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Cracking Up in a Most Eggscellent Way

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Oh no! A casualty!

We've had great fun yesterday hunting Easter eggs in the wildlife garden with friends, and we made good use of our colorful painted Easter rocks once again. Add to that cascarones, lots and lots of butterflies and blooming flowers, delicious food, and yummy Key Lime Pie cupcakes -- what a great day! Thank you, Easter Bunny, and all our friends! Happy Easter, everyone!

Note to self: Did my husband remember to get those eggs back off the ground? Real raw eggs and Texas heat do not a good combination make....

Austin's Great Apes


Austin's gone bananas, but we're used to that in our weird city. Bright and early yesterday morning, hundreds of gorillas trampled a 5k distance, chasing down bananas and showing off their unique fashion sense.


The annual 5k Austin Gorilla Run benefits endangered mountain gorillas in Africa. A worthy wildlife cause, a morning of exercise, another chance to keep Austin weird, and gorilla suits for our very own? My son and I, along with family friends, jumped at the chance to participate. I was the sexy one in the cottontail.


In all, more than a 1,000 gorillas (and a few bananas) attempted to take over downtown Austin.


The weather was perfect, cool enough to keep us from getting too hot -- and yet walking on the bridge over the river invited a rather brisk draft up our backsides!

gorillasd01-21-12.jpg gorillase01-21-12.jpg I wish I had more photos to show you of great gorilla fashion, but I was busy being a gorilla (and a bunny). So instead I'll point you to image sets by some wonderful photographers.  Check out this and this.

gorillasb01-21-12.jpgWoe to bananas this day, this great (ape) day.

Gnome Love -- Is It 2B or Not 2B


A romantic family-friendly gardening movie on Valentine's Day, and one about gnomes to boot? Heck yeah! I couldn't resist -- the hubby and I took the kids to see "Gnomeo and Juliet" on a school night (gasp), but hey, it's Valentine's Day! I was pleasantly entertained by the secret lives of these adorable gnomes, all the more so because I garden. But I tell you, even our teenager laughed -- how's that for a review (***edit below)? Here's another -- check out TufaGirl's report over at Life Highway's Yard Art Game. The yards in this movie would surely win top scores in the yard art game, that's for sure.

valentinegnome02-14-11.jpgHomemade pizza is waiting for me, to be followed by decadent chocolate desserts -- time to go!

Happy Valentine's Day to all!


***Edit: Now that I've eaten something (yum), I'll give a more detailed review. The movie is lighthearted and fun, with a few Shakespearean references tucked in. It won't win awards for plot or animation or exceptionally subtle comedic dialogue (I guess there's not a current award available for that one, is there?), but if you go there in the right frame of mind, you'll enjoy yourself, especially if you get a tickle out of gnomes.

Happy Flying Pig Day



I didn't have any groundhog pictures.   :)

What Lies Beneath


What lies beneath...

duckweeda01-22-11.jpgWhat lurks below...

duckweedb01-22-11.jpgWhat creature swims within...


duckweedd01-22-11.jpgFor it might catch you unaware...

duckweede01-22-11.jpgAnd scoop you into that big gaping hole of a mouth...

duckweedg01-22-11.jpgThen disappear silently to the depths below....


(This fountain is at Hornsby Bend, one of the best birding spots in all of Texas. Subtle ripples in the duckweed alerted me to the fact that I wasn't alone.)

History Lesson, Part II -- Pokeweed Ink


A couple of months ago, my son and I had great fun making Pokeweed Ink from the pretty but toxic Pokeweed plant. We made the ink and let it ferment in a dark cabinet and then promptly forgot about it.

pokeweedinkd09-13-10.jpgBut making the ink proved to be fortuitous, as recently my son was given a Social Studies research project at school -- of all the colonies, he ended up with Pennsylvania, the state in which both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written. The rumors around the Internet were that these documents were written in Pokeweed Ink. (Edit: These proved to be inaccurate, however -- thanks to Dana R., we know from the National Archives that iron gall ink was actually used. Iron gall ink was the ink of choice for many, many centuries -- I'm going to have to experiment again!)

pokeweedinka11-28-10.jpgMy son's been working hard on his report and presentation on the Pennsylvania colony, and we remembered that we had that bottle of pokeweed ink, which luckily was still in good shape -- apparently it fermented well (in fact, it smelled like either really old grape juice or very, very cheap wine). Whether a historically accurate ink or not, he could use it to create a document of his own.

pokeweedinkb11-28-10.jpgSo today we had fun practicing calligraphy with both modern pens and with pen nibs dipped in the pokeweed ink. It's a lot harder than it looks, using a nib dipped in ink -- a modern calligraphy pen is so much easier, alas. But it's not as cool as using ink the old-fashioned way! However, for this particular project, we realized that doing any fancy writing wasn't really going to work, so my son stuck with cursive writing.

pokeweedinkc11-28-10.jpgMy son prepared a sample Declaration for his presentation. He also took the bottle of ink with him to school. Science, history, art, fun!


