Saturday, August 30, 2014

Equisetum or Horsetail - the Remarkable Fossil Plant

 Looking back 150 million years ago through a fossil plant, the Equisetum or Horsetail. Once the understorey vegetation of Paleolithic forests where dinosaurs roamed during the Jurassic Period, the Equisetum has virtually remained unchanged, defying the forces of evolution that led to the extinction of countless unknown species and radical change into new forms of those that survived.  Not to the persistent Equisetum. It fact it is the only living fossil said to be of cosmopolitan in distribution today in all continents, except Antarctica. 
Dr Abe V Rotor

Equisetum is a "living fossil" as it is the only living genus in Equisetaceae,  a family of vascular plants that reproduce by spores rather than seeds, and the only living member of the entire class Equisetopsida. It is also called horsetail, snake grass, puzzle grass, scouring-rush, candock, and other local names.  
What makes a living fossil is a puzzle. But extreme adaptability is the general concept of survival through time and space. For the natural gene to be preserved is not only a matter of strict isolation from other genes. In fact the mechanism of gene exchange is the key, only that it is narrowed down - in the case of the horsetails -  within the only surviving genus, belonging to a single family, and a single class.  The proliferation of horsetails did not go stray and lose their genetic identity as to have evolved into indistinguishable species even if there are sub-genera, sub-family and hybrids.  

All horsetails today are distinctly and unmistakably the same morphologically and genetically. (A superficially similar but entirely unrelated flowering plant genus, mare's tail (Hippuris), is occasionally misidentified as "horsetail", and adding to confusion, the name mare's tail is sometimes applied to Equisetum.)
While horsetails grow in swampy places and considered wild, horticulturists have learned to plant them as ornamental purposes, admiring their unique characteristics displaying variations according to sub-types and hybrids. In Japan and Germany, the stems are bundled and used for scouring utensils and metals.  They are used in the final process in woodwork to produce a smoother finish than any sandpaper. 
Horsetails are a nuisance weed, unaffected by many herbicides designed to kill seed plants.  They have the ability to regrow from the rhizome after being pulled out. And because they prefer acidic soil, lime may be used to assist in eradication efforts. They have been declared noxious weeds in Australia, New Zealand, Oregon in the US, and other countries, although they are considered useful as food plant largely as alternative source, and likely influenced by ethnic background.  
Here is a report on horsetail as food.

"The young plants are eaten cooked or raw. The fertile stems bearing strobili (spore casing) of some species are cooked and eaten like asparagus (a dish called tsukushi) in Japan. The people of ancient Rome would eat meadow horsetail in a similar manner, and they also used it to make tea as well as a thickening powder. Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest eat the young shoots of this plant raw. The plants are used as a dye and give a soft green colour. An extract is often used to provide silica for supplementation. Horsetail was often used by Indians to polish wooden tools. Equisetum species are often used to analyze gold concentrations in an area due to their ability to take up the metal when it is in a solution." (Wikipedia, citations and more data needed)

For its medicinal uses the same source reports.
"Extracts and other preparations of E. arvense have served as herbal remedies, with records dating to ancient Greek and Roman medical sources; its reported uses include treatments to stop bleeding, treat tuberculosis, to heal wounds and ulcerations, and to treat kidney ailments. In modern times, it is typically used as an infusion. Reliable modern alternative medicine sources include cautions with regard to its use. In 2009 the European Food Safety Authority issued a report assessing some specific health claims for E. arvense—e.g., for invigoration, weight control, and skin, hair, and bone health—concluding that none could be substantiated.
There is insufficient evidence to draw conclusions regarding its effectiveness as a medicine for all human conditions described. Even so, E. giganteum preparations are widely used in South America as an orally administered diuretic to reduce swelling caused by excess fluid retention and for urinary infections, bladder and kidney disorders. Horsetail preparations contain silicon, so they are sometimes suggested as a treatment for osteoporosis (brittle bone disorders)
Some Equisetum preparations are reported to have a high content of thiaminase, which may induce edema and cause lack of motor control (e.g., limb coordination), putting a person at risk of injury from fallingbradycardia (slowed heart-rate) and cardiac dysrhythmia are further negative side effects. Since horsetail contains nicotine, it is not recommended for young children." (Wikipedia, with citations and more data needed.)
Caution: If eaten over a long enough period of time, some species of horsetail can be poisonous to grazing animals, including horses. The toxicity appears to be due to thiaminase enzymes, which can cause thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Practical pest control methods

Practical pest control methods
Dr Abe V Rotor
 Golden apple snail (Pomacea caniculata) is the number 
one pest of rice plants today in the Philippines. They lay 
pink eggs in clusters above the water level ensuring 
viability and high survival. 

