The polar bear is arguably the most impressive and iconic mammals of the arctic tundra. Unfortunately,  due to a combination of hunting, loss of habitat, increased pressure from an expanding local human population, global warming and the associated melting of the ice caps and accidental poisoning, polar bear numbers are now in decline.

This problem is exacerbated as polar bears have low reproduction rates, but before we can address, and hopefully arrest the decline in polar bear numbers we need to know as much as we can about their behaviour and habitats.

Polar bear facts

1. The polar bear is only found in the Arctic region of the northern hemisphere, and NOT AT ALL in the Antarctic region of the southern hemisphere.

2. The polar bear is not only the world's largest land carnivore, it is also the worlds largest bear! An adult male weighs around 350–680 kg (770–1,500 lb), while an adult female is about half that size. This make a large male twice as big as the Siberian tiger!

3. The polar bear is classified as a vulnerable species, with eight of the nineteen polar bear sub populations in decline.

4. The scientific name Ursus maritimus, the Latin for 'maritime bear', due to the animal's native habitat.

5. Polar bears can breed with brown bears to produce fertile grizzly–polar bear hybrids. This indicates that they have only recently diverged and are genetically similar.

6. Research on fossilised bones has shown that there is a giant form of the polar bear once roamed the arctic. Known as Ursus maritimus tyrannus it became extinct during the Pleistocene, and was significantly larger than any living subspecies.

7. Polar bears overheat at temperatures above 10 °C (50 °F), and are nearly invisible under infrared photography.

8. Polar bears are superbly insulated by up to 10 cm (3.9 in) of blubber!

9. The polar bear is an excellent swimmer. In fact they have been seen in open Arctic waters as far as 200 miles from land. It swims in a dog paddle fashion using its large forepaws for propulsion. Polar bears can swim 6 mph.

10. The skin of a polar bear is black while the hair of a polar bear is not white! It is in fact transparent and hollow!

11. When sprinting, a polar bear can reach up to 25 mph!

12. The polar bear has an extremely well developed sense of smell, and is able to detect seals up to 1 mile away and buried under 3 ft of snow.

13. Mature polar bears tend to eat only the calorie-rich skin and blubber of the seal, whereas younger bears consume the protein-rich red meat.

14. A polar bear can kill an adult walrus, although this is rarely attempted. Why? Because a walrus can be more than twice the bear's weight and has up to three feet long ivory tusks that can be used as formidable weapons.

15. Unlike brown and black bears, polar bears are capable of fasting for up to several months during late summer and early autumn.

16. As of 2008, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) reports that the global population of polar bears is 20,000 to 25,000, and is declining.

17. The Inuit (Eskimo) people of North America and Greenland hunt the polar bear for its meat and fur. However, they cannot eat its liver. Why? Because its holds such a high content of vitamin A, polar bear liver is poisonous to humans!

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Watercresses (Nasturtium officinale, N. microphyllum; formerly Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum, R. microphylla) are fast-growing, aquatic or semi-aquatic, perennial plants. Their neutral habitat ranges from Europe to central Asia, and it is one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed by human beings. These plants are members of the Family Brassicaceae or cabbage family, botanically related to garden cress, mustard and radish — all noteworthy for a peppery, tangy flavour.

History tells us that the ancient European civilizations had great faith in the health giving properties that watercress had to offer. In fact, Hippocrates - the Father of modern medicine - is said to have deliberately located his first hospital beside a stream so that he could grow a plentiful and convenient supply of watercress with which to help treat his patients.

Through the latter half of the twentieth century the popularity of watercress had been falling, mainly due to increased competition from imported and more exotic ‘fresh produce’. However since its identification as a ‘super food’, watercress has been experiencing something of a revival and has now become one of the most popular salad crops available today.

Brimming with more than 15 essential vitamins and minerals and packed full of beneficial glucosinates, watercress contains- gram for gram - more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach and more folic acid than bananas.

However what really makes watercress a ‘super food’ is the release of recent research which shows that eating watercress regularly can help cut the chances of developing cancer.

