Sunday, 29 January 2017

Lotus corniculatus -- Bird's-Foot Trefoil

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Lotus corniculatus is a common flowering plant in the pea family (Fabaceae), native to grassland in temperate Eurasia and North Africa. The common name for this plant is bird's-foot trefoil although this name is often also applied to other members of the genus as well. 

Speaking of common names, Lotus corniculatus has had many common English names over the centuries, most of which are now largely out of use. These names were usually connected with the yellow and orange colour of the flowers, e.g. 'butter and eggs' or ‘bacon and eggs’. I’ve known this plant since I was young and to this day, I still call it by the name I learned as a youngster: “butter and eggs”.

These days, it is also a common plant in so many European and North American pastures. It is often used as forage and is widely used as food for livestock due to its non-bloating properties. In North America, the commercial form of this plant used in pasture seed is known as bird's-foot deer vetch.  In my mind, I actually see it as two plants: one found in commercial mixes for seeding pasture land and another one that is found growing wild.

The genus name, Lotus, is from the Greek and includes, in its many designations, any shrubby plant of the legume family, having red, pink, yellow or white flowers. The species name, corniculatus, comes from the Latin and means “small horns”.

Seed pod arrangement which
gave rise to the name of
Lotus corniculatus is a perennial, herbaceous plant, similar in appearance to some clovers (note the leaves in my drawing above). The flowers, mostly pollinated by bumblebees, develop into small pea-like pods or legumes. The name 'bird's foot' refers to the appearance of the seed pods on their stalk (see photo at right). Five leaflets are present, but with the central three held conspicuously above the others, hence the use of the name 'trefoil' (an ornamental design of three rounded lobes like a clover leaf, used typically in architectural tracery). 

The height of the plant is variable, from 5–20 cm, occasionally more where supported by other plants; the stems can reach up to 50 cm long. It is typically sprawling at the height of the surrounding grassland. It can survive fairly close grazing, trampling, and mowing. It is most often found in sandy soils. It flowers from June to September. 

I became very aware of this plant recently when I watched a series of shows about Shetland* and saw bird's-foot trefoil and Thrift growing right up to the edges of those steep cliffs above the ever-churning sea. Although this land has been grazed by sheep and other ruminants for untold centuries, bird’s-foot trefoil has survived and prospered in spite of constant grazing and the wild, winter storms of the North Atlantic. *[Shetland, also called the Shetland Islands, is a subarctic archipelago that lies northeast of the island of Great Britain and forms part of Scotland, United Kingdom (see map below).]

Map showing Shetland Islands in relation to the rest of Great Britain and Scotland

The more I thought about, the more impressed I became with this little plant – a plant so familiar to me. So, I decided to try drawing it. While the results are not spectacular, I had a wonderful time doing the drawing as my thoughts were filled almost constantly with the stark and beautiful images of the Shetland Islands.

Shetland Island -- Eshaness Cliffs

Portions of the text above were taken from various Internet sources.


Suki drinking from water dish
This past Friday, a most disturbing event occurred -- an event that left me doubting my own sanity!

It was noontime and I was preparing lunch for myself after having given Suki her medication followed by her usual serving of turkey and gravy.  I wasn't paying too much attention to her as I was busy fixing myself a sandwich. Suddenly I heard the unmistakable sound of a cat lapping water. Doubting the possibility of what my ears were hearing, I quickly turned and saw that Suki was busily drinking from her water dish. Truly, I could not believe what my eyes were seeing and my ears were hearing!

I mean, you all know -- those of you who regularly read my stories about Suki -- that Suki never drinks water.  The cat is 8 years old and in all that time I have never once seen her drinking water from a water dish -- or any other receptacle for that matter.  True, I have always kept a water dish available for her simply because it seemed somehow unnatural not to at least make water easily available just in case.  However, in all these years, I have, daily, simply emptied a completely full water dish, washed it and returned it to her feeding station with no expectation that she would be drinking any of it.

This is why I doubted the evidence of my own senses this past Friday. Thus, with my credulity strained to the breaking point, I watched as Suki spent the next few minutes carefully lapping up mouthful after mouthful of water. Once she had had her fill, she sat upright and gave me that look which says, "O.K., now where are my crunchies?"

After eating a few of bites of this dry food, Suki stretched, wandered slowly over to her chair, jumped up, settled down, gave herself a quick bath and then went soundly to sleep.  I stood there watching her carefully, half expecting to wake up suddenly and find that this had all been a dream.  I even wondered, briefly, whether all this was simply a morphine hallucination instead of reality; however, I knew that I had not taken any extra medication by mistake.  

