Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dendrobium Gilliestone Gold 'Natalie' AM/AOS

Den Gilliestone Gold 'Natalie' AM/AOS blooming at the South Coast Orchid Society Display Table. These plants are easy growers that quickly form specimen plants. You can find these at CalOrchid and Waldor orchids!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Phalaenopsis violacea variety alba 'Norman'

Phalaenopsis violacea variety alba 'Norman' arrived with around 20 flowers on it, apparently due to Norman's Mega Thrive. Clearly, I need to use it more often!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Light Within

Stemmadenia litoralis. I snapped this picture because I really liked the way the sun was lighting the tubular base of the flower. It all seemed a little magical. Admittedly, I failed to figure out what kind of flower it was. However, with a little help from my Facebook friends and Fiyero Akitia in particular, it now has a name.

Stemmadenia litoralis is a small, tropical, salt tolerant tree that is found in habitats ranging from Mexico to Columbia.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Cattleya Hawaiian Variable

Cattleya Hawaiian Variable, (C. Penny Kuroda x C. guttata), decorating the living room. This is a tall plant with a hefty spray of large, fragrant flowers. I believe the original cross was made by Ben Kodama who used Penny Kuroda 'Spots', a peloric, and C. guttata alba (green/white). The offspring came out all over the map including greens, pinks, pelorics and brighly colored guttata-like offspring, like the one shown.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Colorful Caiman Lizard

Caiman Lizard, Dracaena guianensis, relaxing in some shallow water. These lizards are at home at in the water, hailing from the Amazon basin, where they feast on snails and other crustaceans. These are a photographic favorite, due to their vibrant, glossy colors; this one was even sporting a reflection in the water! What more could you ask for?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Blue-Necked Tanager

The Eastern Blue-necked Tanager, Tangara cyanicollis, ranges from Peru through Brazil where it lives in subtropical and tropical lowland forests. It lives primarily on fruit and insects.

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Crotalus adamanteus. This venomous rattler, the biggest of the rattlesnake species, is native to the Southeastern United States. Specimens have been reported at over 30 pounds and 7 feet in length. They are known to eat full size rabbits as well as various rodents, lizards and birds.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Death With Dignity

I share my photography, so that you might glimpse the wonder in the abundance and diversity of life and the profoundness of nature. However, I have consciously left most deeper thoughts about life out of the blog and kept the content pretty cheery and light. Tonight, however, I figured I'd take a dive into real life and see how it goes. I'm not sure why I chose tonight, other than that I post process things and perhaps, in my odd sort of way, I was ready to talk about it.

One of my favorite Aunts passed away. Actually, she chose to die. Admittedly, choosing to die is still a very foreign thought to me and, I suspect, to most of us. At first, it really did not compute in that engineering brain of mine. I'm not entirely sure if it really needs to make sense in that logical sort of way or if it is just about acceptance. Perhaps it is just a matter of my being comfortable with her decision. Let me introduce her to you.

Aunty was the spunkiest and youngest of eleven children. She was the one that rounded up volunteers, in her very "managerial" manner, to wrap inexpensive presents during Christmas to make certain that everyone had something to open. She was the one that did a spiritual pilgramage to India and went, at least for a while, vegetarian. She's the one that remained single in spite of my best efforts to fix her up with my high school science teacher (whatever was I thinking? She did humor me, in any case). Take this in the context of a family that grew up with a hardworking grandma and all the aunts sewing for a living and where a single chicken for a family of eleven children was an extravagance. [Note: mom made great shirts when I was a kid!]

Indeed, Aunty was the wild hare of the bunch; the round peg in the matrix of square holes. She was also the care taker, in her very managerial sort of way. Aunty was known for pushing (sometimes less than delicately) her sisters, many of whom could no longer drive, to visit their oldest sister, who is bedridden and still resides deep in the mists of Parkinson's and dementia. Aunty basically showed up at her sisters' doorsteps and foisted them away to visit their eldest! She would not take no for an answer. She knew that they would likely not be recognized by the eldest nor receive any response to their greetings and inquiries. Each visit was a hear wrenching reminder of the ravages of aging that approached all too incessantly for them all. Still Aunty persisted in rounding up her sisters for regular visits. Perhaps, it is that very stubborness at which she demanded every last bit from life, that refusal to take no for an answer, that made it so shocking to us when she decided to let herself die.