The University of Ulster has published a report in the ‘American Journal of Clinical Nutrition’ that suggests a regular intake of fresh watercress can significantly reduce DNA damage to white blood cells within the human body. In fact, they found that DNA damage to white blood cells was cut by an incredible 22.9%. This is a terribly important find, especially as white blood cell damage is considered to be an important trigger in the development of cancer.

In addition to this, watercress also appears to raise the levels of beneficial compounds within human cells allowing them to protect themselves from the damaging effects of particles known as ‘free radicals’.

When cell samples were exposed to hydrogen peroxide – a highly reactive substance which is used to generates large numbers of free radicals within the body - damage levels were found to be 9.4% lower than would normally be expected. In addition to this, the research found that the blood levels of antioxidant compounds, such as lutein and beta-carotene (naturally occurring chemicals important in combating the effect of free radicals) were also increased significantly. In contrast, levels of potentially harmful triglycerides were reduced by an average of 10%.

With important discoveries such as these being discovered within one of the cheapest and easiest to grow salad plants that you can find, you wold be foolish not to include watercress as a part of your everyday meal plan. Not only can it help reduce the incidence of this countries number 1 killer, it actually tastes good too.

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The lion is the largest and most powerful of all the African big cats, in fact with some males exceeding 250 kg in weight, there is only one species of cat larger – the tiger!

Unlike most other members of the cat family, the lion is a social animal living in a family group known as a ‘pride’. A pride can hold between 16 and 30 members. Lions are apex predators, although they scavenge as opportunity allows. While lions do not typically hunt humans, some have been known to do so. Those that do are given the name 'Man Killer' and are hunted until they are caught and killed by locals.

Sleeping mainly during the day, lions are primarily nocturnal, although bordering on crepuscular in nature. This means that they are active primarily during dawn and dusk.

Some prides included a single male, while others can have up to 6 males. Where a pride has more than one male lion, they are probably litter mates or have established a permanent bond as siblings.

Nowadays, wild lions only remain in remote areas which have yet to be developed by man.

Where do lions live?

Wild lions currently exist in Sub-Saharan Africa and in Asia with an endangered remnant population in Gir Forest National Park in India. Unfortunately, lion populations disappeared from North Africa and Southwest Asia in historic times. A small population was once believed to have survived in remote parts if Iran, but these too are now thought to be extinct.

Until the late Pleistocene, about 10,000 years ago, the lion was the most widespread large land mammal after humans. In fact, they were once found in most of Africa, across Eurasia from Western Europe to India, and in the Americas from the Yukon to Peru.

Unfortunately today, the lion has become a species at risk, having seen a possibly irreversible population decline of thirty to fifty percent over the past two decades in its African range.

This means that lion populations are now next to untenable outside designated reserves and national parks. Although the cause of the decline is not fully understood, habitat loss and conflicts with humans are currently the greatest causes of concern. Within Africa, the West African lion population is particularly endangered.


A lioness will produce a litter of cubs about every two years. Shortly before giving birth, she chooses a suitable site for her lair, which must be sheltered, close to water, out of sight, and safe from potential predators. The cubs are born blind, with a spotted coat. For two months they are completely dependent on their mother’s milk.

At six weeks they begin to accompany their mother to the kill, where they acquire a taste of meat and learn how to hunt. A lion cub cannot tear meat until it has permanent teeth - usually produced once it has reached about one year old, so it continues to rely on its mother for food. Slowly the cubs will master the art of hunting and by 15 months the cubs will be able to catch and kill small prey.

When the cubs reach two years of age, their mother is usually pregnant again and they are forced to leave her. However, some female cubs may be allowed to stay in the pride, but the dominant male will drive out all the male cubs. Less than half the young lion survive their first few weeks alone .

What do Lions eat?

Lionesses usually hunt for the pride which is probably why they are more aggressive by nature. However, the male lion will always take precedence at the kill, dragging the prey in to the shade, then gorging himself before the females and cubs begin to eat.

The male lion usually stays and watches its young while waiting for the lionesses to return from the hunt. Typically, several lionesses work together and encircle the herd from different points. Once they have closed with a herd, they usually target the closest prey. The attack is short and powerful; they attempt to catch the victim with a fast rush and final leap. The prey usually is killed by strangulation, which can cause cerebral ischemia or asphyxia (which results in hypoxemic, or "general", hypoxia). The prey also may be killed by the lion enclosing the animal's mouth and nostrils in its jaws which would also result in asphyxia. Smaller prey, though, may simply be killed by a swipe of a lion's paw.