Finally, I decided that the evidence before me was indeed real and had to be accepted as reality.  I did remain somewhat skeptical, however, and I was determined to observe Suki's behaviour very carefully for the remainder of the day.  Of course, she slept for most of the next six hours so there really wasn't much to observe.  

So, when I sat before Suki her evening meal of turkey and gravy, I found a chair and watched her rather than preparing my own supper. Amazingly, she behaved exactly as she had at noontime -- she finished her wet food and then moved over to her water dish where she began to lap up the water. Once again, after drinking a good quantity of H2O, she asked for a bit of her dry food and then headed for the bedroom to have another nap.  She behaved the same way once again when I gave her the usual bedtime snack.

At this point, I had to assume that a miracle had occurred and that Suki, after eight years, had become a "new" cat!  I fell asleep that night thinking about this strange occurrence and found that it was still very much in my thoughts when I awakened the next morning. As a consequence, I made certain that Suki had a clean dish with fresh water as soon as I went into the kitchen on Saturday morning.

But, guess what? Since then, Suki has once again ignored the water dish completely.  It is as though Friday never even happened.  This, of course, has made me doubt my senses all the more.  I realize now that I should have taken a video of this amazing event, but at the time I was too stunned to even think of such a thing.  

I am still trying to figure out just what happened and why, suddenly, after eight years, Suki spent one day behaving like a "normal" cat and then returned to her normal-abnormal behaviour of completely abstaining from water.  What on earth could have caused her to behave in such an unusual way just for one day? I thought it might be the food, but then it was exactly the same food she gets every day -- nothing was different.

If any of you "cat people" out there have any ideas, please pass them along. This is a mystery that I will continue to puzzle over for some time to come, I'm sure.

Other than having unusual experiences with my cat, I have continued to recover from this flu bug.  It has left me with a lack of energy which is making it difficult for me to catch up with all the email I received during the 10 days when I was so very sick.  There are some of you who, I know, are awaiting replies to your emails so I ask you to be patient -- I will answer each and every one of them in time.

As for my usual complaints, they continue unabated.  I actually have an appointment tomorrow afternoon with the director of the pain clinic at the nearby teaching hospital.  He will assess my present treatment program and provide whatever prescriptions I need.  I will let you know next Sunday if we agree to make any serious changes to my treatment regimen. 

I wish you all a week filled with happiness and delightful coincidences! 


Sunday, 22 January 2017

Flu Season!

"Suki with Overheated Thermometer", drawing by Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, 2017

Apologies to one and all.  

I was "struck down" by some sort of sneaky, virulent flu-type virus this past Sunday evening.  Yesterday, almost seven days later, I was able to sit up for a while without getting dizzy.  So, I apologize for being unable to share a new weekly column with you, but, hopefully, by next Sunday things will be back to normal.

Stay well and take care.


Sunday, 15 January 2017

Gloriosa superba -- Flame Lily

"Gloriosa superba -- Flame Lily", drawing by Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, 2016

Gloriosa superba is a species of flowering plant in the family Colchicaceae. English language common names include flame lily, tiger claw and fire lily. It is native to much of Africa and Asia, but it is known worldwide, variously, as an ornamental plant, a medicine, a poison and a noxious weed. 

Gloriosa superba is a perennial sprouting from a continuously growing horizontal underground stem that puts out lateral shoots and roots at intervals (or rhizome). It is a climber and it does so by using its tendrils. The leaves are somewhat lance-shaped and light green in colour. The showy flower has six tepals each approximately 6 centimeters long. They are generally bright red to orange at maturity with yellowish bases. The six stamens also are long, up to 4 centimeters, and each bears a large anther at the tip that drops large amounts of yellow pollen. 

Since Gloriosa superba is a popular garden plant, a number of cultivars have been developed. It grows easily in many types of habitat, including everything from tropical jungles to sand dunes. Not only can it can grow in nutrient-poor soils, it has also been found growing up to 2500 metres above sea level. 

This plant is poisonous, toxic enough to cause human and animal fatalities if ingested. It has been used to commit murder, to accomplish suicide and to kill animals. Every part of the plant is poisonous, especially the underground stems. As with other members of the Colchicaceae Family, this plant contains high levels of colchicine, a toxic alkaloid. It also contains the alkaloid gloriocine. Accidental poisonings in humans have occurred when the tubers are mistaken for sweet potatoes or yams. 

