Heliconia is named after Mount Helicon, the seat of the Muses, nine goddesses of the arts and sciences in Greek mythology. These are known as lobster-claw, wild plantain, flowering banana, parrot flower, macaw flower and false bird-of-paradise. Heliconiaceae in the order Zingiberales, are among the showiest plants of the Neotropical rainforest and represent a spectacular co-evolutionary adaptive radiation with hummingbirds. Heliconia originated in the Late Eocene (39 million years ago), making it the oldest known clade of hummingbird-pollinated plants. Heliconia, the only genus of the family Heliconiaceae, has approximately 120 species in tropical America and the western Pacific. These large perennial herbs have brightly colored bracts and bear numerous flowers. Heliconia are typically pollinated by hummingbirds. Most of the 194 known species are native to the tropical Americas, but a few are indigenous to certain islands of the western Pacific and Maluku. Several species are widely cultivated as ornamentals, and a few are naturalized in Florida, Gambia, Thailand and Costa Rica. The plants have stout, reed-like stems and are related to Tropical Gingers, Bird of Paradise, Bananas and Canna Lilies, whose leaves are all similar. These are all grouped in the order Zingiberales, which includes many familiar plants, and are used as ornamental plants (Bird of Paradise flower, Heliconias, Prayer-Plant, Tropical Gingers), food crops (bananas, plantains, arrowroot), spices and traditional medicines (ginger, cardamom, turmeric, galangal and myoga). I saw a nice selection of these plants when I visited Costa Rica this year and thought it would make an interesting post.
Over the past few years I have accumulated photos of fruit on palm trees and thought that I would bring them together into a single post. Members of the family Arecaceae, palm trees are an ancient and diverse group of trees that bear fruit containing one or multiple seeds. Surprisingly there are a lot of palms commonly harvested for their fruits, and some are hugely important to both local populations and economies throughout the world. Palms represent the third most important plant family with respect to human use. Numerous edible products are obtained from palms, including the familiar date palm fruits, coconut palm nuts, and various palm oils. Some less well-known edible palm products include palm “cabbage” or “heart-of-palm”, immature inflorescences/flowers and sap from mature inflorescences/flowers. It takes palms anywhere from three to 40 years, depending on the species, to flower for the first time. Palm trees have separate male and female flowers. Most of the time they are monoecious, with male and female flowers on the same plant, and sometimes, as in the date palm, the male and female flowers are on separate trees (dioecious).
The Topkapi Palace is the biggest and one of the most popular sites to visit in Istanbul. It was built in between 1466 and 1478 by the sultan Mehmet II on top of a hill in a small peninsula, dominating the Golden Horn to the north, the Sea of Marmara to the south, and the Bosphorus strait to the north east, with great views of the Asian side as well. The palace was the political center of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries, until they built Dolmabahce Palace by the waterside. The palace was opened to the public as a museum in 1924 by the order of Ataturk. The Istanbul Archaeology Museum consists of three museums: the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Orient and the Tiled Pavilion Museum or Museum of Islamic Art. The three museums house over one million objects that represent almost all the eras and civilisations in world history. As part of the core collection, on the second floor, they have spectacular collection of Greco-Roman sculpture from the 6th century BCE to the 2nd century CE. Since almost all the important eras of sculpture in this time period were on display, I have compiled a history of Greek and Roman Sculpture.
I stumbled on a really great blog on places in and around Death Valley by a guy named Steve Hall, aptly named “Death Valley Adventures”. His blog is particularly great because there are few maps and/or information on most of the area surrounding Death Valley. It encouraged me to do a little exploring on my own. I decided to drive home from Los Angeles to Las Vegas on the Fourth of July through the Searles Valley, Panamint Valley, Death Valley to Furnace Creek Inn and then on home. These valleys are between the Argus, Slate, and Panamint Ranges which are oriented north-south, or toward the north-northwest. The El Paso Mountains, Spangler Hills, Straw Peak in the Slate Range, and Quail Mountains are oriented east-west, and the Owlshead Mountains are arranged in a semi-circular pattern south of the valleys. Aside from the geology, there are some interesting places to see along this little drive and of course some of our beautiful desert flora. Admittedly it extended the trip home by a few hours but the scenery was worth the lost time.