However, lions are not particularly known for their stamina—for instance, a lioness' heart makes up only 0.57 percent of her body weight (a male's is about 0.45 percent of his body weight), whereas a hyena's heart is close to 1 percent of its body weight. Therefore, they only run fast in short bursts, and need to be close to their prey before starting the attack. They take advantage of factors that reduce visibility; many kills take place near some form of cover or at night. They sneak up to the victim until they reach a distance of around 30 metres (98 ft) or less.

The lions preferred prey are wildebeest and zebra which are slower and easier to catch than small antelopes and gazelles.

When water is scarce, lions will often lie in wait close to a water hole, knowing that its prey will eventually go there to drink.

When prey is scarce, lions will then eat almost anything, including carrion. They may even attack larger prey such as giraffe, buffalo, and hippopotamus. They are have also been known to take on elephants and rhinoceros, but this is rare due to the danger of injury.

Of course, lions will also attack domestic livestock. In India, cattle contribute significantly to their diet. Lions are also quite capable of killing other predators such as leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, and wild dogs, though unlike most big cats, they will seldom eat the competitors after killing them.

A lion may gorge itself and eat up to 66 lb in one sitting, and if it is unable to consume all the kill it will rest for a few hours before consuming more. An adult lioness requires an average of about 11 lb of meat per day, while a male needs about 15.5 lb.

Lion facts

1.There may be one species of lion but did you know that it was believed that there were up to 12 subspecies of lion? Unfortunately, some of these subspecies are now extinct and others have been discounted for being too similar. So today we are left with 8 - for now.

2. Lions have been known to breed with tigers (most often the Siberian and Bengal subspecies) to create hybrids called ligers and tiglons (or tigons). They also have been crossed with leopards to produce leopons and jaguars to produce jaglions. The marozi is reputedly a spotted lion or a naturally occurring leopon, while the Congolese Spotted Lion is a complex lion-jaguar-leopard hybrid called a lijagulep. Such hybrids were once commonly bred in zoos, but this is now discouraged due to the emphasis on conserving species and subspecies. Hybrids are still bred in private menageries and in zoos in China.

3. The lion is the tallest (at the shoulder) of all living cats, averaging about 14 cm (5.5 in) taller than the tiger. Behind only the tiger, the lion is the second largest living big cat in length and weight.

4. The longest known lion, at nearly 3.6 m (12 ft) in total length, was a black-maned male shot near Mucsso, southern Angola in October 1973; the heaviest lion known in the wild was a man-eater shot in 1936 just outside Hectorspruit in eastern Transvaal, South Africa and weighed 313 kg (690 lb).

5. The mane of the adult male lion, unique among cats, is one of the most distinctive characteristics of the species. It makes the lion appear larger, providing an excellent intimidation display; this aids the lion during confrontations with other lions and with the species' chief competitor in Africa, the spotted hyena.

6. The white lion is not a distinct subspecies, but a special morph with a genetic condition, leucism that causes paler colouration akin to that of the white tiger; the condition is similar to melanism, which causes black panthers. They are not albinos, having normal pigmentation in the eyes and skin.

7. Lions are the most socially inclined of all wild big cats, most of which remain quite solitary in nature.

8. Lions spend much of their time resting and are inactive for about 20 hours per day.

9. Lionesses do the majority of the hunting for their pride, being smaller, swifter and more agile than the males, and unencumbered by the heavy and conspicuous mane, which causes overheating during exertion.

10. The Nile crocodile is the only sympatric predator (besides humans) that can singly threaten the lion. Depending on the size of the crocodile and the lion, either can lose kills or carrion to the other. Lions have been known to kill crocodiles venturing onto land, while the reverse is true for lions entering waterways, as evidenced by the occasional lion claw found in crocodile stomachs.

11. Although adult lions have no natural predators, evidence suggests that the majority die violently from humans or other lions. Lions often inflict serious injuries on each other, either members of different prides encountering each other in territorial disputes, or members of the same pride fighting at a kill.

