JIM CONRAD'S
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
Issued from Rancho Regenesis
in the woods near Ek Balam Ruins north of Valladolid in
Yucatán, MÉXICO

January 1, 2017

*****

HAIRY SENNA
When I first saw the garden, it was a weedy wasteland. I went there to pull weeds to feed to the burros, and only as the weeds disappeared did old plant beds and sweet-potato ridges turn up. Among the weeds was a rankly growing, yellow-flowered, waist-high, shrubby member of the Bean Family, a branch of which is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170101sn.jpg

A close-up of its weakly bilaterally symmetrical flowers featuring stamens very unlike one another is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170101so.jpg

We've seen that flowers displaying these features normally belong to the big Bean Family genus Senna. We've identified several weedy and shrubby species of this genus, so I assumed that this was one of them. Senna species often attract ants by means of conspicuous glands on the leaves' petioles, but in this species the ants seemed to cluster around hairy, emerging stem tips.

I couldn't remember another Senna species with such an ant-attracting policy, and I didn't see the species in the woods around the garden, so maybe this wasn't a repeat after all. I set about noticing distinguishing features that might help during the upcoming identification process. For example, notice how the blossoms' sepals differ from one another in size, that they're broader toward their tips instead of at their bases, and that the sepals' tips are rounded instead of pointed, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170101sp.jpg

Also, it was a little unsual that both sides of the little bush's leaflets were softly hairy, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170101sq.jpg

This seems to be the Hairy Senna, SENNA HIRSUTA, sometimes also called the Woolly Senna, Stinking Cassia, and a host of other names. It bears so many names because it's a fairly common species apparently native throughout the tropical and subtropical Americas, including the southern US and Mexico, plus it's invasive in numerous other countries with hot to generally warm climates. Occurring over such a large distribution area, it's a very variable species. The long-pointed leaflet tips shown in our photos turn up as rounded tips in pictures of the same species from other countries.

We've seen that here at the rancho numerous plants have been introduced for one good reason or another, but eventually the species' names and original purposes were forgotten, and now the plants are surviving as weeds. I think that that's the case here. Hairy Sennas frequently are planted as "green manure" to be plowed under to enrich the soil, and often they're planted as shade or shelter plants in young coffee plantations. Though Hairy Sennas are native to this area, the plants in the garden probably they were introduced as ground cover that puts nitrogen into the soil.

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LITTLE BROWN BALLS WITH HOLES IN THEM
In the garden I began noticing little brown balls with holes in them, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170101cy.jpg

Living this close to a major Maya ruin, Ek Balam, how could I not think that I was finding ancient Maya beads made of baked clay, with the holes serving for the necklace's string to pass through? The only feature not agreeing with that hypothesis was that each ball bore three holes, not two. Still, I spent a good bit of time looking for balls, imagining that the garden must have been established atop an ancient Maya burial. I visualized maybe a thousand years ago a Maya warrior or maiden wearing a necklace of colored beads being buried right here were now I was growing chili peppers and cilantro.

I showed the balls to Gonzalo the rancho manager, who smiled and said, "Cocoyol!" Cocoyol is the name of a spiny palm tree found growing throughout the rancho. Our page for the Cocoyol, which we've learned elsewhere to call Coyol, is at http://www.backyardnature.net/chiapas/coyol.htm

This large palm produces heavy clusters of coconut-like fruits about the size of the balls in the picture. Here Cocoyols are welcome because the livestock gladly eat the hard nuts. In fact, that explains why so many of the fruits turn up in the garden, despite there being no Coyol nearby. "The animals eat the nuts, the nuts pass through their bodies, we collect the manure for the compost, and that gets strewn on the garden," Gonzalo explained.

