontal disease, and increased risk of esophageal cancer. The active compounds are Alkaloid D-norpseudoephedrine, as well as other alkaloids, and tannins. (Source: Medical Botany: Plants Affecting Human Health by Walter H. Lewis; John Wiley & Sons, 2003, 2nd ed.)

The Handbook of Medicinal Herbs by James A. Duke (CRC Press, 2002, 2nd ed.) indicates that Catha edulis has been used medicinally to treat a great number of ailments, including asthma, depression, diarrhea, glaucoma, and low blood pressure. Use of khat “is an ancient, socially acceptable tradition in the Afro-Arabian culture (and)…became known as a recreational drug in the USA after American soldiers were exposed to its use in Somalia. Khat is subject to legal restrictions in many countries.” (Medicinal Plants of the World by Ben-Erik van Wyk; Timber Press, 2004).

As for whether to report the harvesting of leaves from your tree, that would depend on whether khat use is specifically prohibited by law in Australia.

Season All Season
Date 2006-12-07
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Keywords: Herb gardening, Potting soils, Container gardening, Quirky

PAL Question:

I have a huge planter to fill but don't want to buy that much soil so I want to partially fill it with wood. I'm going to plant herbs in it but I wanted to know if the wood I have would make eating the herbs inadvisable. I have roots and branches from a snake bark elm and some large pieces of lilac. None of the wood is treated but I know some wood is poisonous and wasn't sure about these two.

View Answer:

Before you go ahead with using wood to fill in the planter, another trick you might try is to put an upended smaller pot inside the large pot, if the planter is too deep. What you are looking for is a potting medium with good drainage.

I am not familiar with snakebark elm (there is a snakebark maple, and a lacebark elm--might it be one of these?) so I can't give a conclusive answer about its wood or roots. The phenomenon of plants which are toxic to other plants is called allelopathy. The most famously allelopathic tree is the black walnut. Apparently, lilac wood (Syringa vulgaris) has the ability to raise the phenolics content in the soil, according to a 2004 scientific article I found, from the 2nd European Allelopathy Symposium.

To be on the safe side, I would avoid using the lilac and elm wood as filler in your planter, since there are better options.

You may find the information below useful:

Growing herbs and annuals in containers - Cornell University

Local gardener Mary Preus's book, The Northwest Herb Lover's Handbook (Sasquatch Books, 2000) offers a recipe for potting soil for herbs grown in containers:

  • 8 quarts compost, earthworm castings and/or composted chicken or steer manure
  • 4 quarts sphagnum peat moss
  • 4 quarts perlite
  • 4 quarts builder's sand
  • 1 cup all-purpose fertilizer mix (she has another recipe for this*)
  • 3 tablespoons ground dolomitic limestone

    *all-purpose fertilizer recipe:
  • 2 pounds fish meal or crab meal
  • 1/2 pound greensand
  • 1/2 pound steamed bonemeal
  • 1 pound rock phosphate
  • 1 pound kelp meal

West Virginia County Extension also has guidelines for potting soil in containers. Excerpt:

"A fairly lightweight mix is needed for container gardening. Soil straight from the garden usually cannot be used in a container because it is too heavy, unless your garden has sandy loam or sandy soil. Clay soil consists of extremely small (microscopic) particles. In a container, the bad qualities of clay are exaggerated. It holds too much moisture when wet, resulting in too little air for the roots. Also, it pulls away from the sides of the pot when dry.

"Container medium must be porous in order to support plants, because roots require both air and water. Packaged potting soil available at local garden centers is relatively lightweight and may make a good container medium.

"For a large container garden, the expense of prepackaged or soil- less mixes may be quite high. Try mixing your own with one part peat moss, one part garden loam, and one part clean coarse (builder's) sand, and a slow-release fertilizer (14-14-14) added according to container size. Lime may also be needed to bring the pH to around 6.5. In any case, a soil test is helpful in determining nutrient and pH needs, just as in a large garden."

Season All Season
Date 2007-11-20
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Keywords: Ulmus, Allergies, Quirky

PAL Question:

Can the sap from an elm tree be poisonous to humans? The power company recently cut down an old elm in my garden and I brushed my hand against the stump and got a splinter. Within about twenty minutes my hand was swollen at least twice its normal size, was very painful, quite hot to the touch and itching like crazy. I ended up in the emergency room, and had to take antibiotics, but the doctor never indicated whether the extreme reaction had anything specifically to do with the type of tree.

