Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Waltzing Matelea

It's a rare day you will see one of these. Otherworldly, sparkling like a faceted garnet, it beckons from my front porch with sort of a lipstick seduction.

I've tended this plant for about fifteen years and it has bloomed maybe five of those. Gonolobus (matelea) cyclophyllus is a rare plant in the Milkweed family found in Mexico. It attracts pollinators by smelling like rotten meat. Before you turn up your nose, I must tell all you chocolate lovers that the cacao tree is pollinated by tiny flies, so I doubt that its flower smells any better.

Another interesting thing about this plant is the caudex develops corky tubercles. Because it is capable of storing water in the swollen base it is considered a caudiciform. If you want to see other Dr. Suess-like plants just google caudiciform. I once had quite a large collection, and hope to again keep quirky flowering plants. That's one of the things that makes me the flowerweaver.

We have a couple of similar native plants. This one, Matelea reticulata, or Pearlvine Milkweed, is equally as stunning. Instead of a faux garnet it has a faux pearl for its center. Milkweeds feed many beautiful butterflies when they are still hungry caterpillars, and provide many of the phytochemicals used in medicine.

Can you see the similarities between them?

Monday, September 1, 2008

What is it and how can I stop whoever you are from eating it?

Wish I could tell you this was my latest fiber art project as the textures and colors are fascinating. It's certainly inspirational. Can you guess what it is?

Instead of being creative I've been trying to deter varmints from the cucurbit patch we planted across the creek in May. As soon as the vines began to sprawl we noticed a few nibbled off and instantly suspected the resident cottontail. My husband valiantly erected a knee-high bunny fence around the area in a day. The vines blossomed, and hordes of bumble bees arrived.

Each morning we would survey the patch with our coffee cups in hand, smiling over the beautiful melons, winter squash, and pumpkins that were forming.

Did you guess pumpkin? They are a French heirloom with a hard to pronounce name. Here's the whole fruit from which the detail was taken. These babies are really tactile and fun to explore with hand and camera! I just hope they taste good, too.

Back at the patch, we noticed something was now eating Hokkaido squash and Tigger Melons. We didn't think it could be the bunny, so we placed the half eaten orbs into a large Have-a-Heart trap expecting a raccoon. But the culprit(s) continued to feast in the trap without springing it.

The thief was obviously smaller. We pushed a Ketch-all into the mouth of the other trap, and the next morning we had the cutest, plump field mouse in possession. He/she was relocated across the river. We proceeded to catch two more, but unfortunately the fire ants found them before we did. If you have ever experienced fire ant bites, you will know this is not a preferable way to go.

The damage was continuing to increase, and we were running out of patience, ideas, and time. I remembered WalMart sells fox urine in its hunting department to mask the scent of sportsmen (or, at least that's what they claim). Wouldn't that smell deter a bunch of pesky field mice?

As we sprayed the patch I tried not think about caged foxes being fed diuretics whose urine was probably being collected in third world countries by children, now being sold by uninsured low wage American or illegal workers putting mom-and-pop fox urine stores out of business. When your pumpkins are being devoured, you might have to briefly turn a blind eye to political correctness.

My husband said he could smell it, but I couldn't. Apparently the mice couldn't either because they continued their nightly gorging. Somehow they knew it smelled of trickery. Too bad Bunny Foo Foo was not bopping them on their heads!

Then, something altogether unexpected happened....a grey fox showed up inside the fenced patch to eat the mice! We had all been tricked!

From the looks of the half eaten things, our cucurbits were ripe. This is what was harvested yesterday. Not bad for our first attempt at pumpkins even if we lost half to the wild residents. We just hope the fox does not discover our chickens.

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