Sunday, 30 April 2017

Flowering Lanterns

"Abuliton pictum -- Dark-veined Chinese Lanterns", drawing by 
Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, 2017

Abutilon pictum, commonly known as Dark-veined Chinese Lanterns or Indian Maple, is a species of Abutilon in the Malvaceae (Mallow) family. It is native to Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. It was naturalized in India, possibly as early as the 1600s, by the British where it rapidly became so widespread that it is now considered by most Indians to be a native tree. 

Abutilon pictum produces numerous solitary, bell-shaped orange flowers with distinctive thin reddish-purple veins. The blossoms droop lantern-like from the leaf axes on thin stalks. Flowers may bloom almost year around in frost-free, sub-tropical climates. 

Flower structure resembles that of other mallows in that each flower features 5 overlapping petals with stamens fused into a central hibiscus-like column. The flowers are edible, raw or cooked, with the sweet flavor increasing the longer the bloom is open. Branches are clad with three- to five-lobed, dark-green, maple-like leaves. 

The genus name, Abutilon, comes from the Arabic word for a mallow-like plant (awbūtīlūn). The specific name, pictum, comes from the Latin “pictus” meaning brightly marked, painted or variegated in probable reference to the distinctive veins on the flowers.


"Crinodendron hookerianum - Chilean Lantern Tree", drawing by Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, 2017

Crinodendron hookerianum, commonly known as the Chilean lantern tree, is an evergreen tree in the family Elaeocarpaceae. It is native to Chile; however, it is a surprisingly cold-tolerant and temperate species within a mostly tropical family of plants. I have heard, for example, that it can be found growing healthily as far north as Scotland.

Crinodendron hookerianum, when in full bloom, is strikingly beautiful. The lantern-shaped flowers range in colour from light pink to crimson. The elegant evergreen-type leaves are lance-shaped, leathery and alternate -- dark green above and hairy whitish green below. Interestingly, the flower buds appear on the always-green tree in the autumn and remain on the tree until spring at which time they swell into pink lanterns. 

The genus name of Crinodendron is from the Ancient Greek words κρίνον meaning "lily" and δένδρον meaning "tree". The specific name of hookerianum honours William Jackson Hooker, an English botanist who studied many Chilean plants and was the Director of Kew Gardens from 1841 to his death in 1865.

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


Suki enjoying her chair and the afternoon sunshine
Well, I finally got the report back from the vet and, believe it or not, we still do not have a definite diagnosis.   

At present, the most likely diagnosis is idiopathic hyper-calcemia.  To interpret, this means "we are not really sure why your cat has such high levels of calcium in her blood, but if you will just pay an additional $800, then we will be able to tell you for certain that either your cat has some type of lymphoma (cancer) or just idiopathic hypercalcemia."  And, in case you didn't know, idiopathic means "relating to or denoting any disease or condition that arises spontaneously or for which the cause is unknown."

Whatever the case, I need to try to get Suki's calcium levels down quickly. So, in the next few days, I will be getting the vet clinic to deliver new "veterinary only" food for Suki to learn to eat.  I foresee a week or so of living with a cat who will not eat her food and who then proceeds to complain bitterly about being hungry. I foresee many sleepless nights!

Suki has always been a very fussy eater and so I cannot imagine that she will take kindly to changes in her food.  When she first came to live with me, it took several weeks before I discovered the exact brands of wet food and dry food she was willing to eat.  

As I have recounted in these blog postings many times, whenever I have tried to change her diet in any way, Suki has always refused to participate in my efforts.  Due to her unwillingness to eat anything other than her favourites, she simply goes without anything but water and then makes my life miserable until I finally give in and give her the food she wants.  This time I cannot afford to give in as this is becoming a life or death matter, I fear.

So, next time I post here, I will either have a story of success or a story of continuing failure to recount.  I am trying my best to be positive about it all, but I am afraid that my previous experiences with Suki are causing me to be somewhat skeptical about my chances of a successful outcome.


As for me, I continue to be about the same as usual these days.

I do have two medical appointments this week.  
One, an MRI of my spine, is scheduled for tomorrow morning at 7:15 A.M. Somehow I will have to get myself up and out of here by 7 A.M.  I've made arrangements with a friend who is always up early to give me a phone call around 5:30 just to make certain that I haven't shut off the alarm clock and gone back to sleep! 
Then, on Tuesday, I go see the ophthalmologist at the hospital for an "every six-months", follow-up appointment.

