Archive for the ‘Trees’ Category

Hello. I hope this brief post finds you all happy and well. Things have been a bit intense lately, at work and school and especially in my head. There is a team presentation due in class today and another test on Thursday. After that, maybe I can breathe a little bit for a couple of days and think about something else. In the meantime, I wanted to share some photos with you. These were taken in the canyon just North of our home on Sunday. It had been raining and the canyon was beautiful, all the leaves are turning too. Funny, Tom and I wouldn’t have gone on that hike, but I needed some photos of poison oak for the class presentation and it forced us out there. We were both so happy and vowed to go again this coming Sunday. Enjoy:

...Fall colors: Toxicodendron diversiloba (Poison Oak!)

It stopped raining just long enough for our hike, and the blue sky was beautiful.

...blue sky through a Sycamore tree

We found some juicy looking mushrooms growing on an oak tree.

...fungus on oak

I really really LOVE Sycamore trees.

...California Sycamore

This one is surround by a carpet of Poison Oak, which is also growing up the trunk – beautiful and very itchy.

...it really needs a tire swing.

Sometimes, when I’m in this canyon, I forget that it’s right next to the highway.

...a place to rest on the way home.


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Many thanks to all of you for your kind words and positive reinforcement following my last post. The collaboration with Ruth was a resounding success and I can’t wait till our next one. I’m sure I speak for both of us when I say that the response from our audience put some much needed wind in the sails. Most of us take photos, write poetry, paint or draw, garden – whatever form the creative process takes – we do it because we love it, audience or no. But, when it brings even the smallest amount of pleasure to someone else – well, it’s a pretty awesome feeling. Plus, I made some new friends. Thank you again, Ruth, for sharing your wonderful words and your kind friends with me. Until we meet again…

...Muir Woods - California - September 25, 2011

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Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce a talented poet and artist, Ruth Bavetta. We met online several years ago through a mutual book friend (thank you, Ginnie) and have been corresponding ever since. She has agreed to let me post a few of her previously published poems here on my blog. This is perfect timing, since I’m embroiled in some biochemistry at school and haven’t been up to the task of posting – stay tuned in the days to come as I post more of her work with some of my photos. Enjoy…and Ruth, thank you so very much for sharing.

...The Muir Woods - California - September 25, 2011

Late September

and so still much to do—
the bending over the bowl
of dough, the mending
of socks worn through the toe,
the paring of peaches, lovely
in their waning.

Statice beyond the glass, lusterless,
like fog against a window, fading
purple blossoms dry
as paper. Dusk is brittle
on my shoulders. I will leave
as I came in, already falling.

~ by Ruth Bavetta

Previously published in Verse Wisconsin Online

...The Muir Woods - California - September 25, 2011

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We’ve had our ‘Manila’ Mango, Mangifera indica, for three years.The first summer we had it we didn’t get any fruit, but I expect that from a sapling. Last year it put out fruit but it was all very tiny, like large jelly beans covered with ugly dark spots. The mini-fruits that I taste tested were so good, I couldn’t wait for the tree to mature and put out regular sized healthy fruit, and I was hoping the black spots were not a sign of trouble. This year, it looks dead in the water and there is no new growth and no sign of an impending inflorescence, and the spots are now all over the leaves. I’ve been painfully aware of its troubles for months and I finally have the time to investigate why.

Manila Mango

Mangoes do not need trimming or a lot of fussing, but they do need good drainage and I think this might be the issue here. It’s planted on a slight raise in the lawn but the soil underneath is heavy clay. Sometimes the water sits in the plant well for hours before soaking in and this could lead to root diseases. Time for mulching and soil amendment, and a good feeding since it has to compete with the lawn for nutrients.

poor thing

Also, I think it has a fungus called ‘anthracnose’, which is such an awesome name for a wicked fungus don’t you think?

So, I have treated it with a fungicide and I’m hoping for the best. It has the entire summer to rest and recover in the sun and let the medicine do its job. If it doesn’t improve or show some signs of forward-moving life in the next few months, it will have to be pulled out and replaced, or moved to a pot where I can air out the root system. We do our best, but sometimes a plant is beyond recovery. Sadly, I have not been entirely happy with both of the fruit trees I bought at this particular nursery. Both trees were stunted in severe ways and have not done well.

My sister-in-law, Lori, really loves mangoes and this one is planted in between our houses just for that reason. For her sake, I hope it pulls through…fingers crossed!