Having retired as a nurse, Aunty volunteered to help the elderly clean and maintain their apartments, often scrubbing their bathrooms with much needed Clorox bleach. Aunty cleaned out the brooding bacteria and stubborn and lingering odors, sometimes associated with the neglected homes of the elderly, usually spending hours wiping the floors, tub and toilets with bleach. Unfortunately, that same bleach that cleaned even the most stubborn and odiferous apartment and kiled the meanest of bacteria also proved to be her downfall.

When Aunty came down with a life threatening lung infection, she was rushed to the hospital where she was also diagnosed with major long term lung damage. While the IV antibiotics turned back the infection and whisked her off of death's doorstep, her ability to exchange oxygen was severly compromised due to years of damage attributed to bleach inhalation in poorly ventilated, confined environments. This stubbornly independent woman was reduced to weakly walking through life pulling an oxygen tank on a tether.

Thus, I saw her when I came home to visit my Mother. Aunty appeared chatty, holding court in the lobby of the hostel with my Mom, myself and one of my other Aunts and her husband. As I understood it, she had decided that, should another infection take hold, she would refuse medication. If she survived over a year in the hostel, she would assume it was just meant to be and would resume independent living. If she did not survive the year, she had already carefully planned out her estate and her last months of life, had said her good byes, and would leave on her own terms.

There we sat, in the lobby of the hostel, trying to convince her, in our presumptuous, selfish sort of way, that she should stick it out because we were not yet ready to lose her. She seemed spunky enough, if a little tired. We thought we might just get our way if only we persisted in asking her to reconsider. She was the youngest of the Aunts and we were just not ready. That was that. I suppose stubborness runs throughout the bloodline.

Of course, Aunty was polite, in that older generation nurse kind of way, but was having none of it. She had thought it through and figured out all the details, down to the tiniest threads in the tapestry of her life. She was just humoring us I suppose. After about 30 minutes of this, she informed us that she had a lunch appointment with some old friends, and summarily sent us on our way.

Aunty caught another lung infection and passed about a month after I left for home. I find myself wishing I had chosen to have a real conversation with her, a conversation about life and meaning, a conversation about making a difference in the world, a conversation about living with dignity and death on one's own terms. I never had that conversation but I suspect that she managed to teach the lesson anyhow and, as always, on her own terms.

Agapanthus 'Queen Mum'

Agapanthus 'Queen Mum'. I saw this gorgeous Agapanthus blooming by the water lily pond at at the San Diego Botanical Gardens. However, the docent in the gift shop didn't know the registered name. A little hunting on the Internet solved that problem and before you could say "I bought the Queen Mum," there were two planted in the back yard! The mature stocks even had seed pods on them! Hmmm... Do you suppose there could be a Queen Mum II?

For those of you needing a Queen Mum of your very own, they have them available at Walter Anderson's nursery in San Diego, at San Marcos Growers (wholesale only) and, yes, at Home Depot (as a catalog item).

Red-Headed River Turtle

Red-headed river turtle, Podocnemis erythrocephala. These are native to swampy areas surrounding the Rio Negro (black river) in Brazil and Venezuela. While once over-collected for the pet trade, they are now rebounding thanks to legal protection. You still see them for sale once in a while at petshops that cater to more exotic pets.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle

Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle, Geoemyda spengleri spengleri, lives in leaf littler near water. It's diet consists of earth worms, snails, slugs and other invertebrates. This little Southeast Asian turtle is endangered due to use for food, medicine and the pet trade.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Pacific Mole Crab

Remnants of a Pacific Mole Crab, Emerita analoga, washed up on the beach at the Tijuana Estuary Preserve. Mole crabs live in the splash zone on sandy beaches, using their feathery antennae to filter feed on plankton and small debris.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Juvenile White-Tailed Kite

Juvenile White-tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus, perching on a newly sprouted panicle of Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia robusta) flowers. White-tailed kites are found from Oregon down through Chile and Argentina. While similar to falcons, kites can hover in mid-air, often up above a burrow or a bush that is hiding potential prey. Kites also spend much more time gliding on widespread wings, similar to sea gulls, than their more powerful flying falcon cousins.