Happy May 1st everyone!



Sunday, 16 April 2017

Thorns and More Thorns

"Solanum pyracanthum -- Porcupine Tomato", drawing by Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, 2017

Today I am featuring two new drawings which focus on flowering, thorny plants.  Good Friday always makes me think of thorns and, thus, it seemed to be that this weekend might be the one for sharing these new artistic efforts.

The first plant featured is Solanum pyracanthum. This is the botanical name for the porcupine tomato or devil’s thorn. Solanum is the genus of the tomato, potato and deadly Nightshade family and this plant bears many discrete resemblances to these plants, particularly to tomatoes. Native to tropical Madagascar and the islands of the western Indian Ocean, it has been introduced into many countries over the years but, thankfully, has not shown itself to be invasive. This is because the plant is very slow to reproduce and birds avoid the berries, so the seeds don’t get distributed easily. 

While many people consider thorns to be a drawback in plants, the thorns on a porcupine tomato are quite striking and are, in fact, the first thing you notice about this plant. The gray-green leaves give way to red-orange thorns which grow straight up on the sides of the leaves. Along with the colorful thorns, there are also lavender/blue flowers. The flowers are shaped much like other members of the Solanum family and have yellow centers. The back of each petal has a white stripe that runs from the tip to the base. 

The leaves, flowers and fruit of the plant are poisonous. Like many members of the Solanum genus, particularly Deadly Nightshade, the porcupine tomato contains highly toxic tropane alkaloids. 

The genus name of Solanum is from the Latin and means “solace” or “quietude” (referring to the narcotic properties of some species). The specific name of pyracanthum comes from the Latin and means “fire thorn”.

"Euphorbia milii -- Crown of Thorns", drawing by Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, 2017

I previously featured a drawing this particular plant (Euphorbia milii) back in 2009 [see drawing below right]. However, with all the Lenten reminders of the passion of Christ, I decided to do another drawing -- this time making the thorns more prominent.

"Euphorbia milii -- Crown of Thorns, 2009",
drawing by Sarah "Sallie" Thayer
Euphorbia milii, of the family Euphorbiaceae, is a woody, spiny, climbing succulent shrub with shoots reaching a height of six feet. While the plant appears to have sizable pink flowers, the “flowers” are actually pink leaves (bracts) while the flowers are the tiny bits growing in the centre. 

Euphorbia milii is also known as “Crown of Thorns” or the "Christ Plant" as tradition has it that this plant was used to make the crown of thorns with which the Roman soldiers are said to have crowned Christ. Although the plant originated in Madagascar, there is substantial evidence that the species had been brought to the Middle East before the time of Christ. The plants send out thorny stems which are very pliable and could easily have been intertwined into a circle. The sap of Euphorbia milii can cause severe dermatitis on the skin of those who are susceptible and it is poisonous when ingested. 

The genus name, Euphorbia, was first published by Carolus Linnaeus in the first edition of Species Plantarum in 1753. However, it can be traced back as far as 79 A.D. to the Roman officer, Pliny the Elder, as it is mentioned in his book, Natural History of Pliny. The genus, Euphorbia, honours an African physician named Euphorbus who lived during the lst century A.D. The species name, milii, commemorates Baron Milius, once governor of Reunion, who in 1821 introduced the species to France.

Much of the text above was taken from various Internet sources.


Here are the boys after their Easter Egg Hunt with their Easter greeting.  

"Happy Easter Everyone!"




Suki with her favourite toy in MY chair!
Poor Suki!  I have been treating her very kindly ever since Thursday evening.  Why?  Well, let me tell you the whole, sad story...

Suki had an appointment scheduled with the vet for this past Thursday morning at 10:30.  All that was supposed to occur during this visit was a bit of "bloodletting" so that the blood tests done six weeks ago could be repeated. We arrived at the clinic about 10:20 and were quickly taken into an exam room.

After the vet assistant had removed Suki from the case and weighed her (no significant weight loss yet I am sorry to say), she asked me if Suki was fasting.  Shocked, I replied, "No. I'm sorry, but no one told me that she should be fasting."