1.  Snails (kuhol) are controlled with tubli, makabuhay and other plants.
Before the introduction of chemical pesticides our native kuhol was a good source of viand in the ricefield and seldom did it turn against growing rice plants. Almost simultaneously in the sixties the golden kuhol or apple snail (Pomacea caniculata) was introduced with the promise that it is a better gourmet, and that it could even be exported.  It did not turn out that way, and with the resistance this exotic mollusk developed having left behind its natural enemies, it emerged a maverick, now the number one pest of rice plants infesting two-thirds of our total lowland ricefield area of no less than two million hectares. Agriculturists have lately turned their attention to phytochemicals to control golden kuhol.  These are the plants they have confirmed to be effective.
·         Derris philippinensis (derris or tubli)
·         Manihot esculenta (cassava)
·         Chrysanthemum morifolium (chrysanthemum)
·         Capsicum anuum (pepper or siling labuyo)
·         Tinospora rhumpii (makabuhay) - Photo, below
·         Azideracta asiatica (Neem) 

Except for siling labuyo, the leaves and stems of any of these plants are either crushed or chopped finely and applied directly on the ricefield, controlling the water level up to three to four inches so as to allow the active ingredients to spread out and reach the pest in all of its stages. Where there are two or more of these plants growing in the area, farmers may use them in any combination, either alternately or simultaneously.

2. Incense rids chickens of lice.  It also calms them down. 
I learned this practice from my father when I was a farmhand. We raised native chickens on the range.  In the evening, we would occasionally smoke the fouls in their roasts under the house. “That would rid them of lice (gayamo’ Ilk),” my father assured me. “And pick a cull for tomorrow’s dinner,” he would add. 

I would sprinkle powdered incense into live charcoal and you could see the column of smoke rising and filling the roasting area.  You could hear the fowls cockle feebly, slowly loosen their feathers and pry their wings as if to allow the cloud of smoke to bathe them. Soon they are lulled to sleep or go into a kind of trance; you could pick them up without any sign of resistance. Without this calming power of incense, the slightest move you make on a roasting chicken would send it squawking in the night.~

Biological Control - Preying or praying mantis (Mantis religiosa) is the number one executioner in the insect world, a friend to farmers and gardeners. 


Painting and Poetry: Fish Incognito

Dr Abe V Rotor
A School of Grouper Fish (38" x 26"), AVR.
Fish, tell me where you live, your home;
The ocean is so huge to be your own;
Fish answers: I am a fugitive in pursuit,
Hunted or hunter whichever may suit.

Fish, tell me of your kin and your shoal;
How you live together as a school;
Fish answers: I live by the rules of the sea,
By number and luck, and by being free.

Fish, tell me if I am friend to you, or a foe;
I gave you a name, regard you with awe;
Fish answers: Neither, I'd rather be unseen,
Far from the dreadful fate in your cuisine. ~

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sentry Skippers

Dr Abe V Rotor

Your dainty wings spread shining,
sowing tiny dots in waning light;
if my evening is your morning,
would you be my sentry tonight?

12 Oddities in Nature. Can you identify them?

12 Oddities in Nature.  Can you identify them?
Dr Abe V Rotor
1. Porcupine, real specimen or hand crafted?

2. Fruits are produced not from flowers, but directly from
special buds.
 What tree is this? Does its seed germinate
and grow into a tree?

3. This is highly prized as food to Asians.

4. Snails are hermaphroditic, but why do they still mate?

5. On whose lap does this cat find comfort and quiet?

6. Name the plants growing on this dead log.

7. What will the doomed caterpillar become?

8. It's tough, grows radially, and clings on dead trunk like shelf.
9. It's all skin, its owner makes the loudest and longest love
song among trees.

10.  It has two pairs of legs per somite or segment. It feigns dead curling into a wheel with its soft belly inside and the thick plates serving as armor.  

11. It looks like a green grasshopper, master of mimicry, you might miss it among the leaves and stems of its host tree.

12. You find it in museums, fossilized primitive giant mollusk, which gave the concept of a prototype submarine in Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. 


1. It's real. The porcupine is indigenous to the Palawan. It is now in the list of highly endangered species. St Paul University Museum QC.
2. Siniguelas ( sarguelas Ilk) - Spondias purpurea. This is exemption to the rule that fruits and seeds are products of pollination and fertilization. Siniguelas can't be propagated by seed, it is by cuttings. Just cut a good branch, the girth of a man's arm, a meter or two in length and plant it on well drained loam soil. Plant along fences and field borders.
3. Edible sea urchin(maritangtang Ilk), an aphrodisiac.
4. An hermaphrodite has both gametes - sperm and egg. Seldom does fertilization and zygote formation take place in the individual. Copulation is necessary to prevent inbreeding. Exchange of genes is necessary. During mating, the first to penetrate is the male. At another time, it plays the role of female.

