JIM CONRAD'S
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
Issued from Rancho Regenesis
in the woods ±4kms west of Ek Balam Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

March 25, 2018

FALSE RAINY SEASON
Up north sometimes early spring will be so warm that plants bloom and/or leaf out earlier than usual, often resulting in frost kill when a good cold front passes through. Down here we don't worry about that. However, last week we received an amazing 48mm (nearly 2 inches) rain, and now the forest looks very springy, at least to a northerner's eyes, as seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180325fs.jpg

When that picture of the trail into the rancho was taken the temperature was about 95°F (35°C), so it certainly didn't feel springy.

Normally April and May are our hottest, driest months, and the months most stressful for plants. During upcoming weeks, will all this fresh new greenness shrivel up and fall off, as if nipped by a frost? It'll be interesting to see.

*****

PRINCEWOOD #2 FLOWERING
A tall, well formed, commonly occurring tree has been flowering in our area, sometimes so heavily laden with dense clusters of ½-inch broad flowers that the trees looked like big snowballs. The snowball effect lasts only briefly, though, because upon pollination -- and pollinators crave this tree -- the flowers' corollas quickly turn brown and papery, and fall off, leaving the ovary on the tree to mature into a fruit. You can see a heavily flowering branch bearing both white and brown flower clusters at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180325co.jpg

A shot of a brown cluster right next to a white cluster can be seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180325cq.jpg

In these images you can see that most of the tree's leaves have fallen, to cut down on water evaporation. However, other trees, especially those too young to flower, often retain their leaves. Some leaves have been on their tree for so long that crustose lichens splotch their blades, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180325cp.jpg

Up close, the most striking unusual feature about the flowers' anatomy is their slender, yellow-green styles tipped with four spherical stigmas, as seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180325cr.jpg

The flowers' calyxes are deeply cylindrical, with sepals that turn brown like the corollas, as seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180325cs.jpg

To help with the identification, a blossom cut down the middle shows the spherical, superior ovary at the corolla's bottom, seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180325ct.jpg

Finally, the tree's bark is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180325cu.jpg

You'd think that such a handsome, commonly occurring tree with so many distinctive features would be easy to identify, but there are challenges. For instance, along the Gulf coast up at Río Lagartos, we've seen a tree that, at least at first glance, looks identical to our present tree. We identified that tree as Princewood, Cordia gerascanthus, and its page is at http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/cordia.htm

Can you spot any difference between the two trees? The Princewood tree was documented in our March 22, 2015 Newsletter, and this is our March 25th one, so Princewood and our current trees flower at the same time. But, on the Princewood page, notice in the flower close-up that the stigmas are long and slender, not spherical as in the present case.

On the Internet I find Cordia trees with flowers presenting spherical stigmas like our current ones under the name of CORDIA ALLIODORA. The Flora de la Península de Yucatán page, the main authority on the Yucatan's flora, lists both Cordia gerascanthus and Cordia alliodora for our area. But, here's the sticker: I further find technical literature mentioning the fact that Cordia alliodora can have stigmas of two different shapes, though they're not illustrated.

So, apparently now either we have seen both stigma forms of Cordia alliodora, or else two exceedingly similar looking Cordia species.

This is a good example of some of the taxonomic problems that still remain to be solved. Maybe eventually an expert will write, saying how it's all shaken out. Meanwhile, we can call both species Princewood, and no one with argue with us.

*****

THE STAR-APPLE'S STAR
At http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/starappl.htm we can admire the Star-Apple tree's handsome leaves with their silky golden-brown undersides, and their succulent, deep purple-skinned fruits. However, our pictures fail to show why the Star-Apple is called the Star-Apple. Nowadays our Star-Apple trees are producing nicely, I'm eating my share, and now you can see the star in the apple at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180325sa.jpg

The Star-Apple fruit technically is considered to be a berry because it's fleshy, doesn't split at maturity, and contains more than one seed. The ovary that produced this fruit was divided into eleven cells, or carpels, with one ovule in each carpel. Then the ovary matured into our fruit, and each ovule in its carpel developed into a hard, brown seed.