12. Lions have an array of facial expressions and body postures that serve as visual gestures. Their repertoire of vocalizations is also large. Lion sounds include snarling, purring, hissing, coughing, meowing, woofing and roaring. Lions tend to roar in a very characteristic manner, starting with a few deep, long roars that trail off into a series of shorter ones. They most often roar at night; the sound, which can be heard from a distance of 8 kilometres (5.0 mi), is used to advertise the animal's presence. Lions have the loudest roar of any big cat.

13. Lions were kept and bred by Assyrian kings as early as 850 BC, and Alexander the Great was said to have been presented with tame lions by the Malhi of northern India. Later in Roman times, lions were kept by emperors to take part in the gladiator arenas.

14. The lion will only kill when it is hungry. Prey can usually sense when lions are hunting and grazing animals will often ignore lions at other times – even when they close by.

15. Lion-baiting is a blood sport involving the baiting of lions in combat with other animals - usually dogs. Records of it exist in ancient times through until the seventeenth century. It was finally banned in Vienna by 1800 and England in 1825.

16. Lions were once kept in the Tower of London. However, the presence of lions at the Tower of London was intermittent, being restocked when a monarch or his consort such as Margaret of Anjou the wife of Henry VI - either sought or were given such magnificent  -animals.

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ROMAN ENGLAND: Who was Gnaeus Julius Agricola

Agricola was a Roman statesman and soldier who, as governor of Britain, conquered large areas of northern England, Scotland and Wales. His life is well known to us today because his son-in-law, the historian Tacitus, wrote a detailed biography of him which still survives.

Gnaeus Julius Agricola was born on 13 July 40 AD in southern France - then part of the Roman Empire - into a high-ranking family. He began his career as a military tribune in Britain and may have participated in the crushing of Boudicca's uprising in 61 AD.

During the civil war of 69 AD, Agricola supported Vespasian in his successful attempt to become emperor. In recognition for his support, Agricola was appointed to command a Roman legion in Britain. He then served as governor of Aquitania (south-east France) for three years, and after a period in Rome, in 78 AD he was made governor of Britain.

Arriving in mid-summer of 77AD, Agricola found that the Ordovices of north Wales had virtually destroyed the Roman cavalry stationed in their territory. He immediately moved against them and defeated them.

He then moved north to the island of Mona (Anglesey), where he established a good reputation as an administrator as well as a commander by reforming the widely corrupt corn levy. He introduced Romanising measures, encouraging communities to build towns on the Roman model and educating the sons of the native nobility in the Roman manner.

He also expanded Roman rule north into Caledonia (modern Scotland). In the summer of 79AD Agricola raised a fleet and encircled the tribes beyond the Forth, and the Caledonians rose in great numbers against him. They attacked the camp of the Legio IX Hispana at night, but Agricola sent in his cavalry and they were put to flight. The Romans responded by pushing further north.

In the summer of 83 Agricola faced the massed armies of the Caledonians, led by Calgacus, at the Battle of Mons Graupius. Tacitus estimates their numbers at more than 30,000. Agricola put his auxiliaries in the front line, keeping the legions in reserve, and relied on close-quarters fighting to make the Caledonians' unpointed slashing swords useless.

Even though the Caledonians were put to rout and therefore lost this battle, two thirds of their army managed to escape and hide in the Scottish Highlands or the "trackless wilds" as Tacitus calls them. Battle casualties were estimated by Tacitus to be about 10,000 on the Caledonian side and 360 on the Roman side.

Agricola was recalled from Britain in 85, after an unusually long tenure as governor. Tacitus claims that Domitian ordered his recall because Agricola's successes outshone the Emperor's own modest victories in Germany. The relationship between Agricola and the Emperor is unclear: on the one hand, Agricola was awarded triumphal decorations and a statue (the highest military honours apart from an actual triumph); on the other, Agricola never again held a civil or military post, in spite of his experience and renown.

He was offered the governorship of the province of Africa, but declined it, whether due to ill health or as Tacitus claims. the machinations of Domitian.