On the other hand, this alkaloid-rich plant has long been used as a traditional medicine in many cultures in the treatment of such things as gout, infertility, arthritis, colic, kidney problems, hemorrhoids, impotence, STDs and many types of internal parasites. Since one of the possible side effects of non-lethal poisoning is excessive vaginal bleeding, it is used in some cultures by pregnant woman who seek an abortion. In parts of India, extracts of the rhizome are applied topically during childbirth to reduce labor pain. Among the other uses for this plant is arrow poison used in Nigeria for hunting. Some cultures consider the flame lily to be magical.

Although this plant has been common in the wild, it is in great demand for medicinal use. While it is cultivated on farms in India, most plant material sold into the pharmaceutical trade (it is used in the treatment of some cancers) still comes from wild populations. This is one reason for its decline in parts of its native range. On the other hand, it has been introduced outside its native range and has become a weed which may be invasive. For example, it now is cited as an invasive species in Australia, the Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Singapore. 

The genus name of Gloriosa is Latin meaning “glorious”. The species name of superba is Latin for “swelling with pride”. Gloriosa superba, with its spectacular red and yellow flowers is definitely gloriously superb.

"Mandala Gloriosa superba", drawing by Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, revised 2016

Actually, some of you may recall my posting a drawing of Gloriosa superba (2009) as well as a mandala-type design using stylized features of Gloriosa superba (2010) similar to the one above.  

After finishing the featured drawing at the beginning of this posting, I decided to go back and took a look at my previous drawings of Gloriosa superba.  The mandala-type drawing I had done as part of an "inversion-technique" art project was especially intriguing. So I decided to take certain elements from that original drawing and include them in this latest effort you see directly above.  I am not really that pleased with it yet, but I thought I would show you what I have done thus far.

Portions of the above text were taken from various Internet sources.


Thanks to their mom, I recently received some new photos of "my boys" playing together and looking adorable.  Like any proud honourary "baka", I want to show the photos to everyone I meet -- this includes all of you, of course!  


Playing peacefully

Older brother quietly showing younger brother how this game works


The wrestling match begins

Foul.  Foul.

And the winner is....

Time for a bit of quiet once again.



"Suki Asleep", drawing by
Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, 2015

Recently I had a discussion with a dear friend about possible reasons why some people dislike cats so very much.  We mentioned the usual reasons: getting scratched by a cat when you were too little to understand what can happen when you pull on a cat's tail; being traumatized when you are very young by having a cat suddenly jump in front of you or on you; or seeing a cat catch and kill a bird at a very young age and not understanding that cats are natural hunters.  

My friend then mentioned a reason some people may dislike cats that I had not previously considered: cats will sit in front of you and stare at you for long periods of time.  Evidently this is something which can possibly be disturbing for some people no matter what their age!  My friend actually knows of someone who had said that they disliked cats for this very reason.

I am not sure I really understand why a cat's staring ability would be so disconcerting to someone, but then I have never been bothered by this feline peculiarity.  Perhaps the person is very self-conscious or insecure for some reason in that particular moment and they feel that the cat is seeing whatever it is that they wish to hide.  Fortunately, I am not bothered such feelings when I am in the presence of a cat since Suki is a staring cat par excellence.  Let me just give you one example.

As I have mentioned on more than one occasion, Suki, who has already claimed all the comfortable chairs in our home as her property, envies me my recliner.  I know this because every single morning Suki tries to use her incredible staring abilities to get me out of my recliner and into some other chair as quickly as possible so that she can curl up on the seat of my recliner and sleep the morning away.

Thankfully, as I have already mentioned, I have never been bothered by a cat's stare.  Even when Suki stares at me almost non-stop from the time I sit down in my recliner each morning with my coffee, my iPad and my Kindle, I barely even notice that her eyes are on me.  I know this is frustrating for Suki as every so often she will utter a plaintive meow which causes me to look up and see that she is still staring at me.  In response to her meow, I tell her to be patient -- I will get up when I am good and ready!

Often I will sit in my recliner for a couple of hours before I finally get up and head for my computer desk chair.  Then poor, exhausted Suki, who has spent most of the past two hours staring at me, quickly moves from the wing-back chair to my recliner, plops herself down contentedly and proceeds to give herself a good bath before finally settling down to sleep until lunch time.  For all the good her staring did her, she might as well have been sleeping for the previous two hours!  

As for me, things continue pretty much as usual.

Mostly, the past week was very quiet although I will admit that I almost overdid things this past Friday without ever leaving the building...