5. Icon of a Paulinian sister, St Paul University Museum QC, reading the Holy Book.

6. Growths are not of plants but saprophytes (tainga ng daga or Auricularia) and lichens (association of algae and fungi).
7. It will become fossilized. If embedded in resin, the fossil will be visible through the clear amber.
8. Shelf mushroom.
9. Cicada. It's the male that sings; the female is mute.
10. Millipede, Class Diplopoda, relative of the insects and spiders, centipedes - they all belong to Phylum Arthropoda. 
11. Walking stick, originally classified under Orthoptera, the order of insects 
12. Nautillus.  The fictional submarine in the novel is named after this livbing marine fossil.  The captain in Nautillus is Captain Nemo. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Capture the Joyous Moments in Photographs

Moments of joy, moments of suffering,
they come together in ease and strain;
nostalgia the happiest state of mind,
sweet is sweeter after pain. ~

Dr Abe V Rotor

Moments of joy, moments of sadness;
they come like a moving wheel
every day, all the time in our lives,
on the road of trial and will.

Moments of joy, moments of loneliness,
they come like a rolling cloud
in light and shadow, bright and gray,
fall as rain and clear the shroud.

Moments of joy, moments of suffering,
they come together in ease and strain;
nostalgia the happiest state of mind,
sweet is sweeter after pain. ~

Posing with a baby elephant, Thailand
Wild pigeon (bato-bato), pangaw (Ilk)

Philippine Hawk, Avilon Zoo San Mateo

Taking pride of ones craft.

Apple mangoes, Don Antopnio Subd, Diliman QC

Floating lotus flowers, Thailand

Baby rabbits

Bronze sea lion, Thailand

Prize catch to market - siriw

Fruit cart, Darwin, Australia

Vegetable market, MM
Fish sauce (patis) for sale in a wet market, MM

First to see dragon fruit. Origin: Vietnam

Friendly owl. Avilon Zoo, San Mateo, Rizal

Bunny at home, QC

Garland of Dioscorea, relative of the ubi, at home QC

Listening to the sea with tambuli shell, MM

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Scenic Rural Iloilo from the Air

Scenic Rural Iloilo from the Air

Take me for a moment away from you, Mother Earth,
higher than the highest mountain, the tallest building,
that I may view life whole and solid and unabridged
in a perspective beyond details, and without stirring.

Photos and Poem by Abe V Rotor

 Biggest spotlight - the sun - reveals a typical farming community, the fields
basking with the golden color of grain and color of the earth after harvest.
  Geometric parcels of farmland in parallel formation apparently 
   show diversified farming and system of crop rotation. 
It's the peak of summer, and the rains have not arrived.  
Green patches are fields irrigated from shallow wells.
Residential houses huddle on one side of a creek (left); farms 
undergo fallowing, a resting period in summer.
Misty air  looms over the dry landscape - a prelude to monsoon
This fringe of land appears to have a sub-climate of its own influenced by the surrounding sea, while the rest of the island undergoes the normal dry season. 

  The uplands were once covered with forests and grasslands, 
now converted into agriculture and settlements.  
A wisp of smoke greets the lazy morning air from among 
the trees  that line a creek appearing like a miniature forest.  
A unique symmetry created by a natural waterway crowded with trees that form a natural windbreak and  sanctuary of surrounding organisms specially in summer. 

Take me for a moment away from you, Mother Earth,
higher than the highest mountain, the tallest building,
that I may view life whole and solid and unabridged
in a perspective beyond details, and without stirring:

I see clouds shrouding you from the sun and blue sky,
in cumulus like giant mushroom on the horizon, rising,
and released into nimbus, becoming heavy, falling as rain
in the accompaniment of wind, thunder and lightning.

I see rivers swell and lakes fill to the brim in monsoon,
flooding fields and pasture, spilling through the valley,
meandering, roaring over waterfalls and boulders,
resting in swamps and estuaries, then flowing to sea.  
I see farmers in the field, women and children, too,
and work animals pulling the plow and the harrow;
I hear singing and laughter and joyous conversation,
barking of dogs, cackling  of fowls trailing the furrow.

I see harvesters gather the golden grains by hand;
drying shocks in the sun, and building  haystacks;
I see flocks of pigeon and native chicken gleaning,
women and children, the sun setting on their backs.  

I see the fields scorched, a smoke here and there - 
bush fire! when the grass dries up bursts into flame
spreading all over, burning anything on its path - 
what a waste! but it is nature's work and game. 

