Monday, July 17, 2017

Darling, Daring Dragonflies

Not since 2010 has the garden been graced with so many dragonflies and this is indeed their year. Twenty years ago they appeared in great numbers in late afternoon, gracefully hovering in a suspended dance above the meadow. This year they appear in mass by mid-morning and in a stunning array of brilliant colors. Dragonflies are located worldwide and have more than 5,000 described species, 450 of which reside in North America, with Texas alone home to 225 species. Considerably downsized now, a fossilized dragonfly from 250 million years ago had a wingspan of 28 inches!

Adult Dragonflies are lovely and graceful, with a sweet head that turns to look at you quizzically with magical eyes. Often brightly colored they have two pair of long, slender, transparent, and highly veined wings. The wings do not fold but are held permanently outstretched even when at rest. Adult dragonflies are usually found near water with a territory which may range several miles. Many males are intensely protective, defending their domain from other males, which may explain sudden aeronautical chases exhibiting extraordinary maneuverability.

A truly beneficial insect from infancy to maturity, dragonflies eat mosquitoes. The immature dragonfly is called a nymphs (or naiads). Nymphs are entirely aquatic and are found on submerged vegetation and the bottom of ponds and marshes where they capture and eat mosquito larvae. The adults seen above the meadows are capturing adult mosquitoes while in flight.

As with all interesting insects, there are many folk tales surrounding the dragonfly. Perhaps due to their unusual and multifaceted eyes, in Norway and Sweden they were said to be sinister works of the Devil. Conversely the Pueblo tribes have endowed them with significant importance. They are said to represent swiftness and activity and to the Navajo pure water. Dragonflies are a common motif in Zuni pottery, Hopi rock art and they appear on many Pueblo necklaces. In Japan they are a symbol of late summer and early autumn and also represent courage, strength, and happiness. They often appear in art, literature, and on Japanese pottery.

For the third year I have a gorgeous Dragonfly who has taken up residence in my privet, near the step down to the lower level. A vivid blue with dark black wings which fold as he rests, he seems to like me… he posed for the picture before gently flittering to another branch.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Wonderous Watermelon


Watermelon is thought to have originated in the Kalahari Desert of Africa and its popularity is partially due to the flavor and the amount of water it contains... it is 92-94% water, thus the name. Much of the epic history of the watermelon has been researched by Harry Paris, a horticulturalist at the Agricultural Research Organization in Israel, who has spent years assembling clues including ancient Hebrew texts, artifacts in Egyptian tombs, and medieval illustrations…. archaeologists discovered watermelon seeds, along with the remnants of other fruits, at a 5,000-year-old settlement in Libya. From Africa watermelons spread throughout countries along the Mediterranean Sea by way of merchant ships where they were stored to be used as a portable canteen for fresh water on journeys.

The first recorded watermelon harvest occurred nearly 5,000 years ago in Egypt and is depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics on walls of their ancient buildings. Watermelons were often placed in the burial tombs of kings to nourish them in the afterlife... one was discovered in King Tut’s tomb. Pliny the elder, our favorite Greek historian, mentioned them as a refrigerant maxime, an extremely cooling food, in his first century encyclopedia, Historia Naturalis.

By the 10th century, watermelon found its way to China, which is now the world's number one producer of watermelons. By the 13th century, they were known throughout Europe. Southern food historian, John Egerton, believes watermelon made its way to the United States with African slaves as he states in his book, "Southern Food."

About 200-300 varieties are grown in the U.S. and Mexico, although there are about 50 varieties that are very popular. In selecting a watermelon, choose one that is heavy for its size and free of bruises with a yellow underside indicating it was vine ripened.

For a moment of inspiration is must be noted that watermelons are being reintroduced to sub-Sahara Africa as a source of water for those in drought stricken areas. It is indeed a miracle plant!

Photo: Giuseppe Recco's Still Life With Fruit (1634-1695).