When the summer gets hot, as it has been this year, nothing is more satisfying than a cold and easy salad. There’s just something I love about a fresh cold salad on a hot day, not to mention a perfect dish for outdoor potlucks. While I love tabouli, hummus and caprese salads I have recently started making a really fresh and nutritious salad for these hot days that I thought I would share. This salad combines two of my favorites, lentils and quinoa, which together are a formidable nutritional combination with with more than 16 g of protein from both the lentils and quinoa. This salad is also packed with fiber thanks to quinoa, vitamins B, C and E and iron, selenium and copper. But the real reason I make it is that it tastes great and I can make it in one pot in about 45 minutes. This recipe gives you a generous amount of food, easily enough for 4 people, which just gets better over time in the refrigerator and is perfect for snacks and lunches over a week or more.
This past spring I traveled to Arcata California for some birdwatching in the Pacific Northwest. In Arcata, they have a bird festival in April called Godwit Days that I could not attend. Nonetheless, I thought it might be an interesting time and place for birding. The local Audubon Society says birding is at its best from winter through early May. You’ll find songbirds in spring through fall, shorebirds, wading birds and waterfowl in the cooler months of October through April, and raptors year round. As predicted, April was not a particularly good time for water birds, although there were songbirds and plenty of spring flowers. Nearly 500 species of birds have been found in Humboldt County; many of these species are unique to Humboldt County. Fortunately I was able to secure Rob Fowler as a guide to the birding areas around Arcata. He knew when and where to look and made most of the following pictures possible. I suspect I will return in a different season to see a different set of birds and of course to see the beautiful scenery in a different light.
This past spring I decided to visit Arcata California a week after their annual Godwit Festival in April since I could not make the sanctuary festival.. The Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary is home to the City of Arcata’s innovative wastewater treatment facility. The sanctuary is 307 acres, including freshwater marshes, salt marsh, tidal sloughs, grassy uplands, mudflats, brackish marsh, approximately 5 miles of walking and biking paths and an Interpretive Center. Located at the north end of Humboldt Bay, the sanctuary is situated along the Pacific Flyway, a major migratory route for thousands of birds that breed in the far north and winter in California, Mexico and Central and South America. The Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary is touted as the highest bird populated coastal site between Bodega Harbor and Washington. While I had visions of masses of migrating birds the reality was somewhat more quiet. I did find a collection of Godwits, and some local ducks, egrets and shorebirds.
This past spring I visited Arcata California for a little bird photography. Whenever I am out photographing birds, I always take a second camera with a macro lens attached for photographing wildflowers and plants. Some days I get more pictures of birds while other days are predominantly flowers. Because of the cloudy Pacific Northwest climate, there are many interesting plants and beautiful flowers to be seen in the area. Also because of the climate there are many fewer people that both live here and visit, compared to the areas south, making it a good place to see wildflowers and birds. Again because of the climate, there are a fair number of unusual local plants and wildflowers that can be seen nowhere else. There are also a large number of non-native plants that while beautiful, affect the delicate balance of nature in this area. These “immigrant plants” should be a reminder that introducing non-native elements into an ecosystem can have unintended consequences. In any case, I came away with some photos of beautiful blossoms which I thought I would share.
When I was in Arcata this spring to do some bird photography, I drove down to Humboldt Bay and stumbled upon the lovely Humboldt Botanical Garden. The Humboldt Botanical Gardens are at the southern edge of Eureka, California. The Gardens are near the South Bay portion of Humboldt Bay on the north side of College of the Redwoods. The Garden was organized by a small group of volunteers in 1991. The goal was to create an educational botanical garden in for the Northern California region. The garden opened in 2006, with more development completed by 2008. Its Lost Coast Brewery Native Plant Garden has an emphasis on the Humboldt region, but includes plants in the geographic area from the Rogue River to the north shore of San Francisco Bay, and inland to a north-south line running from Vacaville through Williams, Redding, Yreka, Medford, and along the Rogue River to its mouth. The Gardens are particularly interested in maintaining complete native conifer, Iris and Lilium occidentale (western lily) collections. They had a beautiful display of spring flowers which I thought I would share.
I happen to love woodpeckers, they are colorful, noisy and just fun to look at. Their cheerful tapping always calls to me to take a look. There are about 200 known varieties, many of which are threatened or endangered. The plumage of woodpeckers varies from drab to conspicuous. The colors of many species are based on olive and brown and some are pied, suggesting a need for camouflage; others are boldly patterned in black, white and red, and many have a crest or tufted feathers on the crown. Woodpeckers tend to be sexually dimorphic, but differences between the sexes are generally small, usually involving the head. I thought it would be nice to present these all together so that you could see and compare the various forms and colors that woodpeckers exhibit in different places. I have some beautiful woodpeckers from Africa, Costa Rica, Colorado and Arizona. Sapsuckers are also part of the Woodpecker family and I have a beautiful Red-Breasted Sapsucker from Humbolt county in California.