I see poor harvest, good harvest, where and why,
crops early or late, and fields never planted at all;
I see farming a way of life, farming as a business,
and farm life in all seasons, happiness is its goal.

I see children flying kites of various makes and colors,
beside them grownups cheering, coaching, flying
their own kites too, oh, they have not forgotten
the art of their childhood, so do I, reminiscing.

I see children playing patinterotrompo and sipa,
games of old folks when they too, were children;
games of beetles and spiders as gladiators;
palo de sebo and pabitin cannot be forgotten.   

I see tourists, I see balikbayan, I see old and young;
familiar and unfamiliar faces, sweet, shy, and bold;
I see children going to school, housewives to market,
people of all walks of life, always on the move. 

I see the hills and mountains, to me they're the same,
but where have the forests gone, the pasture?
I see the rivers, the lakes and ponds old as they are,
I have always loved all of these as I love nature.  

I have seen enough, let me return, Mother Earth,
to my home, sweet home, on the farm, to my family;
and tell them of what I've seen in my short sojourn; 
down below I saw my friends, my neighbors, and me. ~  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Many Worlds of the Willow Tree

Dr Abe V Rotor

The weeping willow (Salyx sp) looks sad and in mourning, its leaves droop and are pointed downward, extending to the ground or water where it grows on river banks and pool sides. Like a Narcissus, its reflection is an illusion of awe and wonder, and fear. 

The drooping branches though makes a perfect promenade shade and shelter; it is a favorite subject of art and poetry. 

Author under a willow tree (Salyx sp). UST campus, Manila

At the slightest breeze, the tree "weeps" in whispers, and sways daintily without any apparent effort. Few dare to plant willow by the window - it transforms into a spiritual being to the superstitious, and courts bad luck to the pessimist. 

But the willow is an important tree. Where it grows it creates an ambiance of mixed feelings, and to many cultures it is a tree that is much revered - and feared. Overall all, the world is not what it is without the willow - weeping to the sorrowful, hissing and vibrant to the hopeful, romantic to the lover, sacred to the religious, miracle cure to the healer.
Direct crude extract (ground fresh leaves) repels mosquitoes and flies. It also serves as fresh deodorant in the bathroom and kitchen.  Dilute with tap water at 1:4, filter with ordinary cloth, and spray (atomizer) on garden plants and in dark corners. Another preparation is by dissolving the fresh extract with ethyl alcohol 1:2 ratio, air dry, and add Vaseline or Petroleum Jelly to the powder residue. This serves as ointment of minor wounds and skin problems.    

The Importance of the willow tree
Medicine -

  • The leaves and bark of the willow tree contain Salicin which is metabolized into salicylic acid in the human body. 
  • Precursor of aspirin. 
  • Salicin is isolated in crystalline form and formulated as acetylsalicylic acid, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. 
  • Provides temporary relief. 
  • Ancient remedy for common ailments to the Sumerians, Greeks and Native Americans 
  • Claimed to be effective in cure of diseases including cancer. 
Agriculture - as source of nectar and pollen for bees. 

Energy - biomass and biofuel, 

  • Charcoal for drawing, wood for sculptures 
  • Garden features and landscaping 
  • Pen and ink paintings in China and Japan
  • Hedges and landscaping 
  • Land reclamation, soil building and soil reclamation
  • Phytoremediation,(bioengineering) 
  • Slope stabilisation and soil erosion control 
  • Biofiltration, shelterbelt and windbreak 
  • Wildlife habitat
  • Ritual in Jewish holiday of Sukkot, and Buddhism
  • Christian churches in northwestern Europe and Ukraine use willow branches in place of palms on Palm Sunday. 
  • In China, some people carry willow branches on the day of their Tomb Sweeping or Qingming Festival
  • Willow branches are put up on gates and/or front doors, to ward off the evil spirits. 
  • The Goddess of Mercy Guanyin is shown seated on a rock with a willow branch. 
  • Ancient Korean poem goes, "By the willow in the rain in the evening." The poet Hongrang to her parting lover wrote, "...I will be the willow on your bedside."
  • In Japanese tradition, the willow is associated with ghosts. It is popularly supposed that a ghost will appear where a willow grows. Willow trees are also quite prevalent in folklore and myths.
  • In English folklore, a willow tree is believed to be quite sinister, capable of uprooting itself and stalking travelers.
  • Hans Christian Andersen wrote a story called "Under the Willow Tree" (1853) in which children ask questions of a tree they call "willow-father", paired with another entity called "elder-mother"
  • Old Man Willow in J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium, appearing in The Lord of the Rings.
  • "Green Willow" is a Japanese ghost story. Other stories: "The Willow Wife" and "Wisdom of the Willow Tree."
  • Remember "The Willow in the Wind?"