View Answer:

We have an older book on plant-induced dermatitis, Botanical Dermatology by Mitchell and Rook (Greengrass, 1979) which includes elm among the trees which can cause "woodcutter's eczema." However, it may not be the sap of the tree itself which is the problem, but perhaps the lichens and liverworts which may be growing on the tree (some of which contain usnic acid and other substances which irritate human skin). Here is an abstract of an article which describes this:
Frullania liverwort phytodermatitis

If one were to saw elm wood which was covered in lichen or liverwort, the dust could be an irritant. You may have gotten a splinter which had dust on it. I'm not a medical professional, so I couldn't say with any authority what may have happened. However, a splinter of any kind can cause inflammation, and if you happen to be especially sensitive to a particular substance, whether it is the wood or sap of the elm, or traces of dust from lichens and liverworts that were on the tree's bark when it was sawed, then there might be a connection with the severe reaction you had.

Here is a link to an article about splinters from American Family Physician (June 15, 2003). It does mention wood splinters as a source of severe inflammatory reactions, due to the oils and resins they contain.

A chart which originally appeared in June 1990 issue of the journal American Woodturner lists different types of wood and their toxicity. Elm is included because its dust can be an eye and skin irritant.

Season All Season
Date 2009-11-13
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Keywords: Daemonorops draco, Medicinal plants, Quirky

PAL Question:

Someone told me about an herbal remedy called Dragon's Blood which is made of the resin of Daemonorops draco. It's supposed to be good for relief from pain and headaches. Can you tell me more about the plant, including its medicinal uses?

View Answer:

The plant in question, Daemonorops draco, is a type of palm (Family: Arecaceae). Here is the USDA Germplasm Resources Information Network page about this plant.

The common name Dragon's Blood can refer to a number of different plant resins (such as those derived from Dracaena cinnabari, Dracaena draco, and Croton). The product you mention says it is derived from the palm Daemonorops draco. The resin of this plant has a history of use in folk medicine. The webpage of Cropwatch.org has additional information about the uses the several plants that are called Dragon's Blood, as well as their conservation status. Some of the plants are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (Dracaena cinnabari is listed as vulnerable, as of 2009). This may be of interest to you because often the products you find for sale are not well-regulated, and there may be no way of verifying that the list of plant ingredients is either valid or complete.
Here is an excerpt:
"Few commodity dealers properly distinguish the various botanical origins of Dragon's Blood items, and over-exploitation is starting to threaten some sources."

As for medicinal and other uses of substances called Dragon's Blood, here is more information from Cropwatch.org:
"The term 'Dragons Blood' refers to a product obtained from the resin layer consisting of diterpene acids found on the surface of fruits of the climbing palms of the Daemonorops genus found in SE Asia, and often sold out of Sumatra, Malaya & Borneo. These reddish resinous products (usually encountered as granules, powder, lumps ('cakes'), or sticks ('reed') used in folk medicine as an astringent and for wound healing etc., and in other applications for colouring essential oils red to dark brown, in varnishes, staining marble, for jewelry and enameling work, and for photo-engraving. Mabberley (1998) suggests Dragons Blood was produced originally from Dracaena cinnabari, later from D. draco and more recently from Daemonorops spp.; Zheng et al. (2004) confirm this view and suggest substitutes for Dracaena spp. include Pterocarpus spp., Daemonorops draco and Croton spp."

There is also an article by Jane Pearson published by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew (2002) on the uses of Dragon's Blood.
Excerpts:
"The term 'Dragons Blood' is interchangeably used to refer to plants from three quite different families: Dracaena cinnabari (Socotra) and Dracaena draco (Canary Islands) in the Dracaenaceae family; the palm genus Daemonorops (Malaysia), and the genus Croton (South America) in the Euphorbiaceae family. [...] Although Daemonorops resin is similar in appearance, its origin and preparation are different to Dracaena resin. The fruits are covered in small imbricate scales through which the resin exudes, forming a brittle, red resinous layer on the outside of the fruits. Collection occurs just before the fruit is fully ripe. [...] Although used in the same way as Dracaena, the powdered form of Daemonorops was used extensively, especially in America, as an acid resist by photo-engravers up until the 1930s. It also appears to be used in both traditional Chinese medicine and Chinese herbal folk medicine. Daemonorops is traditionally used to stimulate the circulation, promote tissue regeneration by aiding the healing of fractures, sprains and ulcers and to control bleeding and pain." [My note: Daemonorops draco is referred to as Xue Jie in Chinese medicine.]