What's pretty neat, too, is that as the ink dries, the color darkens from the reddish look in the "Pokeweed Ink" text above to the darker in shown in the writing in the corner. Nifty, nifty! 

How Much Do You Love Dirt?


Would you rub your face in it?

mudshowa10-31-10.jpgOr would you swan dive into it?

mudshowb10-31-10.jpgAnd then do this?

Is this where the saying "dirty old man" comes from?

mudshowc10-31-10.jpgTechnically these guys are enjoying dirt and water... a.k.a. MUD. They are the Sturdy Beggars of the Mud Show at the Texas Renaissance Festival. A classic show, and always entertaining.

But I realized that I've really become a gardening geek when I found myself thinking -- "that mud just doesn't look good for plants. Needs more compost." I even found myself drawn to the artificial flowers they stuck in the mud, wanting to decorate with more real flowers.

Geek. That's me. On the other hand, I don't rub my face in mud.

How about this 12-foot tall Walking Tree Man?


The honeycomb and bird's nest are a nice touch.

Quinquefoliolate -- Say It Five Times Fast


I had such fun working with 4th-graders in their language arts class today. They are studying words with the root foli-, which means "leaf." So we headed outside to look for real-life examples of foli- words. But first we reviewed several prefixes, including:

Uni-  (one)
Bi- (two)
Tri- (three)  (also Tre-)
Quatre- (four)
Quinque- (five)
Multi- (many)
Per- (through)
De- (from, of)
Ex- (out of, from)


With that, see how many of these words you already know...  (EDIT: I'm not sure why the boldfaced type got so messed in the text that follows -- my entry looked fine, but it's showing up differently.)

Foliage (leaves, leafage; cluster, especially as in tree or forest or shrub)



Foliole (a leaflet, as of a compound leaf)   A simple leaf is a single blade attached to a leaf stem, called a petiole. A compound leaf has multiple blades or blade units attached to the petiole. These blades are called leaflets, or folioles. Here are the leaflets of Eve's Necklace.


Foil (a leaf; a thin sheet of metal)    Sure you know what foil is, like aluminum foil. But did you know it came from the latin root meaning "leaf"?


foil10-01-10.jpgExfoliate (to peel off in layers or flakes, as the bark of certain trees)    Golden-cheeked warblers use the exfoliated strips of the Ashe Juniper to build their nests.



Texas Persimmon's exfoliating bark is remarkably beautiful.



Defoliate, or Defoil (to deprive of leaves; to cut or pick off leaves prematurely)  Insects and caterpillars can strip a plant of its leaves, but bonsai gardeners sometimes purposely defoliate their trees, too, to force the growth of a new set of leaves.



Folium (leaf, especially a thin leaf)   Thin enough to let the light shine through!



A folium is also a specific algebraic curve, such as the Folium of Descartes.


Foliation (process of forming into a leaf or leaves; the way leaves are arranged in the bud).  Here's a budding Mexican Redbud from last spring.


budh03-14-10.jpgTrifoliate (having three leaves)  Wood sorrel is a fine example of a plant with three leaves.



Trifoliolate (divided into three leaflets)  There are many well-known trifoliolates, including Columbine...


Wafer Ash, or Hop Tree (even its scientific name shows that it's 3-leaved: Ptelea trifoliata)...


And of course, Poison Ivy.


Trifolium, or Trefoil (Clover, a plant with 3 leaflets)   Good ol' Clover. Of course, clover is also technically a trifoliolate. 

clover10-01-10.jpgQuinquefoliolate (having five leaflets)   The Texas Star Hibiscus is one such quinquefoliolate. Just look at those 5 long fingers...


txhibiscus10-01-10.jpgVirginia creeper typically has 5 leaflets, too, though it sometimes has 7.



Multifoliate/Multifoliolate (having many leaves or leaflets) -- Really, any of the above can be considered multis, as can the Goldenball Leadtree below. It's crazy multifoliolate.



Some plants can be 3-foliolate, 5-foliolate, 7-foliolate, or just plain multifoliolate. Dewberry is one of those plants -- 3- or 5-leaflet sets all on the same vine.



FYI, sometimes people use "foliate" and "foliolate" (with their prefixes) interchangeably, but technically "foliolate" refers to leaflets. There just aren't many plants that have a single leaf or two leaves total -- there are some orchids, though, that do qualify. But "foliolate" is more accurate for plants with leaflets. It's just annoying to say.

Here are a few more foli- words:


Bifoliate (having two leaves) 

Bifoliolate (having two leaflets)

Defoliant (a chemical substance that causes leaves to fall from plants, such as Agent Orange)

Foliaceous (belonging to or having the texture or nature of a leaf; having leaves intermixed with flowers; leaflike; consisting of thin layers)

Foliar (consisting of or pertaining to leaves)  Many gardeners use compost tea as a foliar spray to give nutrients directly to leaves.

