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- The End of the World

What Will Stop the Human Race

Here's the happy thought for today:

Some folks think the answer is going to be simple: Phosphate. A shortage of phosphorous will eventually limit the number of human beings that inhabit the Earth at any given time. See the article in "The Scientist" for November 01, 2010.

Traditionally, phosphate was the cheapest of the three primary nutrients for plant fertilizers: of N - P - K, the middle number (P, phosphate) was always too high for any sensible interpretation of plant biochemistry or nutrition. It was cheap, so add more. More is Better! Well, in another few decades, the Human Race may have to start paying the piper for that particular past extravagance.

The cheapest way to get phosphate for fertilizer was to mine calcium phosphate rocks, grind them up to a fine powder, and treat them with sulfuric acid (H2SO4). Now, the easiest phosphate deposits are being used up. When they are gone, the economic cost and the physical and chemical barriers to utilizing the remaining sources will put the brakes on their use. Humans use a lot of phosphate for their bones, but every living cell has a critical content of phosphate -- mainly in RNA, according to the article in "The Scientist" -- that has to be there as well for there to be a living organism.

When phosphate becomes too expensive, food crops will eventually produce lower yields, and there will be less food for feeding humans and other animals. Then we will see the real limit on human populations: when we run out of the elements needed to make more of their bodies. Have a nice day.

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


Look up technical terms in the Glossary of Plant Biology

- Mental Meanderings

Luddites on the Loose

I look for an upswing in the crackpots who want to displace evolution from the educational system in this country. I hope that working scientists will speak up to defend their disciplines. They should be better equipped than anyone else to do so. Just for the record, evolution is the core of modern biology, from DNA molecules on up. Without the theory of evolution, nothing in the living world makes sense.

The other field of science likely to come under even heavier attack is climate change. The evidence is also somewhat indirect, but the conclusions seem just as compelling. The planet is warming up unnaturally, and human civilization is causing it. The environment is after all the place we all live. It matters what happens to it, at least if the human race matters.

Flowers Blooming

The Sternbergia have finished outdoors, and the only flowers I see in the beds outdoors are one small, lonely clump of Crocus cartwrightianus.

In the greenhouses, a couple Clivia gardenii are showing anemically colored blooms. They are getting too much shade for autumn, but there is a broken cable in the shade system and it can't be moved for now.

Also starting to bloom in another greenhouse are the first Lachenalia. L. pusilla has been in bloom for a week or longer, while L. rubida is just now opening its flowers.

Science Visit

About ten days ago, I visited DePauw University for three days. The occasion was the annual student research poster session and a meeting of the Science Advisory Board. I'm an enthusiastic supported of their Summer Research Fellowship (S.R.F.) program, and I visited one group in that program one day in July.

DePauw University.  Reporduce by permission.
DePauw S.R.F. Field Trip

You can get a liberal arts education, major in a science, and go on from there to graduate school in a major research university, if you want to. DePauw is a good place to get the undergraduate degree. I recommend it!

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


Look up technical terms in the Glossary of Plant Biology

- Changing Face of the Internet

Losing List Servers

There was another reminder from the Surfnet server in The Netherlands that they are discontinuing the Listserv service. Surfnet has hosted the Alpine-L, Arisaema-L, Bulbs-L, and Trillium-L plant lists for years. For those who don't already know, Listserv is a software suite that allows you to set up mailing lists. A member of a given list sends his message to the list server, e.g., to ALPINE-L@NIC.SURFNET.NL; then the list server sends that message on to every member of the Alpine-L list. It all works through conventional e-mail.

The Listserv software saves every message it processes in a searchable on-line archive. They comprise a formidable resource, even considering the large amount of trivial commenting that also gets saved. The ones on Surfnet have always been of special interest to plant lovers. Now, as of January first, 2011, they will leave Surfnet. Fortunately, Eric Gouda has found an alternative home for the lists he co-owns: They will be moving to a Mailman list server (at the University of Utrecht, I think).

I've been using e-mail for about 30 years. It is my main medium for communications. I'm not nearly as comfortable using Web-based forums. I have a Facebook account (as ShieldsGardens), but rarely look at Facebook, nor do I often post anything on my Facebook page. The things people post there are almost entirely trivial stuff and seem largely a waste of time. This may make me a dinosaur, or maybe just a snob....


The Web-based forums, in which the user has to actively seek out the web site, are becoming increasingly popular. The North American Rock Garden Society web site (for members only, at the present time) and the Scottish Rock Garden Club web site (open to all, registration required) are good examples of this format

The Yahoo Groups provide a mailing list option that is used by some plant groups. The Clivia Enthusists group is open to all. The I.B.S. Members group is solely for members of the International Bulb Society. There are other Yahoo groups for Hippeastrum species, for Haemanthus and Scadoxus lovers, for Crinums, etc.

