When Nature Says, “Hey, Look at THIS!”

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When I was a kid, every rock in every stream and every log in every forest was a potential treasure chest for me to explore. I loved the sense of anticipation. What might be found under that flat sandstone slab? Bugs, salamanders, mysterious moulds, anything seemed possible. I’m glad that I haven’t lost that. Many diversions of youth are simply that – diversions from the business of growing up. The love of nature and the capability of being pleasantly surprised and gratified by nature’s many wonders is a good thing to hang on to. There are some youthful distractions that serve us well as we mature.

Up at Blueblood on Christmas Day I got a couple of pleasant surprises. One of them was this bright red moth:

I think that it was nearing the end of its pitifully short life. Its wings were ragged and it seemed listless, as if it desperately needed a nap.

A few months ago, during a severe period of beach erosion, this coconut tree was undercut by the waves and fell over into the water. Coconuts can survive very close to the salt water as long as there is sufficient rain to keep salt from its shallow root system. This tree is in peril. Filling in around the base to protect it from further erosion and allowing its roots to gather fresh water will save it:

You can see that it is trying to survive. It has already begun to change its direction of growth. It will naturally grow upwards if it survives, giving it a graceful curve toward the sky.

However, in its current dire straits, it is exhibiting some abnormal growth patterns. I have never before seen such a strange pattern of growth in the leaves of a coconut frond:

Among those of us who pondered this odd pattern, speculation ran rampant. There were several theories. When I first saw it, I thought it was someone’s joke. Then I realised that was simply not possible. We finally settled on some kind of osmotic imbalance that is causing the leaves to improperly separate at the tips as the frond unfurls. This would cause the tension to bend the tips of the leaves as is seen here, because they have no way to assume their natural position. The little fibre that attaches the tips of the leaves together as they develop never ‘lets go’.

I did find one reference to a disease problem with coconuts that might be causing this weird leaf growth. It’s called Crown Choking. (See the UPDATE at the end of the post.)

The light in this image was horrible. It was a flat-light day with a solid bright grey sky. About the worst thing that you can do on a day like that is to point your camera skyward and try to capture something back-lit by the brightness of the clouds. That’s exactly what I had to do to get this shot:

You can see the hideous flatness of the details. I had to twist the histogram mercilessly to get any details. However, it was worth the effort. I think that what we’re seeing here are two ant nests. However, I have some questions. The leaves on the plants seem the same as the rest of the tree, so I’m guessing that they are branches vainly trying to invigorate the dying tree. The ant nests speak for themselves. But, what are the rope-like bands encircling the branch? These are typical of a parasitic or saprophytic growth hanging on to the tree and either using it for support or sucking the life from it. There is a lot going on in this picture, much of it a mystery to me.

Here is something not so mysterious. It’s our little friend, the gecko. Now that we have had no cats in the house for a year or so, the geckos are coming back in normal numbers, which means about one per square metre, it seems. They make a happy little barking noise when challenging each other:Having dinner with some Chinese friends one night, we were discussing the propensity of the Chinese to bet on practically anything. We were told of the amusing practice of betting on the number of barks that will be heard from the next gecko to speak. The bark count tends to run from about four to ten, with a Bell shaped curve. The strange thing about this is that, once you have played the game a few times (it takes all evening and the conversation can continue – it’s very civilised), you can not stop counting gecko barks. Once your brain is trained, you can’t shut it off and it is extremely accurate. It reminds me of how I learned to automatically count gunshots. Another odd thing is that there is hardly ever any question among players as to the number of barks. Apparently , everybody can learn to do this accurately, so there is no need for arguments. As I said, it’s very civilised.

And, here is our little friend’s favourite food:Well, actually, not so. The geckos seem not to like these muli ants. They are big, very feisty and chock full of stinky formic acid. They will happily take on a human being, even standing up on their hind legs and threatening the hapless hand to stay away. They bite ferociously.

As I seem to be running out of steam for this post, I’ll leave you with a sight that I have seen many, many times:

Very often, as we sit near the small islands off the coast, we see huge thunderstorms marching up the line of mountains a few kilometres inland.

You need to worry, if nature can no longer surprise and amuse you. Get some new glasses and keep your eyes open.

UPDATE:  I received an email from Kevin Lock which may shed some light on the weird palm fronds:

I am guessing that the appearance of that frond is not a disease but just an emerging new frond.  We have a few Golden Cane Palms and emerging new fonds have a similar appearance.  Attached is a snap of one on ours today.

Here is the image that Kevin sent:

In this healthy plant, it’s clear that the unfolding process is the same as the one we observed. I wondered about it, but rejected it as a normal condition mainly because I had never observed it before.

Thanks, Kevin, for giving us another good reason to keep our eyes open.

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2 Responses to “When Nature Says, “Hey, Look at THIS!””

  1. Matthew Jebb Says:

    As a former resident of Nagada Harbour (1987-1993) I am always delighted to follow life there. On the ‘funny’ palm tree question – rest assured this is quite normal, but bizarrely is much easier to see in a palm house here in Dublin! All the leaf tips of a palm frond are attached together in bud. This is so that nothing snags on the edges when the leaf emerges – otherwise it would be like pushing a bird feather – tip forwards – through a tiny hole, you would end up with a fearful mess! This edge strip has no vascular connection to the leaf proper, so after the leaf opens it shrivels, dries and blows away – here in Dublin the lack of wind means all our palm leaves keep this amazing strip much longer.

  2. MadDog Says:

    Thanks very much, Matthew, for that informative comment. I’d never even considered the possibility of palm trees in Dublin.