Sunday, 20 October 2019

Mid-Autumn Flowers

Borage flowers photographed on 19/10/2019.

It looks like I have been using my Fuji FinePix F770EXR camera for over 6 years, I just discovered. I don't think that can be correct. I think I did not set the calendar on the camera for the first year that I had it, so the year 2013 was the default date. I think I bought it in early 2016. 

Anyway, I decided to upgrade to something that can see a bit more detail. After trawling through reviews I found one that got a good press and was only slightly more than I was really willing to pay.

All these photos are from my new Sony Cybershot RX100. They have made some excellent Spider-man films, so I was sure their cameras would also be good. The fact that it has a Carl Zeiss lens was quite persuasive, too. I got the camera from Argos along with the necessary memory card and a carrying case. So far I have only used the automatic setting, except for trying the "Macro", which did not work as well. It seems far more forgiving of being hand-held. I did not need to brace myself against something solid to get clear pictures quickly.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Soapy Water

Walking down Demesne Road by Alex(andra) Park in Moss Side I noticed that several of the puddles were remarkably frothy. It has been very rainy in Manchester lately (as usual). My first thought was that someone had been washing their car by the roadside. I quickly realised that the frothiness came from conkers that had been crushed by passing cars. Later cars then ran through the puddles and whipped up the suds. All of the pictures are from yesterday.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Red Admiral

Yesterday afternoon I noticed a Red Admiral butterfly on the flowers of my kusagi tree. Known to entomologists as Vanessa atalanta, they are related to the painted ladies, emperors, monarchs, tortoiseshells and fritillaries. More details about one of our most striking butterflies can be found on the UK Butterflies website.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Catalpa and some pretty relatives.

Manchester Council plants a strange mixture of street trees with quite a variety of species. I would prefer that they planted native trees to provide more support to native ecosystems. However, if they are going to chose an exotic-looking, decorative street tree then why not a Catalpa bignonioides? The RHS consider the flowers to be a good source of nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinators. Though that is only for a couple of weeks as the flowers do not last long.

The panicles of flowers are a little reminiscent of horse chestnut flowers. In Catalpa each flower is much larger and the whole panicle is not as neatly-shaped.

This example is on Albany Road in Chorlton. I took all these photos today in a light rain under a lead-grey sky. I had not noticed they were in flower soon enough to plan to take my camera out during the recent heatwave. At least I did not have to cope with the glare of the bright white flowers overwhelming the camera's optics.

Catalpa bignonioides flowers.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

The Irk Uncovered

I have been watching quite a few of the videos uploaded to Youtube by the excellent Mancunian amateur local historian and urban explorer Martin Zero. His video from 24/06/19 got me looking up some things on the Internet Archive. I have looked at both ends of the tunnel that now covers that part of the River Irk as it passes under Victoria Station before joining the River Irwell at the end of the tunnel. It never would have occured to me to get some waders and explore the river. I certainly would not have gone down there with only wellies to protect me from the very civilised water.

I found a map from 1428 of the cattle bridge over the Irk that he showed in the video, that can be seen in the thumbnail above. It has probably been rebuilt a few times since. I don't know how accurate the 1428 map is - it was published in 1884 in Old Halls in Lancashire and Cheshire. Including Notes on the Ancient Domestic Architecture of the Counties Palatine by Henry Taylor. The author writes that he compiled all the illustrations from reliable sources.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Obscure sources of Dragon's Blood and other bloody trees.

I am putting together some articles about plants that have provided substances called Dragon's Blood. I aim to write four separate articles on the main types - members of the bean family, Croton from the Euphorbia family, Daemonorops rattan palms and Dracaena dragon trees.

This article is a miscellany of the odds and ends of other trees I have encountered while looking for those main four groups. Some are called dragon's blood in their areas and some are just bloodwoods. These articles are going to be lists of the various plants with a few details on each, not exhaustive monographs on each plant. The article on Dracaena will be more in-depth, as there is a lot of information on those trees.

A surprising number of these trees grow in swampy or frequently-flooded areas. The pigments may have an antibacterial and antifungal effect, helping to preserve the wood from rotting in the damp conditions. There are, of course, many, many other trees with red wood but I have tried to restrict this to those that have been compared to blood.

The mineral pigment red ochre or ruddle has been used by humans for a very long time. The earliest reliably-dated finds in human sites are from about 200,000 years ago in both Africa and Europe. Red ochre seems to have been used for a wide variety of purposes from rock paintings to decorating skeletons. Scholars often resort to the "it was religious" argument when they have no evidence for context or other theories for a practice by ancient humans. Some of that use of red ochre may have been religious but it should be noted that modern hunter-gatherers use red ochre for decoration, tanning animal hides and as an insect-repellent. Australians were using red ochre at least 40,000 to 60,000 years ago. There were underground red ochre mines in Australia at least 32,000 years ago. Red ochre continued to be mined from several locations and was traded throughout the history of Australia.

Red ochre is a relatively dull pigment compared to the bright and deep reds seen in many plant dyes. We cannot be sure how long these plant pigments have been used by humans as even the most stable of them tend to break down over thousands of years. We can be sure that these plants caught the eye of ancient humans just as they were used all over the world in large quantities throughout recorded history. The many plants that bleed red blood like a human would have been especially fascinating.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Dragon genus names

I will be putting up a full article about the dragon-trees Dracaena or Draco (Asparagaceae) in a few months time. While researching that, I accidentally collected a list of plants whose generic names had a reference to dragons. I thought I might as well write them up for no real reason. I have ignored all those that are not currently accepted, and those with dragon-related species names and common names as they are as common as snapdragons. Nothing special to see here, just an aggregated list of stuff I looked up illustrated with other people's photos.

