The weather lately and climate change.

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A tree in Missouri suffering from bacterial leaf scorch

Scientists said this past July was the hottest one on record.   Each summer has been, on average, hotter than the one before it, and the hottest summers have nearly all been since 2000.  I bet this past August will be the hottest on record too.

I don’t know about you, but I believe the scientists about this, not the orange narcissist sitting in the Oval Office, a man who actually ordered scientists at NOAA to lie about where Hurricane Dorian made landfall, in order to save his fragile ego from having to face the consequences of being wrong.

But I promise I’m not getting on my political soapbox today.   I just wanted to talk about the weather — and the strange things I’ve been observing that may be due to climate change.

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It’s the middle of September, and normally by now, even in a mid-South state like North Carolina, the weather is starting to cool down into pleasant, warm sunny dry days and cooler nights.  A few of the trees begin to show fall colors (even though “fall colors” around here often means some shade of brown, maroon, or sickly yellow).  September in this part of the country looks like summer past its expiration date:  still summer, but the trees and plants all have a tired, overgrown, overripe look about them, like fruit that’s still edible but on the verge of going bad.

But this September has been the hottest I can remember.  In fact, it’s hotter than it was in August, and August heat here is almost unbearable every year.    The temperature has been soaring up into the high 80s and 90s nearly every day this month so far, with a heat index that’s about the same or even higher, and the nights are muggy and bring little relief.

It’s a humid, oppressive heat, the kind that makes a person literally drip and plasters my hair down to my head like a helmet and makes my hair straightener almost useless.   It’s the type of heat that makes you not want to do anything, but at the same time you can’t really get any rest either.   At night in bed, without the air conditioning going at full blast, I toss and turn as if in a fever dream, and in the morning my bed is soaked with sweat.  It’s as if Florida followed me back here in August.

And the bugs.  Holy shit, the bugs.   Not bees and butterflies and other “nice” insects that do useful things for us, and don’t bother you and invade your personal space, but nasty, hateful, biting bugs that have no respect for personal boundaries.   So, the problem’s not an excess of bugs, it’s the kind of bugs.  Scientists have discovered there is a shortage of bees and other pollinating insects due to climate change, exacerbated by harmful policies that further destroy them.    I’ve seen the decline for myself.   Usually there’s a plethora of bees among the many flowering plants here, but this year there did seem to be a dearth of them.   I also noticed fewer butterflies.   But there’ve been mosquitoes in great swarms this year (probably due to the surplus of rain we had in July and August), and right now I’m covered in their nasty, itchy weals.  Blood loving insects, such as mosquitoes and fleas, seem unaffected by the hot weather, and in fact they seem to thrive in it.  There seems to be an uptick in other unpleasant, seemingly useless insects such as crane flies, fleas, and cockroaches.

Finally, there’s something wrong with the way the natural world looks.   As I mentioned earlier,  southern states don’t get the stunning array of bright Fall colors that states like Vermont or Colorado enjoy (unless you drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway, where the trees have been deliberately chosen for their autumn color), and most of the trees and other plants should still be mostly deep green anyway.

But the trees don’t just look past their prime.  They look downright unhealthy.   The other day I was driving down a pretty older suburban neighborhood whose streets are lined with huge, fat old oak trees.  These trees are probably well over one hundred years old, but I’ve never seen them look the way they do.  They looked like they were dead or dying.  All the leaves were still there, but they were a dried up, pale greenish brown, as if they were in a faded discolored old photograph. That’s not normal.   I don’t know what was wrong with those trees, but those weren’t fall colors.   They looked…dessicated or even burnt.  Perhaps the intense heat had done that to them.   There’s a fatal condition (shown at the top) that affects oaks and other types of trees called bacterial leaf scorch. Maybe that’s what it is, or maybe it’s some kind of blight.  Other trees and plants have that scorched, blighted look too.    I’ve also noticed a lot more dead trees.

One of my neighbors is growing a palm tree.  Palm trees don’t grow in western North Carolina naturally, but I have to wonder if, with the warm winters we’ve enjoyed the past few years (save a few days with temps in the single digits or teens), it just might survive if this winter proves to be even warmer.

For the past few years, I’ve also noticed the vegetation along the sides of the roads is dead.  Maybe it’s being sprayed with pesticides near the road, or maybe it’s the exhaust from the cars, but this seems like something new.  I don’t think I ever noticed it until a few years ago.

The sky has a strange look to it, a smogginess I don’t remember ever seeing in this part of the country before.   Sometimes near the horizon, it’s so heavy it obscures the view of distant objects, and it has an unpleasant yellowish gray tint to it, a color similar to a bruise, or an approaching thunderstorm even though there’s no storm coming.  In fact, it reminds me of the way the air looked on summer days in New York and New Jersey back in the pre-EPA 1970s. Could Trump’s relaxation of environmental regulations already be having visible effects?

Have you noticed similar changes too?  Let me know in the comments.

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Happy Halloween!

Instead of the usual pumpkins, witches, or ghosts,  how about something unique and beautiful for Halloween: black roses!

Black roses are extremely rare and grow only in Halfeti, Turkey.  They aren’t actually black, but a very dark purple that looks black unless you look closely.  Here are some black roses for you to enjoy, and yes, these are real.  (I did not take the photos).

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Photo credit: N/A

 

What is crown shyness?

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“Crown shyness” is a real term that means the pattern a canopy of trees make against the sky.   They seem to avoid touching, which is responsible for the pattern.

One theory is this is due to branches rubbing against each other and then breaking off, leaving the jigsaw-puzzle like patterns.  Another theory is that the growing tips are sensitive to levels of light, and stop growing as they near the branch tips of other trees.

