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Big Seeds

Slicing open an avocado for breakfast prompted a conversation with my husband about whether an avocado seed is the largest seed among seeds. I ventured that coconut might be, but was uncertain.


So, after some quick research I discovered that the avocado and the coconut are indeed among the largest of the world’s seeds. But there is another, spectacularly large seed, a 12” seed that can weigh 40 pounds- the coco de mer. Imagine dealing with that on the kitchen counter while you make toast and tea!

It is the seed of a very rare palm tree (Lodoicea maldivica), found only in the Seychelles Islands. (The Republic of Seychelles is so far out in the Indian Ocean, that I had to zoom out many times on Google maps to learn that the closest land is the mainland of Southeast Africa.) No wonder it is rare, no wind or bird can carry that seed anywhere.

The coco de mer seed is so rare that it is protected as a Natural World Heritage Site. Yes, a site. You have heard of World Heritage Sites, which include buildings and places; well a natural site includes flora and fauna such as trees, plants, ecosystems, and even seeds.

“A World Heritage Site is a place (such as a forest, mountain, lake, island, desert, monument, building, complex, or city) that is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as of special cultural or physical significance.” (Wikipedia)

I loved learning about a new seed this morning. Let me know if you encounter any large seeds today.


A Cup of Tea

The big blizzard is slamming New England, but down here in western South Jersey, we only got a dusting. But because the predictions were so extreme, school was canceled. And since I work at a school, I got a snow day. I love a snow day, as much as a child; I will wait up late and get up extra early just to watch the school closings ribbon on the television news (despite all the more modern notifications that I receive).

IMG_0565Having a snow day means I get all this extra time to work on several projects with looming deadlines. But, here I am blogging (it is my newest passion), and making another cup of tea (a very old passion). In the morning I like a big mug of black tea with local honey and some milk. Several times. Every morning.

My sister, and many of my cousins, also loves tea. She frequents tea shops and actually traveled to Sri Lanka to visit tea plantations. I like to think that our love of tea is due to our Irish genome.

All tea actually comes from the same small shrub Camellia sinensis. It is different varieties of the plant and different methods of picking and processing it that give us the many styles and colors of tea, like black, white, or green. I have not actually seen a tea shrub in person. I understand that one would not thrive in my area, but I might mail-order one this spring just so I can look at it a little closer.

Enjoy your tea today fellow tea-drinkers!


Eastern spadefoot toad with beetle
Eastern spadefoot (Scaphiopus holbrookii) with beetle

Since the big news around here is the impending blizzard… and I did not want to share another dark, wintery photo today, I decided to utilize The Daily Post’s writing prompt photo challenge. This week it is “Express Yourself”.

One of my favorite photography activities is getting very close, extremely close, to my subject.

This image of an Eastern spadefoot toad with a beetle on her head is one of my personal favorites. I had a wonderful time taking her picture that day. It is a summer picture, and I hope it will bring a smile to you face and a touch of warmth to your day.

For those in the path of the approaching storm I wish you safety and good luck.


In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Express Yourself.”

Snow angel

This little angel serenely watches over the fish wintering in the bottom of my little garden pond.

“Well, I know now. I know a little more how much a simple thing like a snowfall can mean to a person.”  — Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Freezing fog….

It snowed again yesterday. If you read my last blog about snow, you know that I love snow.

It was a beautiful late afternoon snow. A few inches of big thick globs of snowflakes fell quickly, clinging to everything-every tree, shrub, plant, and little winter sleeping buds. Then, right before I went to bed, the National Weather Service issued an advisory for areas of freezing fog.

Freezing fog? I had never heard of this phenomenon.

So I posted a warning of this potentially dangerous weather on Facebook, and then I googled it.

Wow, the images were awesome. Meanwhile, comments on FB indicated that others didn’t know much about it either. A friend posted a definition, another mentioned climate change, but one friend that lives down in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina wrote “…here in the mountains it is called Rim Ice…. that fog will freeze on everything…. it is beautiful…. you will need to get ready with a camera…”

I was already on that, camera ready, I didn’t sleep much last night, every few hours I got up to look outside. This morning brought a winter wonderland, but still no freezing fog. I wonder when a series of weather conditions will bring the chance of freezing fog here again.


January is for thinking about seeds….

January is the month that seed catalogs arrive and gardeners scrutinize them, fantasizing about rows of wholesome vegetables and beds of lavish, maybe exotic, flowers.

Some gardeners might order seeds to grow “easy, heavy-bearing, carefree vines” of giant loofah gourds, Luffa aegyptiaca, intending to gift luxurious bath sponges to cousins and friends the next Christmas. (No, it didn’t work out.)

Yesterday I found these few remaining seeds, stuck in a dried pod, overlooked by the birds and wind. They are of the common milkweed plants I put in my garden last spring, trying to do my part to help the Monarch butterfly. Populations of milkweed and Monarchs are both in serious decline.

Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, is a host plant for the North American Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, famous for their amazing migratory journey. They will use all species of milkweed, and only milkweed, to lay their eggs, from which the tiny caterpillars hatch and begin chomping away on the leaves. Conservationists encourage us to plant milkweed for the Monarch butterflies.

However, it is important to plant milkweed species that are native to your area. Scientists believe that many well-meaning gardeners are planting a readily available, very attractive, non-native, tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica). This plant blooms longer, keeps monarchs in northern areas too long, and is detrimental to their life-cycle and health.

If you are thinking about planting milkweed, a good place to find out about species native to your area is at The Xerces Society.

Monarch Watch, a non-profit organization that focuses on the Monarch butterfly, is another great place for much information about milkweed and the Monarch butterfly.


Let nature takes its course?

It always poses a difficult question — rescue an animal that is clearly about to die, and help relieve its suffering, or let nature take its course?