The young woman apologized and said that whoever had made the appointment should have informed me about the need for Suki to be fasting when her blood was drawn.  So, unsure what to do, off she went to check with the vet as to whether the blood work could be done if Suki had eaten breakfast.

She returned to inform me that they would not be able to get the correct results unless Suki was fasting.  Thankfully, she then informed me that the vet had suggested a possible solution.  If I was willing to leave Suki there until the afternoon, they would take her blood once 9-10 hours had elapsed (she had her breakfast at 5:30) and then either she or the vet would drop Suki off at my place on their way home (both live in my neighbourhood).

I immediately thought that this was a really nice thing for them to offer to do and, so, I quickly agreed to their plan.  After scratching Suki's head once more and telling her that I would see her later, I left for home. Of course, I was not really settled for the rest of the day as the vet's assistant had mentioned that if they finished early, Suki could be home by mid-afternoon.

As it turned out, Suki did not get back home until just after 6 p.m. The assistant telephoned me at 5:45 to tell me that the vet, herself, would be bringing Suki home. I quickly got myself organized and then went down to the lobby to watch for them. When I saw the vet's car pull up, I went out outside and the transfer was quickly made.  I thanked her profusely while she informed me that the results of Suki's blood work should be available by Monday or Tuesday and that she will phone to inform me of the findings.

After saying goodbye, I rushed (as much as I am able to rush these days) upstairs and opened the cat carrier.  Out stalked a very indignant Miss Suki. She began to carefully inspect every inch of our living space, including the closets, meowing loudly the entire time.  Truly, I am grateful that I have never figured out how to speak or understand cat language as I fear that her comments during this inspection tour may have been the sort which would require me to put a lot of "bleeps" into this paragraph!

After eating a small amount of food, Suki then began to take short naps from which she would awaken meowing loudly.  Each time this happened, I would gently call her name a few times.  She would then stop her cries and settle down for another short nap. Eventually, she came and jumped up onto my lap and there she stayed until I got up to prepare our suppers.  By the time of her bedtime snack, she seemed to be pretty much back to normal; however, I do vaguely recall that she jumped into bed with me soon after I had fallen asleep.  She was still next to me when I awakened the next morning.

I will inform you of the results of her blood tests on April 30th which is when I plan to make my next blog posting. Hopefully, the news will all be good.

As for me, I continue to be and do the same.  I have had a couple of medical appointments over the past two weeks, but, as usual these days, they were just follow-up type appointments with nothing new to report.

Meanwhile, let me wish you all a very joyful Easter Season.

Καλο Πασχα
Срећан Ускрс
Wesołych Świąt Wielkanocnych
Happy Easter



Sunday, 2 April 2017

Tropaeolum tricolor

"Tropaeolum tricolour -- Chilean Nasturtium", drawing by Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, 2017 

The Chilean Nasturtium - Tropaeolum tricolor - is a stunning, rare vine with psychedelic blooms! Its vivid scarlet, yellow, and violet flowers swim like schools of tropical fish throughout winter, when most plants are colorless. It is a species of perennial plant in the family, Tropaeolaceae. 

Tropaeolum tricolor is native to Chile and Bolivia where it is called either soldadito rojo or relicario. The vine tends to grow 4 to 6 feet tall, although it can potentially get to 9 feet. It has wiry stems and dainty leaves, both of which are surprisingly durable. The leaf stems are sensitive to touch and act like tendrils, wrapping themselves around branches as the plant climbs upward. Around late winter, once the plant has all its leaves, the flowers make their appearance. They tend to face the same general direction, giving the impression that they're swimming together! 

Sephanoides sephanoides
Three-coloured Chilean Nasturtium grows in the cloud forest on the coastal mountains of northern Chile at 300 to 900 metres (980 to 2,950 ft.). Further south it grows in inland temperate forests in the central regions. Here it grows on level ground or north facing slopes in full sun or dappled shade. It can endure periods of drought of up to 10 months. The tubers are well buried and are hardy down to a temperature of about −8 °C (18 °F) and can tolerate short periods of snow cover. The flowers are pollinated by the green-backed, fire-crown hummingbird (Sephanoides sephanoides). This is the same hummingbird that pollinates Philesia magellanica (the Chilean Bellflower) which I featured back on 2 October 2016. 