As you may recall, Friday morning is when I go for a nice long visit each week with my dear friend, Sharon, on the 6th floor.  Well, while I was visiting this past Friday, Sharon brought out a large bottle of Sorrel -- a Christmas gift from a Jamaican friend -- and made the mistake of asking me if I would like some.  I love Sorrel and even though it was only 9:45 a.m., we decided we should each have a small glass of this delicious home brew.

"Hibiscus sabdariffa" also known as
the Sorrel plant.
[Just in case you are not familiar with Sorrel, it refers to a delicious drink made by families in various Caribbean nations as part of their Christmas celebration.  It is, of course, primarily made to share with family members, but it is also given as a gift.  It is made from the liquid produced when the "flowers" of Hibiscus sabdariffa are heated in water. This "pot liquor" is then combined with cinnamon, orange peel, cloves, ginger and sugar -- and in the grown-up version, rum is added. It was the grown-up version that Sharon offered to share with me. Yum. Yum. Yum.]

By 11 a.m. I was back home and on the computer (Sharon and I each had only a small glass of Sorrel so, not to worry, I was not Computing While Intoxicated!).  Then my telephone began to ring. First there was a call from a good buddy in Alabama. This was followed by a call from my dear friend, Grazyna. Finally, there was a call from Joycelyn during which we had to go over the grocery list for her next visit.  In between all these phone calls, I had to feed Suki her lunch and give her the daily dose of pain medication plus going down for the mail.

So, by 3 p.m., when things finally settled down again, I was exhausted and in pain. I knew it was time for me to take my own medication and try to get a bit of rest.  It is difficult for me to believe that there was a time in my life when I would put in an 8 hour work day, go home, freshen up, meet friends for dinner somewhere, go from dinner to someone's party, leave, go home, get about five hours sleep and be back in my office at 8:30 the next morning feeling fine!  Is that young me I see in my memories really me and or is it just some movie I once saw?

Anyway, I have since recovered from Friday's activities and expect the coming week to be a quiet one...hopefully.  

I hope it will be a good week for each one of you as well.


Sunday, 8 January 2017

Lycoris radiata

"Lycoris radiata -- Red Spider Lily", drawing by Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, 2017

Lycoris radiata, also known as red spider lily, is a plant in the family, AmaryllidaceaeIt flowers in the late summer or autumn, often in response to heavy rainfall. This gives rise to another of its common names, especially in Florida, of "hurricane lily" as these plants are frequently seen in bloom after a hurricane has passed. Lycoris radiata is native to China, Korea and Nepal. From there, it was introduced into Japan and thence to North America and beyond. 

A few of the many blooms which appeared
on the Narcissus plant my friend, Patricia,
gave to me as a Christmas gift.

Lycoris radiata shares the same family as the Amaryllis and Narcissus plants that people often give as gifts during the holiday season. In fact, I received a gift of a lovely Narcissus plant from my friend, Patricia, during the recent holidays (see photo at right).  Of course, I am having to keep it far from Suki as all parts of the plants in this family are poisonous.

Lycoris radiata is a bulbous perennial. It normally flowers before the leaves fully appear, on stems 12–28 inches (30–70 centimetres) tall. The reddish-pink flowers are arranged in umbels. Individual flowers are irregular with narrow segments which curve backwards with long projecting stamens. 

As mentioned previously, the bulbs of Lycoris radiata are very poisonous making them potentially hazardous for pets or young children.  Interestingly, however, in places like Japan, this poisonous feature means that the bulbs are often used as a means of pest control. Rice paddies and houses are surrounded by the bulbs which pests and mice cannot resist nibbling on with obvious results. 

As well, many Buddhists will use Lycoris radiata to celebrate the arrival of fall with a ceremony at the tomb of one of their ancestors during which they plant the flowers on the grave as a tribute. Thus, there will be many of these pinkish-red flowers blooming in and around cemeteries.  It is hardly surprising, therefore, that these flowers are described in Chinese and Japanese translations of the Lotus Sutra as ominous flowers that grow in Diyu (Hell) and guide the dead into the next reincarnation.

Floral arrangement containing Lycoris
 radiata.  Evidently, not the sort of thing
you should send to your friend in Japan!
I have been told that since the Red Spider Lily is mostly associated with death by Buddhists (especially in Japan), you should never give a bouquet containing these flowers to someone who is Buddhist/Japanese (in photo at right the Lycoris radiata can be seen at the back of this lovely floral arrangement).

