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

January 29, 2017

*****

SWEET ORANGES FLOWERING
About three weeks ago, passing by the citrus orchard began to be a heady experience. The oranges were flowering, and orange blossoms were smelling good. This week the very last blossoms were falling off, and I took a look at them. You can see one at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170129or.jpg

Normally Sweet Orange blossom corollas bear five petals but the one in our picture has four. The flowers are about two inches wide (5cm). Flowers usually bear 20-25 stamens composed of white, stem-like filaments topped with brownish yellow, banana-shaped anthers; ours seems to have about 20. Some Sweet Orange flowers are solitary on a stem but sometimes up to six cluster together. You can see a cluster of three flowers, each at a different stage of maturity, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170129os.jpg

In that picture the blossom at the rear is at its peak, while on the right pollination has taken place, some of the petals and all of the stamens have fallen off, and the green ovary has begun expanding. At the left all that's left of the flower is its green, rapidly expanding ovary topped by its match-stick-like style and stigma, which are brownish, since now they're superfluous and about to fall off.

Last week we saw that similar-looking Bitter Orange trees bear leaves with widely flaring or broadly "winged" petioles, which you can review at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170122ot.jpg

Compare those petioles with the Sweet Orange's narrowly "winged" petiole at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170129ot.jpg

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"LIMES" FLOWERING
Also this week we saw the last of our lime trees' flowers. Lime tree blossoms and leaves are a little smaller than those of the oranges, and their flowers have ovaries with styles and stigmas that keep lower down among the stamens, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170129lm.jpg

A shot with some of the stamens pulled away and adhering to one another at their filaments' bases, is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170129ln.jpg

Like the leaves of Sweet and Bitter Oranges, our Lime trees' leaves are jointed with their petioles. The Lime's petioles are fairly narrow, hardly "winged" at all. You can see what I mean -- and notice the spine above the petiole's base -- at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170129lo.jpg

You can see what's become of flowers that have been pollinated and lost their corollas and stamens, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170129lp.jpg

The immature fruits in that picture bear styles and stigmas that are withering away. Fungus appears to be growing on the stigmas.

The Wikipedia page for Lime fruits lists about fifteen species or taxa known as limes. That page is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lime_(fruit)

Off all the possibilities mentioned on that page, this looks most like CITRUS x LIMETTA, which sometimes is considered just a cultivar of Citrus limon. Citrus limetta is native to South and Southeast Asia.

When you have an orchard like ours populated with several citrus species it can be hard to tell them apart. Our tree stands out with its smaller leaves and flowers, the very narrowly winged petioles, and the fruits being small, dense, and with a skin relatively smooth and shiny. Also, if you scrape an immature fruit with your fingernail, it smells a little like lime -- more like a hybrid smell between what Northerners think of as a lemon, and the lime fragrance.

Taxa known as limes often are highly hybridized and there are lots of cultivars, so maybe assigning a name like Citrus limetta is misleading. The name is useful, however, if you want to look it up.

Our Lime fruits -- which locals call limón even as they call lima trees producing what Northerners would think of as lemons -- are too acid to eat out of hand. However, their squeezed-out juice taste's pretty good in a glass of water, which is how I use the fruits.

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DRILLING FOR WATER
Now during the dry season we do a lot of watering at the ranch -- hundreds of Ramón (Breadnut), Neem, Moringa, Chaya, Cassava, as well as plantings of Papaya and my own garden with such things as Cilantro, various peppers, chard, purslane, amaranth and more -- all need regular waterings. Already we have two wells but a deeper, more productive one was needed, so a fellow was asked to bring in his equipment and dig a well. It was a major undertaking just to get the machinery down the rocky dirt trail leading here through the woods. You can see the well digging machinery at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170129ww.jpg

The first time I visited the diggers I was with some visitors touring the ranch. When I told the men operating the machinery that the visitors were from the US state of Ohio, one of the men's eyes got large, he put his hand on the drill's rumbling metal, and said that his drill also was from Ohio -- it had been made by the Bucyrus Erie Company. Constructed in 1950, the old well-digging machine has been providing Mexicans with wells ever since. In the above picture the flatbed truck is a fairly new model. It's just the well-digging equipment mounted on the back that's from 1950. A closer look at the cogs and belts of the equipment is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170129wx.jpg

This well digger is very different from the ones we've watched in Mississippi and Texas. Those drills were equipped with bits that chewed through the rock and dirt by spinning around and around. The present one repeatedly drops a heavy, torpedo-shaped object into the steadily deepening hole. When the object crashes against the stone, it pulverizes it. You can see the torpedo-thing at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170129wz.jpg

At the bottom of the well, water combines with the pulverized rock-dust to make a kind of slurry that is dipped up and emptied onto the ground beside the well, making quite a mess. You can see slurry being emptied out at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170129wy.jpg

The above item slams against the well's bottom about every two or three seconds, making a sound that carries a long way. That pounding must be hard on the men standing right beside the well hour after hour. One of the men has a facial tick in which one of his eyes and cheeks flinch every two or three seconds, even when the machinery isn't operating.

The well is being dug to 50 meters (492ft). The first vein of water was encountered at about 21 meters (69ft). Below that, three other veins were encountered, and a layer of clay.

*****

TEACHINGS OF AN ORANGE BLOSSOM
Experiencing an orange blossom's simple, elegant beauty makes us feel so good that it's easy to believe that the blossom is conveying some kind of message to us. And, it is. It's saying that simplicity and elegance are beautiful, and that experiencing such beauty makes us feel good. However, that's just the beginning of what an orange blossom can say, and this week I've been thinking about those other messages.

For one thing, it's worth reflecting on the matter that flowers of Sweet Orange and Bitter Orange are very similar, yet between the two taxa there are slight but consistent differences. Nature is showing us that it's OK for communities of organisms to be different from one another, even as within those communities individual beings may behave and look alike.

Does this mean that a nation, state, city or neighborhood is right to remain racially, culturally and/or politically "pure"? Here we need to remember that in the first place Sweet and Bitter Orange cultivars exist to satisfy humanity's diversity of tastes and needs. Nature is saying that on a certain level uniformity is acceptable but, on another much broader scale, diversity must prevail. Wise human policy, then, might be to strive for a mosaic of different kinds of communities, in a system where people can live among others like themselves if they want to.

Also it's interesting to remember that today's Sweet Orange and Bitter Orange cultivars arose long ago when humans saw promise in certain wild-growing ancestral orange species, which they selectively bred to get what we have today. When humanity took control of the orange's evolutionary trajectory, the point was made that sometimes when mentality upsets the natural order of things, something good can come from it.

However, that thought comes with a caveat: Allowing mentality to change the natural order of things may be risky, as shown by the fact that if something happens to humanity -- maybe just a shift in what people think tastes good -- newly developed orange cultivars may be threatened or even disappear. Modern orange trees can't survive without human care.

So, it looks like we can go on and on listing orange blossom lessons -- and we haven't even considered the blossoms' fabulous fragrance -- so at this point in my thinking I tried to jump to some kind of final or overarching orange-blossom insight. Here's what I came up with:

The orange blossom's ultimate teaching has nothing to do with the past or future. The orange blossom's most meaningful message to us is that right now a blossom exists, and I'm here experiencing it, thinking about it, feeling for it, and even sharing my sensations and insights with you.

The orange blossom "is" even as we "are," and beyond that, anything said about it might be fun, but not at all necessary.

*****

Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

All previous Newsletters are archived at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/.