On 23 August 93 Agricola died on his family estates in Gallia Narbonensis aged fifty-three. Rumors circulated attributing the death to a poison administered by the Emperor Domitian, but no positive evidence for this was ever produced.

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Perhaps most identified with the welcoming floral wreaths of the Pacific islands, Hibiscus are in fact a huge and varied family containing 300 species of hardy and tender annuals, evergreens and deciduous shrubs. Of these, three tender evergreen are in general cultivation, but in Great Britain they will require protection so should be treated as houseplants.

Native to much of Asia, hardy hibiscus has been been grown as a garden shrub in Korea since time immemorial. In fact, it has become the national flower of South Korea where its flowers are eaten and the leaves are brewed for a tisane - whatever that is (fancy herbal tea apparently)!

For general hardiness, the strongest species is Hibiscus syriacus and luckily for gardeners, this species comes in at least a couple of dozen colour forms. These include double flowered forms as well as some varieties which display variegated leaves!

How to grow tender Hibiscus

The most popular species is the gorgeous, evergreen Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, but unfortunately is not hardy. If you can expect winter temperatures of no less that 7-10 degrees Celsius then it can be planted outside in any ordinary well-drained garden.

Give them a sheltered position, with as much sun as possible. You can of course choose to grow it as a container specimen, in which case plant into a good quality compost such as John Innes 'No 2' or 'No 3'.

When over-wintering, try to maintain a minimum temperature of 7-10 degrees Celsius, and the soil moist, but don't be surprised if you begin to experience leaf-drop.

However the foliage will remain when temperatures can be kept above 16 degrees Celsius. Just keep the compost on the moist side in these warmer temperature and you can expect your plant to continue to flower. If temperatures exceed 21 degrees Celsius then provide plenty of ventilation.

How to grow the hardy Hibiscus

Hibiscus syriacus and its numerous varieties will thrive in any well drained, fertile soil. Fertile is the key here as this species is incredibly hungry. Even the spring new growth will emerge looking nitrogen deficient so regularly top dress with a rich compost. Failing that, give them a regular liquid feed.

If your hibiscus plant is container grow then it can be planted at ant time, just be aware that you will need to keep an eye on the watering if you decide to plant during the height of summer.

Plant in a sheltered border, but make sure that it is in a position that takes full advantage of the sun. As hardy hibiscus are late flowering, it is advisable to protect them further by growing them against a wall or the side of a house in northern gardens.

Once established, there is no need to prune your hardy hibiscus, but long shoots can be trimmed back after flowering.

Be aware that drought conditions and low night temperatures can cause bud drop

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Along with clogs, and an over indulgence for soft drugs, tulips are well known for their association with Dutch culture. In fact, Holland is the world’s main producer of commercially sold tulip bulbs, producing as many as 3 billion plants every year. With that in mind you may be surprised to learn that tulips are not a native of Holland and are in fact indigenous to the mountainous regions of Northern Africa and Southern Europe. It’s because of this contrasting habitat that tulips have developed the need for a period of cold dormancy and why, in northern Europe, they must be planted before our winter season starts otherwise they cannot initiate flowering.

Over a thousand years ago, Turkish entrepreneurs had begun cultivating wild tulips that grew in the Persian region, and traded them throughout the Ottoman Empire. During this that time the Great Mogul Baber counted thirty-three different species in the area of Kabul alone. So how is it then, that although originating from a hot, dry mountainous environment, tulips manage to thrive in Holland.

At a first glance the Dutch landscape seems at odds with such an environmentally specific crop with is almost uniquely characteristic landscape. It’s at, and in many areas below, sea level, it’s extremely flat and the winters are particularly wet. The reason why they do so well in Holland is because of their land reclamation policy. By introducing an effective drainage system based on the Archimedes screw and powered by windmills, they inadvertently created a soil that kept the bulbs in an almost perfect and constant environment.
Between 1634 and 1637, the early enthusiasm for the new flowers triggered a speculative frenzy now known as the tulip mania and tulip bulbs were then considered a form of currency just like the California Gold Rush. People abandoned jobs, businesses, wives, homes and lovers, all just to become tulip growers.