Dracocephalum (Lamiaceae) - dragon-head. 
The type specimen Dracocephalum moldavica was named by Linnaeus in 1753. An Asian annual of the mint family. It has large flowers fancied to resemble dragon's heads. It, and other members of the genus, have been called dragon's head. The first time this English name appeared in print was also in 1753 in Chamber's Cyclopaedia.

Dracocephalum moldavica, Gorynych variety. 
Photograph: © Bff, from Wikicommons.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Mongoose-leaf and Cliff Sausages

Plectranthus ernstii

One of the easiest houseplants I have grown. Covered in masses of flowers from May until December.  Leaves mildly aromatic, something like ginger and zonal pelargonium. I keep the plant dry from December to March. I feed with a liquid feed from March to August. I use a well-drained mix of two parts coir compost and one part perlite. It is important to avoid over-watering and waterlogged compost. I keep it on a west-facing windowsill.

Monday, 10 June 2019

Mint Moth and a tiny Magpie

I managed to identify this moth instantly by searching in Google Images for "moth uk maroon two spots". It seems to be the Mint MothPyrausta aurata. It did not move much apart from waggling its antennae before it flew off.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Punch, the East India trade, Pirates and a dash more Lime Juice

This started as part of the blog on lime juice but is now one of two spin-offs. The lime juice alone was complicated enough without the origins of Punch and Cocktails. Lime juice is still very much a part of this story.

The Origins of Punch 

Scholars have generally believed that the likeliest derivation of the word "punch" as an alcoholic drink is from the Hindi word पंज panch or panj, meaning five. Many of the early descriptions of punch had five ingredients.

Of course the native word for five would have been familiar to the traders and other employees of the British East India Company.

The Punjab region was named for its five rivers, though from Persian rather than Hindi.

The panchamrita is the five-fold divine nectar used as an offering to the gods during Hindu pujas. It often consists of honey, sugarcane juice, cow's milk, yoghurt and ghee. Sometimes it has other ingredients, occasionally more than five.

The famous Indian five-spice powder is called paanch masaala or panch phoran. Not to be confused with the Chinese five-spice powder wŭ xiāng.

Another use of the word panch is in panchadhatu or panchaloha, the alloy of five metals used in India for sacred statues. One version is made with gold, silver, copper, zinc and iron. The five metals represent the five Hindu great elements. The word punch or panch in Anglo-Indian usage denoted a panchayat or local council of five members.

Porcelain Punch Bowl, c. 1770. Worcester Porcelain Factory 

More after the break.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

The Origin of the Cocktail

I started this as part of the blogs about lime-juice and punch but it seemed a little out of place, so I am giving it a page for itself.

Organic Seville or bitter oranges (Citrus aurantium) from Mairena del Alcor, Province of Sevilla. Being sold in Unicorn Grocery on the 8th of March 2019. Probably the last of this season. Earlier consignments were bigger, darker orange and more perfect.

Apart from all the variations of punch, other popular alcoholic concoctions of the 17th century included sangaree (sangría), rosa solis and flip. Along with punch, these were the precursors to the rum toddy, rum shrub (though shrub could be used to make punch), rum sour, brandy fix, gin twist, sling, cobbler, julep, rattle-snake, stone-fence, swizzle and cocktail of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

There are many theories about the origin of the word cocktail for a mixed alcoholic drink. This meaning of the word cocktail was first recorded in 1798. I have my own theory from reading about far too many variations of the descendants of punch.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Limes, Limeys and Insults

A "Lime-juicer". 
The American-built clipper Fatherland, built 1854. Renamed Swiftsure and operated by the British company R & H Green of Blackwall on the London-Melbourne run from 1857 to 1871. 1326 tons. Wrecked at Tripoli in 1888. Hand-coloured lithograph by Thomas Goldsworthy Dutton and William Foster, inward bound off Dover. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Limes, Lime-juicers and Limeys

The origin of the affectionate slang term "limey" for the British is usually told as though it has a long history back to the early 18th century, because limes were used to prevent scurvy in the Navy.

From the 17th century on the British sailors and colonists had been famously associated with limes because of the use of lime juice in the potent alcoholic mixture called punch. Punch appears to have been an invention of the employees of the British East India Company while stationed in India. At the least, it was enthusiastically taken up by them soon after its invention. It was very quickly adopted by sea-farers of all Western European nations. In the East Indies it was made with arrack distilled from palm wine, in the West Indies it was made with rum and in Britain it was made with brandy.

I have separated the section on Punch that I had written here, to keep this as simple as possible. There are many more references to the use of limes in the 17th and early 18th centuries in that piece.

The lime fruit as a deliberate preventative of scurvy only became particularly associated with British sea-faring after 1845 when the British Government started the change from mostly Sicilian lemons to West Indian limes. There had been a crop failure of Sicilian lemons and the Government wanted a secure, British-owned source of citrus fruit. So they encouraged the sowing of lime plantations on Caribbean islands subject to earthquake and hurricanes.

Much more after the break: