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We are a Christian family in the Deep South, & we love to cook & we love to eat. We are interested in the classics, Latin, ancient history, Byzantine art, technology/geek matters, politics, government, & current events. Mostly we are focused on faith, family, freedom & food. Read our riveting & occasionally amusing posts, admire our outstanding photos, browse timeless archives, leave a comment, & bookmark the site. Come back often!

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Mystery Plant No More! Mystery Solved - It's a Sicklepod!

Great News! The Mystery Plant is a Sicklepod! Many thanks, Nancy!

I received this email from my friend Nancy, who reads Walter Reeves' gardening newsletter:

Nancy says: "You may already know the name but this looks like your picture in your blog. This plant was in Walter Reeves newsletter today."


The first section of this post is Nancy's information from Walter Reeves' newsletter:

Senna obtusifolia
Caesalpinia family (Caesalpiniaceae)

Description: This annual native plant is 1-2½' tall, branching occasionally. The stems are light green and somewhat ridged. The lower stems often sprawl along the ground in open areas, otherwise this plant is erect. The compound leaves alternate along the stems. They are evenly pinnate, usually with 3 pairs of leaflets, and have long leaf stems (primary petioles). The obovate leaflets are individually 1½" long and 1" across. They are devoid of hairs, and are light green on the underside. There is an extra-floral nectary close to the lowest pair of leaflets on the upper side of each compound leaf. This nectary resembles a small brown spike. The foliage has a slightly rank odor.

One or two flowers develop from the upper axils of the compound leaves. These flowers have pedicels about 1" long and tend to nod slightly downward. They are about 1" across, and consist of 5 rounded yellow petals and 10 stamens; the petals are often slightly unequal in size. The flowers are subtended by a light green calyx that is divided into 5 folded sepals; these sepals are shorter than the petals and hairless. In Illinois, the blooming period occurs from late summer through the fall, and lasts about 1-2 months. There is no floral scent. A long seedpod develops from each flower that is 4-6" long, but only 1/3" across. This seedpod curves downward and resembles a sickle in its overall shape. The root system consists of taproot. This plant spreads by reseeding itself.

Cultivation: The preference is full sun and moist to slightly dry conditions. This plant tolerates different kinds of soil, from fertile loam to gravelly soil; in fact, it often thrives in railroad ballast. Drought tolerance is good, and the foliage is rarely bothered by foliar disease. It is somewhat slow to develop for an annual plant, and tends to bloom late in the year in Illinois.

Range & Habitat: Sicklepod has been reported from only a few counties in southern Illinois and in the Chicago area; it has been observed recently along a railroad track in Champaign County, where it may be adventive from the south (see Distribution Map). This is a rare plant in Illinois, although it is more common in many south-central and southeastern states of the US; it also occurs in the American tropics. Habitat information is scanty, but it has been observed in moist meadows along rivers, open areas along railroads, and in waste areas. It could probably thrive in disturbed areas of prairies.

Faunal Associations: The extra-floral nectaries attract ants primarily; they may also attract some wasps, flies, or small bees. The pollen of the flowers attract long-tongued bees, such as bumblebees, Miner bees, and large Leaf-Cutting bees. The caterpillars of several species of Sulfur butterflies are known to feed on the foliage of Cassia spp., including Eurema lisa (Little Sulfur), Eurema nicippe (Sleepy Orange), and Phoebis sennae cubule (Cloudless Sulfur). Some upland gamebirds occasionally eat the seeds of Senna spp., especially the Bobwhite and Greater Prairie Chicken. Mammalian herbivores are unlikely to utilize this plant as a food source to any significant extent because of the unpleasant taste and toxic nature of the foliage, which has been found capable of poisoning livestock.

Photographic Location: Photographs were taken along a railroad in Savoy, Illinois.

Comments: This rare plant has attractive foliage, but blooms sparingly. In the upper photograph on the lower right, is one of the sickle-shaped seedpods; it is still green. Sicklepod resembles Senna marilandica (Maryland Senna) and Senna hebecarpa (Wild Senna) somewhat in appearance, but it is a shorter annual plant that has 1) fewer leaflets per compound leaf, 2) leaflets with a broader shape, and 3) more slender and curved seedpods. In the past, Sicklepod was often assigned to the Bean family (Fabaceae), rather than the Caesalpinia family.


Then this next section is from someone else's blog, who is also a big admirer of the Mystery Plant, which also came up in their garden.

"My Mystery plant is now about 4 feet tall, and it is blooming. We love our little vagabond, but we'd like to know what he/she is. I thought some bloom pictures might help somenone help us to identify this plant.

It looks wonderful--except for one thing: in the last picture I'll post below, you can see that it's getting some black streaks on its stems and branches. Today I found that one whole branch had fallen because of the black stuff. Really, now I don't only NOT KNOW what it is, but I also don't know if I should try to save it if something is killing it.

Here are the pictures:"



This last section is from the Q&A section of Walter Reeves' website. This is in response to someone else's question about the Mystery Plant, since I did not hear from Reeves myself.

"Sicklepod (Coffeebean) - Identification
Q: This interesting plant came up in my flower bed. I let it grow to see what it would be and it continues to grow!

The leaves have a soft touch and around sunset the leaves begin to close and it looks like rows of green butterflies hanging from the branches.

Could you please tell me what it is?
A: It's sicklepod, Cassia obtusifolia, also known as coffee-bean. I agree that the foliage is interesting - but my Dad paid me good money to pull up every plant I saw in our hayfield because the cows wouldn't eat hay contaminated with it.

When I was a kid, we called it coffeebean because the crushed seedpod smelled vaguely of coffee. Don't try it as a substitute for your morning java; the seeds are mildly poisonous.

It is an annual plant that comes up from seed each spring. You are welcome to grow it for its interesting foliage, although I think you’ll get tired of the rangy branches when it reaches its maximum height of 6 feet.

I've heard that the young shoots are edible but, like poke sallet, I'll leave it to others to enjoy for a meal.

If you decide you don’t want it, pull the distinctive seedlings as you discover them. "



As you can see from all the photos and information, the sicklepod is a relatively unknown plant, which just appears in people's yards and gardens and walkways, completely unannounced and uninvited. Judging from the comments from others, it also has an avid and admiring following! I love it too!

Mystery solved! Thanks so much for all your comments and interest in my mystery plant, which I now call my sicklepod. A special thanks to Nancy, who just happened to receive a gardening newsletter and recognized my mystery plant from my blog.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Latest Developments on the Mystery Plant!

The Mystery Plant continues to grow and bloom, and so far no one except Jerry has expressed much interest in it. Dan and I tend to think it is a locust of some sort, but haven't been able to find it in our tree books. But then again, we don't know if it is a tree, or a shrub, flower or weed.

Anyway, take a look at these latest photos, and notice that as the yellow blossoms fade, they are replaced by these weird things that look like skinny green beans.

I am a loss to name this plant, but I continue to be fascinated by it. It is a very pretty plant. I welcome everyone's thoughts on it. When I am able to identify it, I will let you know.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sara Magically Transforms an Apartment Into a Home!

This (photos below) is what Jason's apartment looked like on move-in day last month, very nice and clean and modern and all that.

After I had blogged the move-in day news, Sara sent me some photos of what his apartment looks like now, three or four weeks later. Sara explained that she had brought a few things over to make it more homey and lived-in.

When I looked at her photos, I said, "WOW! What a gorgeous place to live!" And take a look at the beautiful dishes Jason has cooked there too!

Suddenly, an apartment has been transformed into a beautiful home, something so elegant and tastefully done, it belongs in a magazine or on a decorating program on TV.

Now I want Sara to come over and transform our home for us! It needs some help.

Feast your eyes on these stunning photos, and compare the before-and-after photos for the full effect. Sara is the best!

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Matt's Shrimp Gumbo for Dinner!

Matt has been craving shrimp gumbo lately, and he saw a recipe on Alton Brown's Good Eats program on the Food Network, so he set about gathering his ingredients and making plans to cook it himself. From Whole Foods he bought Georgia shrimp,rosemary, gumbo filé, and all the other ingredients on his list that we did not have at home.

Here's how it unfolded:
The photo above is the final delicious result, and below are the steps for Matt's shrimp gumbo:

Peeled and deveined shrimp are the starting point.

Here is the stock simmering, above.

Bay leaves, tomatoes, onion, garlic, green pepper, and celery (above)

Matt at work on the veggies (above)

Matt ready to chow down!

Here is the final result, after hours of making the roux, the stock, chopping, simmering the gumbo. When Dan and I came back from taking the dogs for a walk, we were met with the most delicious aroma from the roux Matt had made!

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My New Computer!

My old computer has begun failing. It is 5 or 6 years old, and that is old by cyber-standards. I have enjoyed it more than any other one I have had over the years, and I had gotten everything customized just the way I like it, and I was familiar with all its quirks and it was charitable toward mine in return. We get along well.

But now the video card and the hard drive fan (which has been replaced years ago) are failing fast. Plus I cannot renew my anti-virus program unless I get Windows XP or Vista. My Windows 2000 that I like so much is passé, over the hill, and done for.

So Dan ordered me a new one, and Dan and Matt have done a magnificent job as always of compensating for my woefully inadequate computer skills.

This time I have learned a little about how to go about installing a new computer. First, you plug it in and let it boot up, then you follow the instructions on the screen. So far, so good. Next, Matt advises getting your anti-virus and security program installed and up to date. Download all the updates and run a scan. After these steps, you just start re-installing your programs and transferring over your email accounts and mailboxes and saved messages, transferring over documents and photos and all types of data files. Sounds easy enough. Sure.

It has taken several days, and has been tedious and frustrating, but thanks to Matt and Dan, the worst is over and I am back in the cyber world. My new computer is wonderful! I am getting used to Windows XP and enjoying its many features. I like MS Office 2007 too. And needless to say, my new computer is far faster than my old one. Two 250GB hard drives will just about take care of my needs for the forseeable future.

Here are a few photos documenting the installation:

First I had to move everything off of my computer desk to make room for the second computer and to give Matt and Dan the space they needed to work on the new one. So all my desk stuff had to go on a camping cot located in the middle of the den. (All our card tables had been previously allocated to other tasks.)

Here is the arrangement with two monitors, two keyboards and two computers. We had to work off both systems for a while and this configuration worked well.

Here is Matt working away on my behalf, even after working all day at his real job.

This is the new one, in all its sleek, updated glory.

And this photo shows my new set-up, as of today, fully functional and fast, fast, fast.

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Deer are Devouring My Hearts 'a Bustin' Shrubs! This Must Stop!

I was patient in the beginning, and continue to be sympathetic to the deers' plight this summer due to the extreme drought. But they are going to have to find something else to eat besides my (and Jerry's) Hearts 'a Bustin' shrubs. These are the ones we both nursed and nurtured from tiny little sprouts in pots on our porches, and then lovingly transplanted into the woods, right on the edge between the sunny and shady part of the yard. This way they get both sun and shade in the course of the day.

These deer must stop eating my HABs - that's the long and short of it. It's just that simple.

So the last time I was at Lowe's I picked up a bottle of Deer Off to see if it will help. The label says "Deer, Rabbit and Squirrel Repellent - Repels by Odor and Taste, Use on Edible Crops, Lawns & Gardens, and Long Lasting." Out of concern for the environment, I checked the ingredients list on the bottle, and they look harmless enough: rotten eggs, capsacin and garlic. We'll see if this solves the problem because the deer have now started eating the new growth, not just the established leaves. More later on this developing story.

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Dan Celebrates His Big 6-O Birthday!

Dan has now reached his 60th birthday, and instead of a big blow-out celebration or a surprise party, we opted for a quiet dinner at home instead.

Actually, we had two dinners, one on his birthday, after he returned from a long, hard work week, and the other one on Saturday, when everyone had rested a bit and had time to work on projects. This weekend the big project was getting my new computer operational, and thanks to Matt and Dan, things are going well on the computer front.

For dinner on Friday, we had spicy Swedish meatballs over egg noodles, with sweet & sour cole slaw, and some little grape tomatoes from my volunteer tomato harvest.

On Saturday, we had grilled NY strip steaks with scalloped potatoes with rosemary and thyme, tossed salad, sourdough bruschetta, and Granny Smith apple pie for dessert.

Dan and Matt gather for Dan's celebratory 60th birthday photo!

Birthday dinner #1

Birthday dinner #2

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