Please note that we are not medical professionals, so if you are considering using a substance which claims to contain Daemonorops draco, you should consult your healthcare provider. However, I can tell you that there are ongoing concerns about contamination of patented herbal remedies. New York University's Langone Medical Center has a useful guide to traditional Chinese herbal medicine and related safety concerns.

Season All Season
Date 2010-04-29
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Keywords: Hummingbirds, Animal-plant relationships, Pollinators, Quirky

PAL Question:

I would like to know how the hummingbird's feeding affects the level of nectar in flowers. I already know about which flowers produce nectar that will attract hummingbirds. My main concern is whether hummingbirds can use up a plant's supply of nectar.

View Answer:

Apparently there has been some research which suggests that a plant's production of nectar is regulated by hormones. Sometimes the hormone attracts one creature in order to repel another. The article excerpted below suggests that rapeseed plants produce nectar to attract ants that will defend them against caterpillars. Source: Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science (March 29,2010):
"Jasmonic acid and related molecules are constituents of molecular signal transduction chains in plant tissues. These compounds - generally referred to as jasmonates - are synthesized when caterpillars feed on plants; they are signalling substances and belong to the group of plant hormones. By producing jasmonates the plant regulates its defence against herbivores e.g. by stimulating the synthesis of toxins. Moreover, previous studies have shown that jasmonates regulate the production of "extrafloral nectar". This particular nectar, which is produced by special glands called "extrafloral nectaries", has nothing to do with pollination, but attracts ants to the herbivore-attacked plants as defenders against their pests. The sugars in the nectar reward the ants for defending the plant. The same principle applies to floral nectar: nectar production in the flowers attracts and rewards pollinators which in turn contribute substantially to the seed yield. However, up to now, it has not been clear how nectar production is regulated in the flowers."

In the book The Biology of Nectaries edited by Barbara Bentley and Thomas Elias (Columbia University Press, 1983), there is an essay called "Patterns of nectar production and plant-pollinator co-evolution" (by Robert William Cruden et al.) which states that "flowers pollinated by high-energy requiring animals [this would include hummingbirds] produce significantly more nectar than flowers pollinated by low-energy requiring animals, such as butterflies, bees, and flies."

Similarly, plants whose pollinators are active in the day produce more nectar during the day, and plants pollinated by nocturnal creatures will make more nectar at night. So clearly there is an intricate system of response between the needs of the plants and the needs of the hummingbirds, and the biology of individual plants has evolved to serve the plants' interests which are tied to those of pollinators. In effect, the hummingbird can't exhaust the nectar supply of the flowers, because the plant has adapted to meet its needs.

Season All Season
Date 2010-08-25
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Keywords: Myxomycetes, Wood chips, Quirky

PAL Question:

Please help me identify a killing substance in my garden that just appeared this year. I noticed it about a month ago, thinking it was animal barf. I cleared away the material and disposed of it along with the soil around it. A few weeks later I discovered yet another spot with this same substance. Upon closer inspection I found it had totally rotted my primrose and was continuing into the garden. It appears almost like a spreading mushroom with vents around it, hardens into something resembling cement, grayish white to an off yellow color. When I picked it up (with a sheet of plastic) it became brittle and released some sort of powder. Thinking it might be spores and could easily become airborne, I again bagged the material and kept it. I do not know how to contain it, or if it is hazardous to the rest of the garden. I have no idea where it came from but I do want to be rid of it.

View Answer:

What you are describing sounds very much like dog vomit slime mold, Fuligo septica. See if the links below are depicting the same thing you have observed:

Do you have wood chips or other wood-based mulch in your garden? This slime mold thrives on decaying wood. I've never heard of it harming plants, unless the plant matter is already decaying from other causes. I imagine it would be next to impossible to eradicate, unless you want to remove any woody material around your plants. It's possible that extreme heat (such as fire) might kill some of the spores, but it wouldn't be too good for your plants!