*****

PICTURE OF ME
This week a Newsletter reader from Maine in the US dropped by to meet me, but when we came together he seemed surprised that I was the Jim Conrad he knew from the Internet. It's true that the smiling picture on my biography page was taken by my Mérida friend Eric in 2012, so maybe during the last six years I've changed. For one thing, now I seldom wear glasses in public, thanks to a new lens in my left eye, plus I'm grayer and balder now, and have lost some weight. Anyway, in case you're curious to see what I look like now, you can see a picture needed for a new Mexican visa -- no smiling and no teeth showing per instructions -- at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180325jc.jpg

*****

DISRUPTIONS
Disruptive events aren't a big deal for those who drift through life simply reacting to events and situations around them. Such people have no particular goals other than doing what everyone around them is doing, and possibly in enlightened societies that's not necessarily a bad living strategy. However, I don't consider the materialistic, money-based societies available to me as enlightened, so I have my own agenda, and in general I don't welcome disruptions. I don't like to be interrupted by phone calls, visitors just wanting to kill time, a neighbor's barking dogs, on and on, because normally I'm doing what I want to do.

However, even for me disruptions sometimes turn out to be agreeable. For example, the recent tumor-removing operation on my back disrupted my weekly trips to Temozón to buy fruit and granola (muesli) because for two weeks I've been unable to ride a bicycle. At the rancho, fruit and granola are the mainstays of my diet, so new meals and food-preparation routines have had to be figured out.

Here at the rancho we grow bananas, custard apples, chicozapote, pineapples, mamey, several kinds of citrus, and more, but none were producing now, except for the Star-apple trees whose fruits grew so high that I could reach only one or two. Now instead of my main calorie source being fast-and-easy-to-prepare granola it became beans, rice and yams I'd been saving for planting when the rainy season returns. In the garden I was grateful that the young okra plants and heirloom Crimony tomatoes with their blackish flesh were just beginning to produce, and I increased my intake of kale and mustard greens.

The disruption further obliged me to become reacquainted with the homey smell of a pot of beans bubbling over a campfire's embers. I made something like tortillas by baking finely ground corn paste (concocted from packages of store-bought Maseca) in a skillet, and for me there's nothing better than refried beans on a hot tortilla topped with a slice of ripe homegrown tomato, with a little cilantro and chopped onion and jalapeño, all spritzed with lime juice.

In short, it's been pretty nice. Moreover, watching over bubbling pots of beans gave me time to think about an interesting dynamic of the human character. That is, we tend to fall into routines that, if continued long enough, desensitize us with regard to our being packages of awareness in mobile bodies free to explore and experience at will our parts of the mysterious, unspeakably complex and beautiful Universe.

So, maybe our Universe is fixed up so that any mentality that might arise is automatically saved from becoming absolutely insensitive to its mind-boggling context, through the agency of disruptions. Maybe that's why in higher-level mathematics sometimes in equations meant to express in symbols certain phenomena of very complex natural systems, you have to introduce at least a little of the element of chaos. Maybe that's why the traditional folklore of indigenous Americans often included the Trickster, and why many of my Maya neighbors still believe in and pay homage to mischievous, gnome-like aluxhob.

Funny how a back problem can make you appreciate the Trickster and aluxhob. However, everything is tied to everything else, some folks like to say, and maybe that explains it.

*****

GOING TRAVELING
It's that visa renewal time again, and this time I'm doing it a bit differently than before, so I'm as unsure as ever how it'll turn out, whether I'll be able to upload Newsletters on the road, and how long I'll be off the Internet. Whatever the case, probably the Newsletters will now appear erratically, or maybe appear all at once in a few weeks. Whatever the case, it's a disruptive experience I plan to savor.

*****

Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

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