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A couple weeks ago in botany class, I had to write an essay about a plant that was used as a food. We could choose anything we wanted, as long as our professor hadn’t done a lecture on it already. His lectures focus on major ‘agribusiness’ types of foods like corn or wheat, so I chose to report on the fig. There’s a tree in the backyard, so it was a perfect choice. It contains a bit more commercial information than I usually write, but I had no choice about that aspect and actually learned a few things. Since I haven’t had a moment to do much here, I thought I would post the essay as a ‘ready made’ blog post as soon as I got my grade back. So here it is, my boring essay on the fig, which I did not have time to edit much for a website, so it may fit a bit awkwardly into this space – and yes I got an A 🙂

Spring Fig - 2010

The Fig
Ficus carica

My earliest memory of figs has to do with cookies. Our family cookie jar always had a variety, but the one constant was a sleeve or two of delicious Fig Newtons. My mother thought they were healthy, so she kept them in stock and the family never really discussed what was in the middle of the cookie. In fact, it was not until I was well into my 30’s that I encountered a fig in its natural state, fresh from the tree and not in a cookie. They instantly became a favorite fruit and I eventually bought my own tree so I could eat them fresh. It still amuses me when I offer one right off the tree to a houseguest and they look at me funny because they have never had a fresh fig. Everyone thinks of the cookie first. So, what exactly is a fig and why don’t more people know more about this delicious and nutritious little fruit, apart from its cookie fame?

Figs actually have a long and rich history and a high profile in our collective mythology. The Bible alone mentions the fig fifty seven times, the most famous reference being of Adam and Eve using the leaves as clothing. It is one of only five fruits mentioned in the Quran, and the Ficus religiosa, or Holy Fig, is the tree believed to have adopted Buddha when he received enlightenment. A fig tree is said to have adopted the ancient Roman god, Mithras. This view of the fig tree as a “Great Mother” also figures into the mythology of the Babylonian Ishtar and the Gaulish gods, Dusii. Even Hindu mythology has a story of the “Cosmic Fig Tree” which has the power to grant wishes. Figs were used in love spells and fertility rituals, grown around the home for good luck and prosperity, and the leaves have been used in divination. Sixteenth century herbalist John Gerard credited the fig with curing tumors and “…roughnesse of the skinne, lepries, spreading sores, small pockes, measles, pushes, wheales, freckles, lentiles and scurvinesse of the body and face…” (Herbal or General History of Plants, 1597).

Botanically speaking, the common edible fig, or Ficus carica is of the:
* Subkingdom: Tracheobionta – making it a vascular plant
*Superdivision: Spermatophyta – making it a seed plant
*Division: Magnoliophyta – making it a flowering plant
*Class: Magnoliopsida – making it a Dicotyledon
*Subclass: Hamamelididae: meaning its flowers are often unisex
*Order: Urticales
*Family: Moraceae or Mulberry – which makes it a relative of the rubber plant

Fig Preserves - August 2010

The fruit of the Ficus carica is actually a Syconium, or the inverted inflorescence of the tree. This means it has no visible flowers and the flowers are female, so do not require pollination. The fruit is extremely fragile when ripe and must be consumed or processed immediately. I always use gloves when harvesting because the white sticky sap irritates the skin. The trees grow quickly and can be propagated by cuttings or grafting. They are also deciduous. In fact, my fig tree is always the first plant to lose its leaves in the winter. They thrive in areas with a long hot growing season and a mild winter. Their shallow root system makes it possible to grow them in containers, which can be moved indoors in cooler climate winters. In my experience, they are a relatively easy tree to care for. The only time I need to prune is when the tree gets too tall or develops ‘suckers.’ There are also few pests to worry about, so it is compatible with my organic gardening style. There are usually two crops per season. The first comes from the ‘embryo figs’ which are like leftover fruits from the season before, and the main summer crop, which lasts all summer and into the early fall.

Luscious Figs

My favorite part of eating the fruit is to break it open and study the insides first. It truly looks like an ‘inside out’ flower and the gritty seeds add a fun crunch to whatever dishes I decide to make. When I bought mine, it was no more than three feet tall and now, 6 years later, it stands about nine feet tall and produces more fruit than my family can eat. We like to slice the fig onto a square of puff pastry and bake it in the oven with a dab of goat cheese, honey, and walnuts. We also like to dip them in chocolate. Honestly, I think they are best right off the tree while standing in the garden. Mother Nature must agree with me because every year the ripe fruit attracts possums, rats, mockingbirds, and large yellow birds, which I believe are Hooded Orioles. If you want a fresh ripe fig for breakfast at my house, you have to get up earlier than the wildlife!

Chocolate Dipped Figs and Fig Bread Pudding...drool

Because of the fragility of the fruit, they are not commonly found fresh in the grocery store. This may explain the fact that my guests have rarely had one before I offer. Most of the figs produced are processed and sold dried or canned to manufacturers of jams, jelly and preserves, cookies, trail mix, and energy bars. The fruit is generally the only part of the plant processed, although the leaves can be used for teas or yellow dyes. California produces about 40,000 tons of figs a year, 98% of all US production. Turkey grows about one fourth of the world’s figs, followed by Egypt, Greece, Iran, and Morocco.

Figs were originally cultivated in Asia Minor as early as 9400-9200 BC, based on fossilized fruit found in the Jordan Valley. This information means that the fig predates barley, wheat, and legumes in terms of early agriculture. They eventually spread through the Mediterranean areas and were brought to California in the 1700’s by Spanish missionary priests. Black Mission Figs get their name specifically from being planted at the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala, by Franciscan missionaries.