It all made sense and Gonzalo doesn't say anything unless he's pretty sure he knows what he's talking about. Still, it was hard to give up my story about gardening in an ancient Maya graveyard until I found what's shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170101cz.jpg

At the edge of a frequently watered plant bed of chard, one of the balls had broken apart. Each ball bore inside three orangish seeds. In the picture, at the left, you see one of the orangish seeds still nestled inside the fruit's husk. Above that seed, the two dark, papery, ear-like items are the coverings of the fruit's two empty chambers. At the right in the picture is one of the other seeds, bearing roots.

Flower ovaries of Palm Family species contain three chambers, or carpels, with each carpel holding a single ovule -- the ovule becoming the future seed. This explains the three holes in each "clay ball" -- one hole for each of the three chambers. Water seeps through the hole to enliven the single seed in each carpel. In most Palm Family species two of the three ovules die by abortion, so that each fruit produces only one seed, but apparently the Coyol is one species where two or more seeds may survive.

*****

ILLUSIONS
All "things" are gatherings of atoms which themselves nearly entirely consist of empty space -- empty except for invisible force fields produced by the atoms' almost infinitely small particles such as protons and neutrons. What we see of the world around us is photons bouncing off things' invisible atomic force fields. What we feel is force fields of our nerve endings interacting with the force fields of things, resulting in stimuli conducted to our brains. From these stimuli, the brain manufactures a colorful, solid world that really isn't there.

The brain-created nature of the world around us is worthy of being labeled illusionary, but it's only the beginning of the illusions we humans are subject to. Other illusions are so commonplace that it takes awhile to recognize them as illusions.

For example, some people need prescription drugs in order to avoid being depressed. Which is the "real world," then -- the depressing one experienced without drugs, or the cheery one seen with drugs? Similarly, a symbol such as a cross or a star may comfort one person by evoking familiar explanations and promises of one's religion, while that same symbol may bring on a rage of intolerance and fear in another.

What's the real nature of these things seen with or without drugs, or interpreted one way or another, depending on the person? Isn't it that these things have no essential meaning other than that they are exactly what they are, and that any associations or feelings we may have with regard to them can be called illusions concocted by our brains?

If it's our brains telling us what things are, then that's a chancy thing, because our brains' interpretations depend on our personal genetically fixed predispositions, our life's chance experiences, and the ever-changing electrochemical environment in which our brains happen to be operating. All these factors vary from person to person, and within each person the brain's interpretation can vary wildly from day to day, even moment to moment. Even the set of experiences affecting how our brains interpret things changes constantly, depending on what we're remembering, forgetting, or experiencing at the moment.

Add all that to the fact that a fundamental function of the left hemisphere of the human brain is to create story lines to explain what we're experiencing, as described in our essay at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/p/080811.htm

These story lines may comfort us and help us function in everyday life, as by assuring us that it's lighter now than a few moments ago because the Sun is coming up, but also they tend to generate trouble-causing political theories and religions. Fortunately, with the help of the right brain hemisphere we can analyze which of our story lines are to be helpful. and which problematical.

What's the good in thinking about all this, especially because we can't change anything about it?

Thinking about life's illusions is good for at least three reasons.

First, the whole setup is so mysterious that when one dwells on the matter a kind of spiritual quest begins. That quest can bring us into every deeper insights and ever greater awe that inevitably enlarge us as living, feeling beings.

Second, when we enlarge, it seems that our capacity to love our part of the Creation spontaneously increases. This love for what's around us compels us to protect and nurture things important to us, which is something needing to be done.

Finally, coming to grips with life's illusions starts this chain of events: Finding ourselves to be temporary, ever shifting, illusion-besotted configurations of atoms' invisible, intangible force fields, we see what insignificant players we are in a stupendously big, complex theater of mysteries. Seeing ourselves in this perspective, automatically we lose much of our self centeredness. By abandoning left-brain story-lines encouraging materialism and self indulgence, our lives simply and we start identifying with grander currents of the evolving Creation. All this amounts to an elevated spirituality -- enlightenment -- which, the great teachers of the past assure us, is the most precious of all human potentials.

*****

Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

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