If you can tolerate it, it really is not known to devour and kill plants. Your primroses may have succumbed to something else, and the slime mold was just being opportunistic. See the following article by Kathryn Richardson, from Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum publication, Arnoldia:
"Dog vomit slime mold is motile, but moves quite slowly. It is not harmful to animals or plants and usually vanishes in a short period of time. This species and similar slime molds feed on bacteria, fungal spores, and smaller protozoa found on wood chips. Slime molds feed much like an amoeba feeds; they ingest their food and then digest it (unlike fungi, which digest and then ingest). If conditions are favorable, these slime molds will produce reproductive structures (sporangia) that produce spores. When conditions are unfavorable (loss of food, dry conditions), the plasmodium will form hard, dormant, protective structures called sclerotia. Inside the sclerotia the plasmodium will divide into “cells” containing up to four nuclei. When conditions become favorable each “cell” will form a new plasmodium. Dog vomit slime mold is primarily an aesthetic problem in mulched garden beds. It can be physically removed, but more is likely to return. So, before panicking and taking your dog to the veterinarian, take a closer look and consider that that stuff is likely just Fuligo septica working away at cleaning the mulch."

Season All Season
Date 2010-08-26
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Keywords: Plant reproduction, Solanum melongena, Quirky

PAL Question:

I read on a cooking blog that it's important to be able to distinguish between male and female eggplants, because males are less seedy and therefore less bitter. Supposedly, the difference can be detected by looking at the indentation at the bottom of the vegetable. Females have long, deep, dash-shaped dents, and males have round, shallow ones. This is the first time I've ever heard of such a thing, and I'm wondering if you can confirm it.

View Answer:

There is no sex difference among eggplant fruits. The confusion may have come from the fact that eggplant flowers have male and female parts. Mary Keith, a nutrition educator with University of Florida Extension says:
"Please, don't waste any sleep over trying to remember which one is which. There are not 'male' or 'female' eggplants. They all come from the female organs of the flower, but eggplant flowers have both male and female organs. The seeds they contain will grow into plants that make flowers with both male and female parts.[...] The shape of the scar where the flower fell off doesn’t tell you whether the fruit is a boy or a girl."
Keith goes on to explain the best way to select an eggplant for cooking purposes:
"The best place to start is what you can see, the skin. There should be a little bit of the stem still attached to one end. A ripe eggplant will have a smooth, bright, shiny skin. It should be firm, not hard but not soft and soggy either. Whether it is purple, green, white or striped, if the skin is dull the fruit has been picked for too long. When you press on the skin it should spring right back at you. If it's too hard to press in, then the fruit is too green and underripe. If it goes in and stays in, the fruit is too old. The texture is getting soft and it is more likely to be bitter. In general the smaller ones are usually better. Probably the best way to decide which ones to buy is to weigh them. [...] The heavier one will be the better one. Some people say they can tell by knocking on an eggplant as they do a watermelon. In this case though, you do not want to buy one that sounds hollow. These will be dry and punky inside."

Similar information comes from University of Illinois Extension:
"There is long-standing controversy about male and female eggplants, which is an inaccurate approach considering the fact that fruits are the product of sex and do not have it. However, it is folk wisdom worth some attention. Eggplants have a dimple at the blossom end. The dimple can be very round or oval in shape. The round ones seem to have more seeds and tend to be less meaty, so select the oval dimpled eggplant."

Season All Season
Date 2011-10-28
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Keywords: cauliflory, Cercis, Quirky

PAL Question:

I've noticed a tree in my neighborhood that has rosy-red blossoms that seem to be sprouting right out of the tree trunk. Is this normal?

View Answer:

I can't be sure about what tree you saw without more information, but it sounds as if you may have seen a redbud, or Cercis. This tree does produce flowers that may grow from the tree's trunk. (It also flowers in the more expected way on branches.) This phenomenon is called "cauliflory," well-illustrated by the website of Wayne's Word. Carob and cacao trees also have this attribute.

