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

March 5, 2017

*****

BULLY TREE
Along a forest trail a young tree about ten feet tall (3m) bore dark green, leathery leaves, sharp, slender spines on stiff, gray stems, and maturing, pea-sized fruits, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170305sd.jpg

Notice that the green fruits turn black when mature. A close-up of some fruits is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170305se.jpg

One unusual feature is the stiff, slender bristle arising atop each fruit. At the fruits' bases, the sepals are somewhat rounded and their edges overlap. The fruits, on short stems, or pedicels, cluster in groups of two, three or so. An immature fruit opened to reveal a single large, hard, brown seed is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170305sf.jpg

When that fruit's top was cut off, copious white, milky latex oozed from the wound. Notice at the bottom of the picture how sticky strands of latex run from the fruit's bottom to my fingertip.

Interestingly, in every mature fruit I opened the seed had been replaced by what could have been brown sawdust, which I assumed to be frass or excreta of an insect larva that had developed inside the seed. Many of the black fruits bore a hole -- apparently where the metamorphosed, seed-eating adult had emerged -- as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170305sg.jpg

This little tree was a member of the Sapodilla Family, the Sapotaceae, which contains several species producing delicious fruits much eaten in tropical America -- such as the Mamey, Chicozapote and Canistel. It belongs to the genus Sideroxylon, of which several species are listed for the Yucatan Peninsula. It's hard to find good pictures of the various Sideroxylon species, but from word descriptions in the literature it seems that what we have here is SIDEROXYLON PERSIMILE, for which no English name is commonly accepted, but which at least one source calls Bully Tree. The species is native from southern Mexico through Central America into northern South America.

Sideroxylon persimile is described as growing up to 20m tall (66ft), which contrasts to our fruiting tree's small size. However, the extra-long bristle at the fruit's tip, the leaves' close, obscure venation, and the leaves rounded to indented tips and short petioles all are typical of Sideroxylon persimile.

I'm being a bit cagey about the identification because CICY, the Yucatan's Center for Scientific Investigation, lists the species for the southern Yucatan, but not for our northern Yucatán state. Maybe this observation represents a range expansion for the species in this part of the world.

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MORINGA FLOWERING
At http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/moringa.htm we look at the Moringa Tree, originally from India but now planted in the tropics worldwide because of its nourishing edible parts and medicinal uses. I've been eager for our Moringas to flower because my old Bailey's Manual of Cultivated Plants places the Moringa Family, the Moringaceae, near the Mustard Family, the Brassicaceae. We think of members of the Mustard Family as tender herbs, but these Moringas form substantial trees, so I've been wanting to see if Moringa flowers look anything like mustard flowers.

You can see a panicle-type cluster of Moringa flowers at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170305mg.jpg

Flowers in the Mustard Family often are arranged in panicles. Now look at an individual Moringa flower, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170305mh.jpg

Mustard family flowers are symmetrical, but these Moringa flowers are strongly bilaterally symmetrical -- one side being a mirror image of the other. Mustard flowers normally bear four sepals and four petals, but Moringa flowers exhibit five sepals and five petals. Mustard blossoms usually produce six stamens, of which four are longer than the other two, but our Moringa flower bears five functional stamens of different lengths. A Moringa flower is shown from the front at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170305mi.jpg

A Moringa flower whose petals have fallen off displays its stamens, style and stigma at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170305mj.jpg

The brown items at the upper, right are pollen-producing anthers, with two anthers having fallen off their filaments. The slender, pointed item extending beyond the outermost anther is the style, the pointed tip of which is the stigma.

So, a Moringa flower is considerably different from a Mustard Family flower. However, my old manual indicates that Moringa fruits look a good bit like Mustard Family fruits, so now I'm waiting for our Moringas' fruits, which I hope to show to you later...

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EATING CHAYOTE
The Chayote vine, SECHIUM EDULE, is a member of the Squash/Pumpkin/Cucumber Family, the Cucurbitaceae, and a native of Tropical America. Among traditional Mesoamerican indigenous groups, it squash-type fruits are an important food. Back in 2010 a Maya farmer showed us how to plant Chayote squash, shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/10/100822g9.jpg

This week Jea the Canadian volunteer gardener bought some Chayote to eat, one of which is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170305ch.jpg

She sliced her raw Chayote into a salad with cabbage and other raw ingredients. I prefer eating them the Maya way, which is to cook them until they're so soft that they practically melt in the mouth. A cut-open one that was cooked for about 15 minutes is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170305ci.jpg

The white, oval item at the bottom is the seed, and for me that's the most tasty part.