Records show one Dutchman who paid thirty-six bushels of wheat, seventy-two of rice, four oxen, twelve sheep, eight pigs, two barrels of wine and four of beer, two tons of butter, a thousands pounds of cheese, a bed, clothes, and a silver cup, just for a single Viceroy bulb!

Tulip mania

It was during the Dutch 'Golden Period' when tulip bulbs were treated like a form of currency, and just like the California gold rush, people abandoned jobs, businesses, wives, and homes, all to become tulip growers.
Records during this period show that one Dutchman got completely carried away with one investment. This 'up and coming' bulb speculator managed to procure himself a rather special variety that cost him its weight in gold. Soon after, he found out that there was a second, identical specimen that was owned by a local cobbler. He approached and then bought the cobbler’s bulb, and in an apparent fit of madness crushed it. Perhaps he was sane after all as he believed that by doing so he would markedly increase the value of his first bulb. This proves that money does do strange things to people.

Dutch history is littered with such stories, although these are perhaps the most extreme. But what it does do is help us to understand how much the Dutch - as well as other European races -held the tulip in high esteem. Owning and flaunting rare specimens was a reflection of your wealth and standing within society. Up until this point contemporary tulips, although bold in colour, were only ever a single colour, ie if they were red then they would be a block of red colouration, if they were yellow then they would be a block of yellow colouration. The change came about with the introduction of the 'broken' tulip - this meant that the tulips lock on its single bold colour was broken allowing unique colour variations never seen before. We already know that tulips were very popular right across Northern Europe so when these rare and yet incredibly beautiful new strains arrived, the market for them was already waiting. It's no wonder that these stunning bulbs were so sought after and commanded such extraordinary prices.

Of course when you look around today's garden retailers you'll find that tulip bulbs only cost a few pounds per pack, but the question is this. Are you still able to by those old varieties that took Holland - if not Europe - by storm over 250 years ago, but now for a fraction of their original price?

.The answer is yes and no, and maybe with a little bit of research thrown in. Specimens such as the famous 'Viceroy' and 'Semper Augustus' have unfortunately disappeared. As too have the legendary 'Rembrandt' varieties, so called because of the abundance of tulips in famous Dutch Master paintings in this era; though strangely tulips were not a prominent theme in Rembrandt's own work. So how is it that such beloved varieties have become all but lost to us during the course of history when other cultivars from this period are still readily available? The answer is hidden in front of eyes and its all down to the secret of their broken colours.

.During the eighteenth century broken colours, as far as the breeders were concerned were in the hands of god, but with today's modern techniques for genetic manipulation the answers have been discovered. It turns out that these once most highly prised of plants had gained their delicately feathered patterns from an infection known as the Tulip Breaking Virus or TuBV. This form of the mosaic virus is carried by the green peach aphid, Myzus persicae which passed on the infection every time it fed on a new tulip - although the virus did not break the colour in white or yellow bulbs. This was a common pest in European gardens during the seventeenth century, and while it did indeed produces some fantastic and colourful flowers it also weakened them, eventually killing them.

Today plants holding the virus are banned and nurseries finding infected stock will destroy them on sight. Any varieties bought today that display a similar colouration to these old favourites are not virus infected plants. Their colouration is in fact the result of a natural change in the upper and lower layers of pigment in the petals. But it wasn't just broken tulips that were popular during this period of horticultural history.

The Viceroy and Semper augustus

Two of the greatest names of the Tulip mania period were the 'the Viceroy', and the 'Semper augustus' and these were very popular with the old Dutch Masters. The Semper Augustus was a red tulip patterned with intricate white striations while the similar Viceroy was red mixed with yellow striations. Perhaps the most famous of these was the 1614 masterpiece 'Flowers in a Glass Vase' by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder as these featured both of these sought after bulbs. The original (see above) is currently in the National Gallery, London.

At its peak, the Viceroy bulb cost between 3000 and 4200 florins depending on the size of the bulb. To put this into context, a contemporary skilled craftsman would have earned about 150 florins a year. In 1633, one Semper Augustus bulb was said to have sold for 5,500 guilders, and in 1637, just before the crash, a price of 10,000 guilders was asked. In those days, such an exorbitant amount of money would have purchased a grand house on the most fashionable canal in Amsterdam.
Below is a transcript of contemporary dialogue between Waermondt and Gaergoedt discussing the prices of tulips. It's from 'The Continuation of the Rise and Decline of Flora (1637)'. Courtesy of penelope.uchicago.edu

Waermondt: I have often wanted to ask you what kind of flower is the Semper Augustus of which I have heard so much?

