Schizocarps!

I found my old nature journal this week. My last entry, dated Fall 2008, inspired me to fulfill a dream I’ve been scheming for some time now. I woke up early Sunday morning to begin gathering schizocarps–those helicopters that fall from maple trees–from around my neighborhood. Thanks to the three friends who helped me gather these wonders throughout the day. I will still need to gather more before our next snow fall, if anyone else is interested in helping 🙂 First I’ll share the journal entry, then I’ll tell you about my dream that will soon become reality…

Fall 2008
I have become enamored by schizocarps. Seriously?! Billions of twirly-birds all falling to the earth in unison?! Billions of winged maples-in-embryo spiraling over the Northern Hemisphere. Billions over BYU’s campus alone.
 
One afternoon I gathered 4 grocery sacks of schizocarps. It took no more than two hours with 2 of us gathering. The street gutters were lined with them. The grass cupped them like children hoarding candy on Halloween. The sidewalks were blanketed with them- all facing the way of the wind.
 
In the half-inch cracks between cemented sidewalk slabs, schizocarps were packed tightly, nose down, just like an over-zealous litter of piglettes all trying to get a mouthful of teat.
 
I like that metaphor: the Earth as a giant mammary gland, a wellspring of mother’s milk. Countless numbers of tongue-like roots pressing earth-ward, pulling in moisture and nutrients, grabbing hold to the solid ground. Filling and stabilizing. Supporting and nurturing.
 
 

My plan is to  find a nice courtyard with high walls from which the thousands of schizocarps can be let loose. While the magical spirals descend, people will dance and frolic. Doesn’t it sound lovely? I’m excited to make it happen.

Let me know if you have a decent pile of schizocarps near your house.

 

Meet Ava.

Meet Ava. She’s a kindred spirit in the form of a 3-yr-old niece. Last time I flew out of Wisconsin, she held my hand the whole way to the airport.

Her dad just sent me this email:

“Hey sis, 

The other day we were outside enjoying the weather and Ava saw an airplane go overhead. She smiled, pointed to sky and yelled ‘Ani’s airplane!’ She considers all airplanes in the area yours since taking you to the airport.”

I love that spiral-topped girl.


Everything Spins!

If I could marry a dead man it’d be the Italian mathematician, Fibonacci*. In the 10+ years I’ve known about the golden mean, my giddiness at spotting a spiral in nature has not waned at all. In fact, it’s increasing. The consistency of mathematical patterns within the universe are like the legendary sirens to me…only I don’t think this will kill me.

A few weeks ago, at work, I was experimenting with simple motors. I wanted to give the students who were building chain-reaction contraptions multiple ways to get things moving. We had a few options for motors, but motors only produce spinning motions. What if the students wanted to move something up-and-down or side-to-side? After some research, I made a personal discovery. Everything starts with a spinning motion! Even “servos” and “stepper motors”, which produce back-and-forth linear movements, are actually just spinning motors that turn on and off, switching directions each time. I was thrilled to think that every mechanized movement I can think of originates as a spin. That evening I began a brainstorm of every spinning, spiraling thing I could think of.

I decided I had to begin writing about spirals.

You won’t believe this. The first SIX blog titles I chose where already taken. Everythingspins. Spinningworld. Spirals. Spin. Spinning. Spiraling. Taken. Taken. Taken! Actually, “ilovespirals” was still available, but I was miffed at that point. Who (and where?!) are all these spiral-loving people? A brief google search landed me dozens of book and documentary titles. With a deep sigh, I realized my spiral plans had already been carried out. Numerous times over. By people who are much more than just casual enthusiasts for spirals. I decided to table my plans.

Then, a day ago, I emptied some of my sprouting garbanzo beans onto a salad. Usually a garbanzo sprouts’ first root is straight. But sitting there on top of my spinach mount was a cork-screw spiral staring right back up at me. I took it as a sign.

Ok, maybe the fact that I haven’t posted anything on this blog since the first of January is a good indication that I should not start up a second blog. On the good advice of a friend, I will simply use my already-existing blog to broadcast my admiration for Mother Nature’s geometry skills. Here are some spiral photos I’ve taken in the past year:

*note: It is not a Mormon belief or practice to marry one’s self to a deceased person. I recently had some interesting conversations about misconceptions concerning my faith, and what exactly goes on inside LDS temples. Just wanted to hedge any further miscommunication. My tongue-in-cheek fantasizing of a relationship with this brainy dude who lived in the 12th century was just an effort to reel in the attention of my 5 trusty blog followers. But, honestly, my knees do go week for nerdy mathematicians and scientists.


poinsettia are not poisonous

I’ve been admiring the uniqueness of poinsettia flowers, and wanted to share some botanical Christmas cheer.

Poinsettias have been associated with Christmas since the 16th century: the leaf shape is reminiscent of the star of Bethlehem, and the red crown reminds us of our Savior’s blood sacrifice.

Euphorbia pulcherrima flowers are a bit unexpected. To find the flowers, you must look past the large red showy things, which are technically modified leaves called bracts. Bring your nose in close, so you can smell its earthiness. At the heart of the little saplings (which, if given the opportunity, will grow into a full-sized tree…which you can see later in this post) you’ll see a cluster of green bulbous heads, each with a tuft of red spikes topped with yellow powder. Each of these radical hair-dos is actually a full bouquet of flowers. The botanical term for this type of flower grouping is cyathia, which is Greek for cup. Each staminous spike projecting from the cup is really a single flower with it’s own ovary and stamen. That dusting of yellow powder is pollen, akin to tiny plant sperm.

In my photo, one of the lower-right cyathias has one mature flower projecting out of it. Its ovary has grown too large to remain inside the floral cup. My favorite morphological features of this plant are the luscious yellow lips, oozing with honey. These are nectar glands. Usually individual flowers have their own nectar gland, but in the case of poinsettia the whole grouping of flowers shares the pot of gold with the lucky pollinator.

I spent some mindlessly mesmerizing time at work pasting pins onto business cards. The little glue dots reminded me of poinsettia nectar.

Another thing the glue dots and the poinsettia have in common is that they are both relatively non-toxic. I admit that I’ve more than once joined in the rumor that these Christmas plants are highly poisonous, but some recent research reveals it’s just not true. A study of 849,575 plant exposures by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine showed no know fatalities from the plant. Another study predicted a 50 pound child would have to ingest 500 bracts before any toxicity would result. It is true, however, that the plant has a milky latex-like sap that might cause some mild skin irritation. So, if you have an allergy to latex you should probably fore-go the poinsettia rub-down this year. The toxicity misconception probably arose because poinsettias belong to the genus Euphorbia, which contains some truly toxic species.

Even though I don’t have a latex allergy, I likely won’t be serving up poinsettia saplings for Christmas dinner. I just want to prevent anyone from freaking out if they catch a child or pet gnawing on a bract.

Cheers to Euphorbia pulcherrima, and Merry Christmas to you.


Breath.

Now that I am no longer spending my free time reading that 18 pound pathophysiology text book, I’d like to take more time to share my life with the ether. Now I can catch you up on valuable details of my life, like the fractal I noticed in my tea cup the other day.

It’s somewhat reminiscent of the fractal found in cabbage:

along similar lines, check out this beautiful ode to phi that I discovered on a staircase:

…kind of brings tears to my eyes.