These beautiful feathers were of the back and wing of a female mallard, Anas platyrhynchos. Mallards are a common duck of North America, the familiar male with his iridescent-green head is easily identified.

This duck was alone, struggling in an icy lake, being harassed by hawks, and in great distress. A friend of mine found the duck close to nightfall, chose to rescue her, and brought her to me for help. The duck was severely injured, and would need to be euthanized.

Female mallard duck

Female mallard (

So again, the implications ran through my thoughts. Letting nature take its course allows valuable food to remain in the chain, so to speak, and I am all for letting animals eat naturally. However, I am sure that plenty of instances occur that never meet (my) human eyes. So when a wild animal is suffering or orphaned, right in front of me, and because I believe that the majority of reasons that animals are injured or orphaned is due to human activity, I feel moved to help.

Have you given any thought to your viewpoint on this question? Feel free to comment below.

A man is truly ethical only when he obeys the compulsion to help all life which he is able to assist, and shrinks from injuring anything that lives. ~Albert Schweitzer

Note: Wildlife rehabilitators provide a much-needed service to the community, and in New Jersey must be licensed to provide wildlife rescue and rehabilitation. NJ State laws do protect individuals that step in to rescue an animal to take it to a NJ licensed rehabilitator. However, many wild animals may appear injured or abandoned, when, in fact, they are not. Call a rehabilitator for advice and support. A current list of licensed rehabilitators in NJ can be found at:

Cats don’t get stuck in trees…

I saw a cat in a tree this morning. On the thick horizontal branch of an old black walnut tree, with the early morning sun rising behind, the cat took a leisurely bath. It could have made an awesome photo, but I did not have a camera with me.

People tend to worry about a cat in a tree. I don’t anymore; a veterinarian once told me not to, that cats don’t get stuck in trees.

Years ago, I worried for over a week about a cat in a tree. After moving to a new house, my cat Buddy climbed up in a tall honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) and stayed there for 9 days. Buddy was a large, muscular, black cat with strong facial features. He had been known to drag home large rabbits. Apparently our new house smelled of monkeys (the previous owner kept monkeys) and Buddy was intimidated, sniffing around in distress for a few weeks before finally going up the tree.

On the 3rd day, the vet told me not to worry, that the cat was depressed, he would come down. I worried, I sat in the upper windows and talked to him, I cried, I tempted him with fine foods. On the fourth day I learned that the fire company really won’t rescue cats in trees and then I learned that putting a ladder against the tree causes a cat to climb higher. I parked my station wagon under the tree and put all the sofa cushions on the roof of it, but he would not come down.

On the 5th day, the vet told me not to worry, that the cat will get dehydrated, he would come down. On the 6th day it rained, a lot. Finally, on the ninth day, my husband went on the roof with a neighbor for a small repair. The neighbor turned, saw the cat, threw a couple of roofing nails in his direction and yelled “get”; Buddy ran down out of that tree that minute!

Three weeks later he climbed that tree again. This time I called up to him that I didn’t care, he could stay up there forever; he was in the house for dinner that evening.

You don’t often see cats in trees. The vet told me all those years ago, to think about it, cats don’t get stuck in trees, or we would see cat bodies lying about in trees all around us. True. I wish I had been able to get a photo of that rare cat in the tree this morning.


Happy Birthday Aldo Leopold

“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.” ~Aldo Leopold

One of the books currently on my nightstand, A Sand County Almanac, was written by Aldo Leopold, who was born in Iowa on January 11th, 1887. Sunday was his birthday.

Aldo was a man that really knew how to look closer…

He was an author, educator, scientist, forester, and pioneer environmentalist. Considered the father of wildlife conservation, his book is a basis for modern conservation science, policy, and ethics. It is a significant work, right up there with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Thoreau’s Walden.

Leopold was a prolific writer, mainly for professional journals, technical books, and magazines, but in the late 1930’s he became determined to reach the general public with his writings. He began to re-write his essays to inform people of how the natural world worked, and to inspire them to protect it. In 1948, just after Oxford University Press agreed to publish the collection, Leopold died of a heart attack while helping a neighbor fight a brush fire. With help from his family and colleagues, one year later, in 1949, A Sand County Almanac was published.

The set of essays, in three parts, chronicles a year of nature observations, a section of life experiences, a group of philosophical writings, and ends with his famous “Land Ethic” essay. It defined a new relationship between people and nature.

“We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in.” ~Aldo Leopold

Leopold understood that ethics direct individuals to cooperate with each other for the mutual benefit of the community. He asserted that the collective community should include non-human elements such as soils, waters, plants, and animals…“the land”.  He wrote “That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics.

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I took my tree down today…

I took my Christmas tree down today. An event I dislike because I love my Christmas tree and I love having its beautiful greenery in my home. This year’s tree was the most beautiful tree ever.
I say that every year.

Before I had children it was not unusual for me to leave it up for many weeks, even months.
Once, my tree remained until Easter! (It also helps to preserve the tree if you keep your thermostat very low.) But my son’s birthday is mid-January, and remembering how my sister never seemed to like that her birthday was tied up in the Christmas holidays, I have always made sure to get the tree and decorations down and put away before his big day. My son is grown and lives in his own home, but I have maintained that habit and it’s for the best.

When the tree was totally uncovered of decoration, I put in out in the yard for the animals.
Birds and small mammals will seek shelter in its branches and leaves, resting, staying warm, and hiding from predators. For a while it will stay near a bird feeder; hopefully I will be able to use it as a prop to get some good photos. Eventually it will be taken back to my large brush pile, where it can continue to provide shelter for birds and other animals.

How do you feel about your Christmas tree? Do you put one up? Did you put your tree out in the back yard for the animals to enjoy? I’d love to hear your comments.