Gaergoedt: That it is a beautiful flower; one can but see it at the homes of only two people, one in Amsterdam from which it comes, and also here [Haarlem] at the home of one who will not sell for any money; so they are in close hands.

Waermondt: At how much is such a flower estimated?

Gaergoedt: Who shall say? But I will tell you what I have heard about it: about three years ago, it was sold for 2,000 gld, transferred at once at the Bank, with the restriction that the buyer could not sell or alienate it without the consent of him from whom he bought it.

Waermondt: So they might have been worth this winter, say, 3,000 gld.

Gaergoedt: Yes, even 6,000, and possibly more, even if it be a plant of only 200 aces.

Waermondt: The flowers greatly surpass gold and silver.

Gaergoedt: You may say gold and silver, yes, all the pearls and costly stones.

Waermondt: It is true, if you consider their beauty when in existence and take into account by whom the trade is run. But not when you look at their perishability, and consider by whom silver and gold, pearls and stone, and artistic works are esteemed; because the latter are esteemed by great people, the former by common folk.
Not only did this period bring great wealth to Dutch merchants it also brought with it financial speculation. Unfortunately it also created the first financial bubble when, after dramatically falling from its peak prices, tulip bulb values dropped by over 95%.

Some of these beautiful 17th century bulbs are still in existence today, available to buy for only a few pounds at your local plant retailer. But what about the almost mythical Semper August and Viceroy bulbs, are they still around?

Unfortunately their extraordinary beauty arose from a viral infection which 'breaks' the single block of colour normally borne on tulips, adding a stunning striation of white or yellow coloured strips. As beautiful as this effect is, there is a terrible down side due to the harmful effects of the virus. It is severely detrimental to the health of the bulb, reducing its vigour, and making it difficult to propagate.

Eventually the bulb has no strength left to flower eventually withering to nothing, and ending the genetic line. It's for this reason alone that the famous, colour broken Semper August and Viceroy bulbs no longer exist.

Of course you can buy modern replicas of these historic tulips which have been specifically bred to be similar in colour and pattern but without the destructive viral side effects. They are not as sublime as the originals but that are at least able to give a hint of what the Dutch speculators went overboard for. Varieties to look out for are from the Rembrant and Viridiflora ranges.

If you want to try and get hold of stock that contains the tulip breaking virus then you may be out of luck as in most countries - including our own - it is illegal to sell bulb material containing the tulip breaking virus. However a little bit of work may be able to turn something up at the The Wakefield Tulip Society, in England, Hortus Bulbum in Holland and the Old House Gardens nursery in the USA. Unfortunately there are no promises, but I will offer good luck and good hunting.

For further reading click onto:


There can be no question as to which is the most spectacular of all the carnivorous plants - the Venus flytrap. Related to the ‘Sundews’, it is the only species within this family that has evolved such an elaborate trapping mechanism.

It has narrow, green leaves that are formed into the shape of a rosette that extend from the base of the plant. Each leaf is prolonged into two reddish, kidney shaped lobes that are hinged on either side of a mid-rib.

The outer margin of each lobe is fringed by a line of spikes and just beneath them is a band of nectar glands. If you look closely you can also see a few isolated hairs on each lobe – these are the triggers that are waiting to set the trap!

An insect that is attracted to the nectar can move around the upper surface of the lobe with absolute impunity – in fact ‘knocking' into one of these trigger hairs will cause the plant to do precisely nothing! However, if the creature touches the same or another hair in the lobe within a 20 second timescale, the trap will shut with such a speed that few - if any - insects will have a chance of escape.

It takes no more than a third of a second for the trap to close on its prey. Exactly what produces this speed of movement is unknown, but it is though to be instigated by some rudimentary electric impulse.