Wisconsin Master Gardener Program website also has an article by Susan Mahr (posted December 17, 2007) about this trait. Contrary to what one might think, cauliflower is not cauliflorous. The article explores possible advantages of cauliflory, such as the ability to bear heavy fruit (on a stout trunk instead of weak new growth), and enhanced cross-pollination potential.

Season All Season
Date 2012-05-12
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Keywords: Salvia hispanica, Seeds, Quirky

PAL Question:

Chia seeds: what are they, and what are they good for, besides sprouting on clay animals (Chia Pets!)? Lately, I'm seeing them promoted everywhere for their health benefits. Is there any validity to this?

View Answer:

The common name Chia refers to several species of Salvia, and to Hyptis suaveolens. The species that is imported into the United States is usually Salvia hispanica. Purdue University’s New Crops database has information about the uses of chia seeds:
"The seeds of chias have been eaten for centuries by native North Americans, either raw or parched. They are used in sauces and as thickening agents. When soaked in water the seed envelops itself in a copious mucilaginous polysaccharide, excellent for digestion, and together with the grain itself forms a nutritious food. Mixed with orange juice the gel-like seeds make a nutritious breakfast and can help to control excess weight. Users report that a glass full of orange juice with a teaspoon of presoaked seeds leaves one feeling full and without hunger until noon. The plant explorer Edward Palmer wrote (1871): 'In preparing chia for use the seeds are roasted and ground, and the addition of water makes a mucilaginous mass several times the original bulk, sugar to taste is added, and the result is the much prized semi-fluid pinole of Indians and others—to me one of the best and most nutritive foods while traveling over the deserts.'"

The New York Times published an article (11/24/2012) on the current trend for consuming chia seeds as a nutritional supplement (purportedly high in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids). More studies are needed to substantiate the health claims, as this information from Columbia University’s "Go Ask Alice" website points out:
"People eat chia seeds for diabetes, high blood pressure, and to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, there is currently no good evidence to support chia consumption for these uses. People have also tried using chia seeds as a weight loss aid, as the high fiber content is thought to suppress appetite and ultimately help with weight loss. There’s not much support for this claim. One study found that eating chia seeds had no effects on body weight, body fat, or changes in appetite over a 12-week period. However, studies have shown that a particular variety of chia seeds, marketed under Salba, can reduce certain risk factors for heart disease such as blood pressure, clotting factors, and inflammation."

Season All Season
Date 2013-03-23
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Keywords: Quirky, Helianthus tuberosus

PAL Question:

Is Jerusalem artichoke a native? Did local Native American tribes have uses for it? I grow it, and friends have suggested that it is a good alternative to potatoes for people with diabetes because it has a lower glycemic index.

View Answer:

Jerusalem artichoke or sunchoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is considered native to most of North America, as this map from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows.

The book Native American Food Plants: An Ethnobotanical Dictionary by Daniel Moerman (Timber Press, 2010) mentions uses of the plant's tubers by numerous tribes, none of them in our Pacific Northwest area. Some tribes, such as the Chippewa, used the tubers raw, while others like the Dakota boiled them (and noted that their overuse caused flatulence, about which more later!). Several tribes (Huron, Lakota) only used the tubers during periods of famine to fend off starvation.

We can't speak to the medical question of whether Jerusalem artichokes would be better for someone with diabetes than the starch found in potatoes. You are correct, though, that this plant which is in the sunflower family contains a polysaccharide called inulin which does not cause "rapid insulin production" the way that some high-glycemic index starches do. The American Diabetes Association says that it's not necessarily true that potatoes are problematic--it is more about portion size and developing a balanced diet.

Another thing to consider is that not everyone has an easy time digesting the inulin in Jerusalem artichokes. Although culinary use of sunchokes has become quite a trend lately, some chefs will not serve it in their restaurants, according to Bon Appetit magazine, and the tubers have acquired the unhappy nickname 'fartichoke.' Plants for a Future database refers somewhat more delicately to inulin intolerance (which may be genetic): "[inulin] tends to ferment in their guts and can cause quite severe wind."

As you probably know, Helianthus tuberosus is quite easy to grow, and proliferates like a weed (as confirmed by this Whatcom County garden blogger). It might be good to confine it to one part of your garden if you can.

Season All Season
Date 2014-01-02
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June 24 2013 12:55:25