Beach Primrose Still in Full Bloom

Beach Primrose, Camissoniopsis cheiranthifolia ssp. suffruticosa, grows in the coastal dunes along the California coast, blooming from April through August. Ironically, while the dry Winter resulted in a poor Spring showing for the desert wildflowers out East of San Diego, these lovely coastal wildflowers have been blooming non-stop.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pictures in the Sand

Pictures in the sand, Tijuana Estuary Preserve. It's like a sand-based rorschach test! What do you see?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Grass Spider or Funnel Spider

Grass Spider or Funnel Spider, Agelenopsis species. I found this fairly large spider resting on the stucco outside the front door last night. Normally, they hide in the grass or in shrubs where they make funnel-like webs that funnel prey in to the spider. This one appears to have strange black rings in his front claws.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Red Torch Ginger

Red Torch Ginger, Etlingera elatior, blooming at the Huntington Botanical Gardens. These are native to Malaysia where they are called bunga kantan, Thailand where they are called daalaa and Indonesia where they are called bunga kecombrang. In North Sumatra, the flower buds and seeds are used to flavor fish and in Thailand this plant is used in salad. The leaves have high levels of antimicrobials and antioxidants.

If you look closely at the picture, you will also see tiny drosophila attracted to the nectar although the true pollinator is more likely some sort of long beaked bird that can access the deep, tubular flowers.

The Jesus Flower

The Jesus Flower, Passiflora caerulea, is the national flower of Paraguay, each part of the flower representing a different part of the crucifixion. Passiflora caerulea has a yellow-orange fruit that is somewhat insipid when eaten raw. It's tastier cousin, Passiflora edulis has a large, purple fruit that is commonly eaten or used for juice or flavoring.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Echinofossulocactus tegelbergii

Echinofossulocactus tegelbergii, blooming in the cactus greenhouse at the Huntington Botanical Garden. Once established, these require very little water, particularly in times of extreme heat or drought.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

One Huge Yucca!

Yucca filifera, Tree Yucca, at the Huntington Botanical Gardens.

Closeup of Yucca Filifera flowers.

Yucca filifera, the largest of the Yucca, is native to Northeastern Mexico and grows to around 30 feet tall. The above pictured plant is a large specimen at the Huntington Botanical Gardens.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Stuck and Slipping Fast

Nepenthes x Mixta with guest at the Huntington Botanical Gardens. Nepenthes are carnivorous pitcher vines native to the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. They make up for the poor nitrogen content of the local soil by trapping and digesting insects. When I shot this photo, I was initially a little annoyed by the stray rubbish that distracted from the beautiful colors of the pitcher rim. However, on closer inspection, I realized that the litter was really what appears to be a roach wing. On even closer inspection, I realized that the roach was still there, clinging for dear life wedged underneath the rim of the pitcher while attempting to avoid the slippery interior surface and the ensuing digestive death. Ironically, sometimes the imperfect pictures are the really interesting ones.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Totally Flourescent! Echinopsis Sorceress Blooming on the Back Deck

Echinopsis Sorceress. This is appropriately named and totally bewitching! This little cacti has been growing under a teak coffee table on the back deck and is blooming for the very first time for me. This has been a banner year for Echinopsis flowers. Some of my Echinopsis have been in bloom for several months in a row. It is totally amazing with some producing set after set of flowers! As for Echinopsis Sorceress, I had no idea Echinopsis could be so brilliant (although rumor has it I saw a picture before I bought it)!

Photo trick: I started off taking the picture against the deck, fussing with depth of field to blur it out. The deck lines were too distracting, no matter how shallow the depth of field (and it was a deep flower so you couldn't go too shallow or you would lose all the "interesting stuff"). Then I tried taking it against the white canvas cloth of the patio furniture. Too bright... Ahah! The light bulb goes off... I realized that it was still a little dark out (about 6am) and thought that, maybe, just maybe, if I put it on the deck railing and shot down against the canyon (which is quite far away), I could get a dark background. Voila! It is simply amazing what lengths I will go through to avoid taking out the black velvet! This cute little trick works whenever the background is a lot darker than the subject which, in this case was lit with a flash.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret, Egretta thula, hunting in the shallows of Tijuana Slough. These very adaptable birds are found from the Northern United States clear down to Argentina. I've seen them eat a wide variety of foods including fish, shellfish, and crabs as well as the occasional insect, lizard or small mammal.