Giving Thanks for Corn

Indian Corn_DBG-CO_LAH_9050Corn pudding and hush puppies, cornbread stuffing and succotash. If anything qualifies as authentic American cooking, it surely involves corn. We eat it fresh—still on the cob, creamed, and as the critical ingredient in corn chowder. We eat it dried and ground into cornmeal—in corn pone and muffins, as fritters and johnnycake. Domesticated for millennia, corn has come a long way from its teosinte roots.

Today have six types of corn, five of which are the result of selective breeding: pod corn, flint corn, popcorn (this could be considered a subset of flint corn), flour corn, dent corn, and sweet corn. (Pod corn is a mutant that forms leaves around each kernel, and isn’t commercially useful.)

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Persecuting Cormorants

Double-crested Cormorant_PuebloCityPark-CO_LAH_6764

Early one morning a couple of weeks ago, some friends and I were birding around Kettle Lakes, a number of large ponds on U.S. Air Force Academy property. We exclaimed over the accuracy of a Belted Kingfisher’s dive to nab a fish for breakfast, in spite of the distortion caused by the air-water interface. A Great Blue Heron followed suit, coming up with a flapping fish in its beak.

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Colorful Crotons

Codiaeum variegatum_Croton_Conservatory - VolunteerPark-Seattle-WA_LAH_0334-001

My first thought was, is this for real? If I hadn’t seen it growing in the conservatory at the Denver Botanic Gardens, I’d have thought someone had been playing with Photoshop. I wondered what kind of plant could have leaves that are green, red, black, purple, orange, pink, yellow, and creamy white—all at the same time, and in crazy combinations!

My next thought was, can I have one?

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A Recipe for Botany

blog captureAre you a gardener, or interested in gardening? How about going deeper and delving into a bit of botany? Do you like to cook? I find great satisfaction in planting a seed, nurturing the crop to harvest, then discovering the tastiest way to prepare the results. Plus, I want to understand the plant I’m eating. That’s why I was so excited to discover a new-to-me blog, The Botanist in the Kitchen. (I’ve added it to my list of links for your convenience.)

I immediately realized that the two authors, PhD biologists Katherine Preston and Jeanne Osnas, are my kind of people. In fact, it was blog-love at first sight.

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For Birds, This Feature Comes Standard

Barred Owl_HomosassaSP-FL_LAH_7885How’d you like to be able to see with your eyes closed? Wouldn’t it be handy? You wouldn’t get grit in your eyes during a dust storm. Your eyes would never turn red from swimming in a pool with too much chlorine. And you’d never get poked in the eye. If only we could see through our eyelids!

It turns out that birds, and many other animals, can do just that. They share a body part that we humans lack—a fully functional third eyelid. Also called a nictitating membrane or haw, this thin sheet of tissue may be transparent, translucent, or (rarely) opaque. It slides between the cornea and the outer eyelids, offering protection from anything that might damage the eye, such as grit or drying winds.

In mammals, (but not birds) the membrane also includes a gland that produces a thin mucus, offering lubrication similar to tears.

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