Gold Standards

The gold standard for bulbophiles, for everyone strongly interested in geophytes, remains the Pacific Bulb Society's online list, which is hosted on IBiblio. It is open to all, but only dues-paid members of the Pacific Bulb Society are eligible for the seed and bulb distributions. Nothing else comes close to this list for anyone seriously interested in bulbs.

I think that e-mail will remain the best medium for serious communication. Certainly for private communication it excels. For getting your message delivered to your target, rather than relying on him/her to search out a particular web site, e-mail lists are the only way to go.

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


Look up technical terms in the Glossary of Plant Biology

- Nerine Third Season

Nerine Now Blooming

The "First Nerine Season" is in July and August, when things like NN. krigei, filifolia, and filamentosa bloom. The "Second Nerine Season" is in September, when the sarniensis hybrids bloom. And finally we now have the "Third Nerine Season," when bowdenii, humilis, and undulata are blooming.

Old reliable Nerine bowdenii is good to have. Once it starts to bloom, it usually repeats every following year at about the same time. This is one of the most cold-hardy species, but it isn't tough enough to survive here and be able to bloom outdoors in the ground in central Indiana, USA (GPS ca 40 N, 86.1 W).

Nerine bowdenii Koen's Hardy (c) copyright 2010 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Nerine bowdenii, 'Koen's Hardy'

The flowers can vary from deep rosy pink to pale pink to pure white. The diameter across the face runs about 60 mm (about 2.4 inches) and the petals are 8 to 9 mm wide (about 3/8 inch). N. bowdenii is one of the more common species found in the mass market catalogs.

Nerine undulata is also available in the trade. One of the forms I have has light pink flowers only 26 - 30 mm across the face, with petals 3 mm wide.

Nerine undulata (c) copyright 2010 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Nerine undulata from commercial sources

Nerine humilis is blooming for the first time this year. It is from the Western Cape province of South Africa, in the winter-rainfall area. It is totally dormant in summer, and it sits in its pot under a bench in one of the greenhouse through the hottest weather.

Nerine humilis (c) copyright 2010 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Nerine humilis

The flowers have a prominent red midrib line on pale pink petals about 5 mm wide (less than ¼ inch). The diameter across the face is 50 mm (2 inches).

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


Look up technical terms in the Glossary of Plant Biology

- Hardiness of Haemanthus

Hardiness in Habitats

Inquiries in the plant lists and forums yielded a few interesting examples of cold hardiness in Haemanthus. Greg Pettit wrote the following:

"Haemanthus montanus grows on North-West rock faces of the Berg. The temperatures can get to minus 20 degrees C. They are exposed to harsh winds, frost and snowfalls. In the recent past they have been covered by snow for up to a week or two at a time, and they still come back in spring."

"Haemanthus humilis was covered by drifts of snow (about 30 years ago) that were reported to be 20 feet in depth in the Mooi river area of the Natal midlands and they survived so I would assume that those two species have a natural amount of cold genes built into their system."

Snijman ("The Genus Haemanthus," 1984) lists H. humilis hirsutus from elevations between 1200 and 2100 meters above sea level (4000 to 7000 feet elevation). The nights get frosty in winter at those heights of its natural range in the Transvaal highveld, the Drakensberg Escarpment, Swaziland, and Lesotho.

Hardiness in Gardens

In the Scottish Rock Garden Club forum, there was a report from PeterT of Haemanthus albiflos growing in pots in the UK, from London and Scotland, covered with ice and frozen solid, and surviving. Also, Bernie ("Auricular") pointed out that Lauw de Jager successfully grows Haemanthus coccineus outdoors in the ground in his nursery in southern France, where they have occasional temperatures below freezing. It could well be that Lauw's climate is milder than some of the native habitats of Haemanthus coccineus in South Africa.

I think gardeners in mild to moderate climates should try Haemanthus outdoors. Some may be hardier than we tend to expect. Haemanthus albiflos and its hybrids (e.g., H. [albiflos x coccineus]) are likely to be most tolerant of moisture. The most tolerant of outright frost is probably H. montanus. If you want my opinion on where to plant your Haemanthus outdoors, I would suggest you first try a raised rock garden in full sun. If that doesn't work, try a very well drained bed in a protected spot, near the foundation of a heated building. In the Northern Hemisphere, make that on the east or south side of the building. Then let us know what happens.

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


Look up technical terms in the Glossary of Plant Biology

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Last revised on: 28 November 2010
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