Ripe Fig

My mother may have been right about the nutritional value of the fig cookies kept in the family jar. Figs have a higher fiber content than any other common fruit, vegetable or nut. They have the highest level of calcium of all plant sources, higher even than cow’s milk, and their potassium content is 80% higher than a banana’s. They are also excellent sources of protein and iron. They contain flavonoids, which have value as antioxidants. Even the Roman scholar Pliny claimed that figs were a main component in slaves’ diets because of the high nutritional value and availability.

In recent years, I have noticed an increase of fresh figs on the menu in restaurants due to more chefs using local fresh foods. I find this trend exciting now that I have a tree of my own for inspiration. It is a delicious, interesting, and versatile fruit. The more I learn of its history and nutritional value, the more I look for ways to serve it and to share it with friends. Sometimes, this backfires because I have initiated so many fig fans that my harvest gets smaller every year as people arrive with empty bags in hand.

Well, that’s the end of it. A fairly enjoyable essay to write since the parameters of the assignment included personal experience as well as mythology and folklore, which are among my main interests regarding the plant world. I deleted the bibliography, but if you’d like to know where all the info on commercial food plants can be found, just ask me. There was so much more information about figs, but I had to limit my paper to a certain size – I was amazed at how many fig types there were and how they were all a bit different. At a certain point I could have written a book! Speaking of school and books…I’m off to attend class as soon I can find my sneakers. I think today’s lecture is on plants used as psychoactive drugs. For some reason, I have this feeling there will be a few more students in attendance than there were last Thursday, when the lecture was on plants used for aspirin and birth control pills!

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We were driving down the highway just north of Yountville on a rainy January day. There was no agenda or destination except whatever looked interesting along the way. It was dark and cloudy and there weren’t a lot of people out. It was one of my favorite types of days: haunting and more than mildly Bronte-esque. (Ok, so maybe I’m the only one who thinks of Wuthering Heights when I’m in the country on a dark day.) We were almost past these trees when we both noticed them, rising up in the darkness like some strange creatures from a ‘film noir’ ghost story. We immediately did a u-turn so we could get a closer look. In the car, it sounded more like “OOOOH STOP!”

Peju's haunting driveway

It turns out we were at the Peju Family Winery. Having tasted their wine before, we decided to get a closer look at the trees, then head indoors for a tasting. Some wineries in this area want you to make an appointment. We are truly grateful to the wineries who do not. 🙂

Tom looking jaunty with his umbrella!

Tom’s cellphone rang when we stepped in, so I distracted the lady at the front desk by asking her about the trees. She told me they were Sycamore trees that had been trimmed and trained. They have been working on this strange shape for over 20 years, patiently letting them grow in an arch over the road. I was impressed at the discipline, like a bonsai project of gargantuan proportions.

rain-soaked Peju vineyards

The building, called “The Tower”, is beautiful and reminded me of the estates we saw in the countryside outside of Paris, France. They have an art gallery upstairs, a shop with kitchen goodies and books…and, of course, the tasting room!

The Tower

Inside, we met Mr. Robert Sherman, who let us taste what I will honestly say were my favorite wines of the entire trip. Of course we bought as much as we could afford and yes, they ship! If you ever visit the Peju winery, be sure to ask for Robert – he was awesome and knows his way around a bottle of wine! He also grows tomatoes and we had a fabulous conversation about the hazards of growing them in the unseasonably chilly and short California summers of late. (That made my day!) The good Mr. Sherman even gave me permission to photograph the stained glass wall that was in the tasting room, which is in the main part the “Tower”. This is where I wish my camera had been just a bit better. I have been complaining about it lately…I think it’s getting a bit worn out from the millions of photos I’ve taken with it, so forgive the mild fuzziness of these:

The colors were so vibrant in person. Bright blue irises, red poppies…

…and warm golden pears. No, I think they’re lemons!

Having spent our wine budget, we headed back outdoors to see the formal gardens, which were soaking up the rain.

Yes, I do have to photograph every vine I see crawling up a wall, or a gate, or a…

Rusty iron makes me happy too.

Another favorite detail of this stop was the white marble sculpture by Welton Rotz called “Eternal Cycle.” In all of my travels, I have never seen anything quite like it and I was excited to see a reference to the “Triple Goddess” in such a random place. I walked around and around it until I was dizzy and soaked, but it was worth it.

The maiden, small and moving upward…

The Maiden

…the mother, full and steady…

The Mother

…the crone, shrinking and wizened.

The Crone

And, of course, another quick peek at the Sycamore trees!

Tom at Peju

Thanks to the Peju Family Winery and Robert Sherman for one the highlights of our trip! Every time we open one of the bottles of wine we bought, we get sentimental and all romantic and stuff…and that’s all I’m going to say about that!

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“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.”
~ Rabindranath Tagore

“Trees are Earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.”
~ Rabindranath Tagore

“Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf.”
~Rabindranath Tagore

“By plucking her petals, you do not gather the beauty of the flower.”
~Rabindranath Tagore

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