The genus name of Tropaeolum is taken from the Latin word “tropaeum” meaning “trophy” which refers to the shape of the flowers. Tricolour obviously means “three colours”. Tri is taken from either the Latin "tres" or Greek "treis", both of which mean "three".

Much of the above information was taken from various Internet sources.


Suki -- Simple house cat or
master manipulator?
I have the strangest feeling that I have been conned -- once again -- by this cat! And, yet, it truly doesn't seem possible. Let me explain...

Two weeks ago, I took Suki to the vet. After weighing her, the vet explained to me, in great detail, the need for me to try to bring down Suki's weight.  As we talked, Suki sat there between us very quietly -- looking at us as we spoke -- almost as though she was listening carefully to what was being said.

After the vet had finished explaining very carefully how Suki would have less pain if I got her weight down by even one pound, I promised I would do my best to strictly adhere to her instructions. I felt quite guilty for not doing better and promised myself that in the future I would not give in to Suki's pleas for extra food or treats.

After we returned home, I began Suki's new feeding regimen. Although Suki immediately began to complain about the smaller portions she was getting, I determinedly stuck to my resolutions.

However, on the third day of this new arrangement, Suki suddenly began to exhibit symptoms of illness.  It was like she had the symptoms of a mild flu bug as she was throwing up and having a bit of diarrhea.  For about a day, Suki was not interested in food at all, but by day 2 of her "illness", she was allowing me to feed her small amounts of her favourite foods plus a few treats.  Her symptoms of illness quickly disappeared and everything seemed to return to normal.

In the process, however, Suki somehow ended up back on her regular feeding schedule and off her new diet!  Now I am afraid to put her back on a diet for fear that she might become "ill" once again.  Meanwhile, I have a sneaking suspicion that this cat has, once again, manipulated me into giving her what she wants.

I have no idea how Suki might have accomplished this, but I must say that her "illness" was rather perfectly timed. Her symptoms begin about two days into a rather strict diet and then, mysteriously, her symptoms disappeared as soon as she started receiving her full rations once again!  I know I have a highly skeptical nature, but doesn't this all seem just a bit suspicious to you as well?

As for me, other than possibly being conned once again by my kitty-cat companion, I am doing as well as conditions allow.  I continue to be able to spend a few hours each day doing art work. This activity not only fully distracts my attention from awareness of the never-ending pain, but it also gives me a great deal of pleasure.  I hope that at least some of the results of this art work provide others, such as yourselves, with a bit of pleasure as well.

I, also, continue to be able to read by using my iPad to fix the size of the font and the grayness of the background. Thankfully, reading also continues to be another way to completely distract myself from the awareness of my poor, old body.  Thank goodness, ever since I learned to read at the age of 4 I have been able to "lose" myself in books.  

As a note of interest, my older sister, Janet, taught me to read. She had already decided, at age 11, that she was going to be a teacher and was busy trying to teach me and all the neighbourhood children how to read. As I recall, her methods were rather strict and a bit unorthodox; however, she managed to get the job done and for that I will always be grateful.

Speaking of reading, I have just finished the book: "Last Chance to See" by Douglas Adams (yes, "The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy" guy, now deceased).  It was written well over 20 years ago and tells the story of Adams and a British zoologist visiting a number of endangered species throughout the world to see what efforts are being made to save them.  I wanted to read this book after coming watching a British TV mini-series following up on these same creatures 20 years later.  This time, since Adams is deceased, they asked Stephen Fry to accompany the BBC team along with the same zoologist.  The book and TV series were both delightful encounters, but left me feeling, oh, so sad as I consider what we have done and continue to do to this planet and all its myriads of plants and animals.  

Sadly, and without casting any blame since we are all guilty to some extent, it is currently estimated that dozens of species, above the natural “background” rate, are going extinct every day.  So many species which have been present for millions of years on this planet, many of which we haven't even identified yet, are now silently, hopelessly, simply disappearing from the earth. Fortunately, the DNA of many of these plants and animals has been taken and carefully stored.  So, perhaps, if there is ever a time in the future when people actually treat the planet with respect so that the earth begins to heal, many of these can live once again.

Anyway, thanks for listening!
I will be back in two weeks.  Until then, take care everyone.