They’re better at maintaining good boundaries than humans are!

I never noticed tcrown shyness before, but now I’ll be looking for it whenever I walk in a forest or under a grove of tall trees.

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Photos not taken by me.  Credit: unknown.

Spring repotting and planting.

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A few of the smaller plants on my porch.  The newly repotted money tree is on the right.

It’s still early, but I think the frosts are over.   It was a pretty day so I headed over to Lowe’s and picked up a couple of large clay pots so i could do some replanting of plants that had been indoors and become root-bound.   I also got some morning glory seeds.

I acquired two mannequin arms from the previous upstairs tenants and am using them as supports for the morning glories when they start growing. These arms will supplement the dead shrub I’ve been using as a support for the vine for the previous three years.

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A couple years ago I wrote about my lucky bamboo plant, which was very small at the time and has sat in my kitchen window ever since.   Now, it’s huge, way too big for my kitchen window, and had become root-bound.   I decided to repot it in one of the clay pots and sit it outside on the porch.   I lined the bottom with small stones and used the potting soil on top.   I also repotted a “money tree” I got last year and has also grown pretty huge.

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Bamboo plant after repotting.  It’s bigger than it looks here.

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The same bamboo plant two years ago.

I have yet to do any actual planting.   I’ll wait a few more weeks for that.   I’m going to keep it pretty simple though, since I don’t have a lot of time for gardening.  At least the indoor plants can now  be outside.  I can always move them back inside if it becomes cold again.

Do plants get cancer?

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A random thought popped into my head today. That happens to me a lot. I always find out interesting new things that way. I’m as curious about the world as a 6 year old. That can’t be a bad thing. I think I might post these questions whenever I get an answer because maybe someone else was wondering the same thing. Today I started to wonder if plants can get cancer. The answer is, yes, they can, but it usually won’t kill a plant. Popular Science explains why:

In animals, a tumor develops when a cell (or group of cells) loses the built-in controls that regulate its growth, often as a result of mutations. Plants can experience the same phenomenon, along with cancerous masses, but it tends to be brought on via infection. Fungi, bacteria, viruses, and insect infestation have all been tied to plant cancers. Oak trees, for example, often grow tumors that double as homes for larvae.

The good news for plants is that even though they’re susceptible to cancer, they’re less vulnerable to its effects. For one thing, a vegetable tumor won’t metastasize. That’s because plant cells are typically locked in place by a matrix of rigid cell walls, so they can’t migrate. Even when a plant cell begins dividing uncontrollably, the tumor it creates remains stuck in one place usually with minor effects on the plant’s health—like a burl in a redwood tree.

Plants also have the benefit of lacking any vital organs. “It’s bad to get a brain tumor if you’re a human,” says Elliot Meyerowitz, a plant geneticist at the California Institute of Technology. “But there’s nothing that you can name that’s bad to get a tumor in if you’re a plant. Because whatever it is, you can make another.”

Meyerowitz points to another difference between plant and animal oncology with regard to those redwood burls: “Instead of treating plant tumors by surgery and chemotherapy, we make them into cheesy coffee tables.”

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$3,200 for tree cancer on legs.

This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Popular Science.
http://www.popsci.com/article/science/ask-anything-do-plants-get-cancer

Wild carrots.

There’s always something by the the side of the road worthy of a photograph. Even weeds like these can be beautiful. Click photos for more detail.

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Japanese maple in bloom.

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Click to enlarge photos.

My “lucky” bamboo plant

I don’t have a green thumb. At all.  I love plants, but usually, no matter how well I care for them, or how closely I follow the instructions on the little plastic card they come with, my plants still shrivel up and die.

The fact I also have cats doesn’t help either. Plants and cats in a house do not usually mix.

But my lucky bamboo plant is different.  And my 4 cats are indifferent.  I guess bamboo doesn’t have a smell or something.

I purchased this little bamboo plant as a tiny 3 inch seedling about a year ago.    As you can see from the photos below, the pretty little grass-green ceramic planter it came in is now far too small for it.  It needs a new home soon.

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Still, the bamboo continues to thrive. Its leaves are glossy and bright green, and it keeps throwing off new shoots. Maybe the muted light from the fake stained glass in the kitchen window (really a clear plastic decal from Home Depot I cut to size and stuck on the glass to cover the ugly hardened sap stains from the poplar tree that used to drip its effusions before it was finally chopped down) helps. Like people with sensitive eyes or allergies to the sun, bamboo doesn’t like bright, in your face sunlight. Or maybe it’s the tiny Laughing Buddha who’s sitting there in front of the planter, throwing off little sparks of positive energy, that’s keeping the plant so hale and hardy.

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Another view of the bamboo without all the background distractions.

2 images of my Laughing Buddha (turn him upside down and around and he grins instead of laughs!)
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Unlike my other plants, there is no soil in the little planter the bamboo lives in. Instead, there are squishy round spheres that look like clear marbles, but adding water to them makes them expand and diffuses water through the plant’s tissues–so it always gets just the right amount of water. It’s like a self-feeder for cats, only it’s for plants. Since I will have to rehome my bamboo soon, I purchased this jar of “Water Gems,” the name of the little squishy spheres that keep my plant healthy and thriving. when I repot it (I hope I can find something as cute as the pot it came in), these will go into the new planter.

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In case you’re wondering, the glass, mirror and tile baubles hanging from the window sash are a couple of the suncatchers I made for awhile. The one on the right is broken but it’s still pretty there in the kitchen window.