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IMMATURE PINEAPPLE UPDATE
At http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/pineappl.htm in the Newsletter of February 12 we look at an immature pineapple "fruit" bearing its first flowers. Now that same pineapple has enlarged considerably, all of its flowers having blossomed, though it still has a lot of growing to do before it's edible. You can see what it looks like now at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170305an.jpg

A close-up of brown, dried-up flower corollas atop their expanding ovaries, each ovary subtended by a sharp-pointed, triangular bract, is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170305ao.jpg

The expanding ovaries bear watching now, for as they grow and fuse with their neighboring ovaries, they'll be forming the pineapple we hope to eat someday. At that point we'll see that what we think of as the pineapple "fruit" actually is an assemblage of fruits, known as a "multiple fruit."

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POCKET GOPHERS TOPPLE BANANA TREE
At http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/tuza.htm we look at a mole-like mammal, a kind of pocket gopher the Maya call Tuza, famed for destroying many kinds of plants in forest, field and garden. One morning this week in the garden I found a Banana tree in the pitiful condition shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170305tz.jpg

The fresh mounds of earth next to the fallen tree are typical of Tuza activity. The bottom of the Banana stalk clearly show where a Tuza came up from below, gnawing roots until not enough roots were left to hold the plant upright, as seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/17/170305ty.jpg

The Tuzas still haven't discovered my carrot patch, and I'm enjoying those carrots enormously, but know it's only a matter of time before they all succumb to the Tuzas.

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TEACHINGS OF CHICKEN POOP

chicken poop
This week a pile of chicken poop like that shown at the right set me onto a train of thought worth sharing. Actually, it was less the poop itself than the white paste covering the excrement's right side that was interesting. The paste is composed mostly of uric acid, and in that there's a story.

For, every second of the day and night, animals are producing the waste product known as ammonia. Ammonia results from the normal breakdown of amino acids (which make up protein) and nucleic acids (of which our genetic material is composed), so, because our bodies constantly renew their cells and tissues, there's a good bit of it. Ammonia in sufficient amounts is toxic, so if it isn't cleansed from the body the animal becomes ill or dies.

In mammals such as us humans, our waste ammonia, NH3, is combined with carbon dioxide, CO2 to form urea, CO(NH3)2. Urea dissolves in water that in mammals is flushed from the body as urine. In other words, when we go pee, we're getting rid of our body's poisonous waste ammonia in the form of urea.

Maybe you've noticed that reptiles and birds don't drink and pee nearly as much as us mammals. That's because reptiles and birds get rid of their bodies' ammonia a different way, a way requiring much less water. Reptiles and birds, instead of converting their ammonia to urea, mostly convert their ammonia to uric acid, C5H4N3O3, which is excreted as a white paste or even a dry, white, powdery covering of the animal's poop. The white substance on the chicken poop in the above picture is uric acid that didn't need a lot of water to be flushed from the bird's body.

Just think of all the time and effort we'd save if we didn't have to drink and pee so much -- if our bodies converted ammonia to uric acid instead of urea.

Once we begin wondering why we're designed the way we are, certain other questions about inconveniences our bodies impose on us come to mind. Why are we designed so that our teeth decay so easily? Why do we so often suffer back pain? Why is childbearing so dangerous to women, whose pelvises hardly are big enough for the passage of a baby's big head?

One reason is because human mentality and behavior have evolved faster than human bodies. Nature hasn't had the time to fine-tune our bodies to deal with today's sugary food, our lack of exercise, walking upright, etc.

Reflecting on these thoughts stirred up by a pile of chicken poop, it becomes easier to see humanity as just one species among millions evolving on Earth, each species with its own special set of adaptations and weaknesses, and each species "a work in progress." And that insight opens the door to our more clearly seeing this:

That, if we continue destroying the Earth's capacity to support us, we have no grounds for believing that we with our rotting teeth, slipped discs, mothers having birthing problems, and eternal visits to the bathroom, are so special and important that Divine intervention will save us.

Every pile of chicken poop is telling us that we ourselves are responsible for our continued survival on Earth.

*****

Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

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