The genus name, Lycoris, honors a Roman beauty who was the mistress of Mark Antony. The species name, radiata, is from the Latin and means “spreading rays” as in the word "radiates", referring to the spreading, curved flower tepals.

Portions of the above text were taken from various Internet sources.


Drawing by Sarah "Sallie" Thayer showing 
the way that Suki loves to soak up 
the winter sunshine
Well, Miss Suki is beginning the New Year in exactly the same way she left the old year -- occasionally being a nuisance and a pest -- that is until it gets close to meal time when she becomes absolutely annoying!

You would think that Suki would become sweeter and more loving to me, the person who provides the food, the closer we get to the time for her to be fed.  Instead, she can at those times become a perfect pest. Perhaps she behaves this way because she knows that no matter how irritated I become with her, I will feed her anyway.  Suki knows beyond a doubt that I will never be cruel to her.

Of course, you have heard all of this before and you are probably thinking to yourself "what on earth could Suki have done that was more devious than anything I have heard previously?"  Well, let me just tell you about her latest trick...

As you may recall, I told you all several months ago that the pain in my spine has caused me to once again give up my bed and sleep, instead, in my big recliner.  The chair is constructed in such a way so that when it is in the "lying-down" position, my back gets more and better support than my fine mattress could ever give.  So, for obvious sanitary reasons, before going to bed, I take one of my soft, cotton sheets and spread it completely over the open chair.

On Thursday morning of this past week, about 5:30 a.m., I became vaguely aware that Suki had already started her campaign to get me to get up and feed her.  She was using her usual noise makers, but I think I have become so used to hearing them, that I found I could keep dozing in spite of the noise.

Then, through my sleepy haze, I became aware of a strange noise in a strange place.  I tried to ignore it, but I was puzzled and confused as the noise seemed to be originating from underneath the recliner. Suddenly, some creature popped up under my sheet, next to my head.  It was sufficiently startling and surprising so that I became fully awake. I quickly reached for the switch on the table lamp next to me, turned on the light and began to investigate.  

It soon became obvious that the strange creature now lodged between the sheet and the recliner was none other than Suki! What a surprise, NOT. She had managed to get under the sheet where it was tucked in on the back of the chair and, while hanging upside down, she had crawled up the back of the chair and, then, continued crawling until she came over the top and ended up next to my head.  

[Remember, Suki has arthritis in one hip and a ruptured cruciate ligament in the other.  Normally, she has to force herself to jump from the floor to the seat of a chair -- I have watched her and you can see that she is in pain. Yet, here she was holding onto the underside of the recliner with nothing but her claws.  I can only imagine that it must have caused her a lot of pain to do this.]

By now, not only was I fully awake, I was also up and out of my "bed".  Suki could say "mission well accomplished".  I should have been thoroughly aggravated with this cat, but, instead, I ended up laughing.

Then, since Suki was still under the sheet, I couldn't resist taking my long-handled, back scratcher from the table nearby and teasing her with it for a few minutes. She enjoyed playing, but I soon realized that I had too much pain in my wrists at that moment to enjoy my part of the game so I stopped and headed off to begin my morning routine.  Behind me I could hear Suki making all sorts of efforts to get herself untangled from the sheet and the chair but she managed somehow.  Finally, about 15 minutes later, she was eating her breakfast.  Truly, she could say once again, "Mission accomplished."

As for me, I have enjoyed a break from posting my regular columns for the past two Sundays; however, now I feel ready to return to preparing the art work and the comments each week as usual.  

I hope all of you had a good holiday season. I had a very quiet Christmas and New Years' myself.  There were a few visitors and a number of phone calls -- all of them enjoyable.  Most of the time, though, it was just Suki and Sallie enjoyably keeping one another company as the days quietly passed.

Once the New Year began, however, I have found myself having to go from resting mode to active mode in a big hurry.  On the 4th, my dear friend, Eugene, came for a visit -- on the 5th I had two medical appointments back to back -- on Friday, the 6th, I had a long visit with my dear friend, Sharon in the morning followed by afternoon negotiations with the vet clinic about sending more medication for Suki (it was finally delivered by taxi late in the afternoon). Gratefully, yesterday, the 7th, was a day without any appointments of any kind and so I just relaxed and read another book. Today, as a new week begins, I am finishing off my blog posting and may have visitors this afternoon. 

Christmas greetings (one day late) to all my Orthodox readers and may 2017 be a good year for us all.


Sunday, 1 January 2017

Happy New Year!

Best wishes for 2017 from Suki and Sallie!