Foliate (adj. of or relating to leaves; leaf-like;  v. to hammer or cut into thin leaf or foil; to produce foliage)

Foliated (having leaves or leaflike projections)

Foliate papilla (areas of the tongue with taste buds)

Folic acid; Folate  (form of Vitamin B9, found in leafy vegetables)

Folio (leaves or pages of a book formed from the folding of a larger sheet)

Foliolate (having or relating to leaflets) 

Foliose (leafy; having many leaves)

Folious (like a leaf; thin; unsubstantial)

Perfoliate leaf (a leaf with the base united around and apparently pierced by the stem)

Portfolio (case for carrying loose sheets of paper, manuscripts, and drawings)Quadrifoliate (four-leafed) Four-leaf clover

Quatrefoil (four-lobed)  Four-leaf clover

Unifoliate (having only one leaf)

Unifoliolate (compound in structure yet having only one leaflet, as the orange)


After awhile, some of those foli- words start to sound the same, don't they? But my favorite is quinquefoliolate. My granddaddy, always a fan of long words, would have loved that one.

History Lesson -- Making Pokeweed Ink


roughszh09-05-10.jpgI've recently learned to recognize pokeweed, and wouldn't you know it, it's on our school campus (the picture above isn't from school; it's from a recent visit to McKinney Roughs). Well, shortly the plant won't be at the school any longer. All parts of it are considered highly toxic to humans, and for our kids' safety, the plant has to go (it was right by the Kindergarten wing, as well). I apologize to the nearby birds -- I'll plant three more berrying plants in my own yard just to make up for it. It's such a shame -- what a great native wildlife plant.

I did get the pokeweed berries off right away, since they might look enticing to a hungry youngster or foolish adult, and I'll pull the whole plant out very soon. Then I did what any good mom would do -- I took the poisonous berries home right away to do a project with my kids. No, not that kind of project... geez!

pokeweedinka09-13-10.jpgAccording to multiple sources, fermented pokeweed ink was used to write the Declaration of Independence, as well as letters during the Civil War. (Edit: Thanks to Dana R., who contacted the National Archives and found out that the Declaration and the Constitution were written in iron gall ink -- this means another ink-creating experience awaits me!) Native Americans used the berry juice to decorate their horses and dye cloth, and even used it for war paint. But given that the toxins from the juice can be absorbed through the skin, you won't find me recreating that part of history.

What did appeal to me, however, was making ink. I donned gloves and carefully crushed them to all sorts of juicy greatness.

pokeweedinkb09-13-10.jpgI then strained the mixture through pantyhose into a funnel (this last part was cool -- with my gloves on and all the red juice squeezing out from the stained lump, I looked like a surgeon massaging a heart -- granted the heart was about the size of that of a chicken, but still it was c-o-o-l cool). And from the funnel, the juice flowed into a small bottle.

pokeweedinkc09-13-10.jpgNext I added a pinch of yeast to the liquid to help it ferment. I'm keeping the liquid out of the sun, too, so that it doesn't turn brown right away from the UV rays. That cork is just there for show right now, as I need to let the gases escape during fermentation. 


I'm going to teach the kids a little calligraphy, I think, to go along with the ink. Hopefully in a few days I'll get to update the ink report with sample writing. What fun! (EDIT: My son ended up using the ink for a nifty visual for his Social Studies project on the American colonies.)

Note: I talked to a teacher about making this a lesson for the Social Studies classes at school, but the timing was all wrong for either studying about Native Americans or the later American history. Perhaps if I still have ink, I can share it with them then. Or maybe I'll be able to find some more pokeweed berries elsewhere and enjoy another project.

Pods of Justice


Last spring I was given a bunch of poppy pods for arts and crafts projects. Months later, they were still sitting in the same bag. So the kids and I decided to create a poppy head army for our container plants.


Pod Power!

podsb08-24-10.jpgOur pod soldiers are as cool as they are powerful. Superheroes, even! They protect our castle with determined focus and fair justice.

podsc08-24-10.jpgThey stay planted in their belief that goodness will always prevail.

podsf08-24-10.jpgThey encourage hope and inner peas to grow, and they root out evil.

podsg08-24-10.jpgMost importantly, they defend our indoor plants from the villainous doings of alternative-litter-box-seeking kitties. Yes, they are anti-poop poppy pods.


Security pods defend the treasure of the Money Tree.


Nanny pods will watch over the growth of young seedlings in the nursery each season (thanks, Bonnie, for your great suggestion).


Nay, the tenacious tendrils of evil will not take hold in this home. Poppy pods, you are the light against the shade. Away, all seedy characters! The Pods of Justice reside here! First inner peas, then World Peas! Just think of all the other good that could stem from this.

          podsj08-24-10.jpg  Little buds, such defenders of good, welcome to the family. May you never leaf us.


Meredith O'Reilly happily
gardens for wildlife in
Austin, TX. She enjoys
educating people of all ages
about native flora, fauna,
and healthy environments.

Nature Blog Network


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