.Although the line of spikes found on each lobe interlocks neatly, they do not close tightly on the initial movement, it is only when the trapped insect thrashes around inside its makeshift prison that more trigger hairs are activated - stimulating the lobes to close so tightly that the bulge of the insects body can often be seen on the outer surfaces of the closed lobes.

Once the prey is secured, the edges of the lobes will begin to form a hermetic seal and inside the trap digestive juices rich in hydrochloric acid seep from glands on the face of the lobes – dissolving the body of its captive and releasing its valuable nutrients.

It takes about ten days for the trap to fully digest the vital nutrients from its captives body, after which it is reduced to little more than a dry husk.

The trap then reopens, ready for its next victim.

For more information click onto:
Agapanthus africanus
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How Does a Pitcher Plant Attract, Catch and Trap Insects
How does a Venus Flytrap Work?
How and Why does Over-watering Kill Plants?
How to Compost
How to Grow Agapanthus
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How to Grow the Pitcher Plant from Seed
How to Grow the Sago Palm from Seed
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How to Propagate Bamboo?
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The Giant Horsetail - Equisetum giganteum
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The Monkey Puzzle Tree - Araucaria araucana
Venus Fly Trap
What is Bamboo?
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What is a Venus Fly Trap?
What are Plant Macronutrients and Micronutrients?
What are Plant Nutrients?
What do Carnivorous Plants really Eat - Animal Poo?
Which Compost do you need for Venus Flytraps?
Why do Carnivorous Plants Eat Insects and Animals?
Image care of http://pitcher-plant-guidesntips.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/plant-venus-fly-trap.html and http://www.30bananasaday.com/forum/topics/fruit-flies-help and http://www.honda-e.com/IPW_6_PhotoGallery/04_Dionaea/Ph4_1010.htm

TITANIC: The last radio transmissions

On the night the Titanic struck an iceberg, a network of wireless operators on ships and land stations frantically communicated with each other across the expanses of the North Atlantic in an effort to mount a rescue mission. The surviving messages form a real-time record of the events of that night.

Luckily for us, a first-hand, real-time record exists of what happened over that terrible night in April 1912.

Unlike in the Hollywood films of the tragedy, these wireless messages are stoically understated. Copied out in neat copperplate handwriting, and kept on the ships that had been in contact with Titanic, they are the actual words of the crew and passengers.

The Marconi Wireless

Wireless was still a relatively young technology at the time of the Titanic's maiden voyage.

The Marconi company - the Edwardian equivalent of a top technology brand - had put its wireless operators on board some of the more prestigious ships.

The Titanic, as the showcase of an ambitious, optimistic era, had the biggest and best wireless equipment in the world. It was still something of a novelty and much of the initial wireless traffic was from first class passengers sending messages to their friends, rather like text messages showing off about a glamourous trip.

"Hello Boy. Dining with you tonight in spirit, heart with you always. Best love, Girl," read one message sent on to New York, the Titanic's intended destination.

A message sent on to Los Angeles said: "No sickness. All well. Notify all interested in poker."

"Fine voyage, fine ship," wrote another, unaware of the awful irony of how that might later sound.

The wireless operators sending these messages were independent young men of the modern age, who had been recruited with the promise of escaping "blind alley careers".

They chatted to wireless operators in other ships in a jaunty, mock public school slang, calling each other "old man".

As well as letting passengers send personal messages, they provided the first wireless news service for ships. News headlines of the day were consentrating on industrial unrest on the railways and a high-profile murder in France.

However the wireless was also beginning to be used for more serious purposes. Ships would give each other safety information and before the infamous disaster the Titanic received detailed advice about the location of icebergs - or "bergs, growlers and field ice" as one ship's captain described them. Unfortunately investigations after the sinking would never satisfactorily establish why these warnings had been ignored.

The senior wireless operator, Jack Phillips, had still been sending passengers' messages when the ship struck an iceberg. The collision was described as sounding like the tearing of calico.

With only enough room in the lifeboats for half the passengers and crew, the Titanic's captain turned to his only lifeline - the wireless - and asked the two Marconi operators to call for assistance.


Wireless operators originally used Marconi's "CQD" distress signal. "CQ" was the signal to stop transmission and pay attention. The "D" was added to signal distress. In 1906 the International Radio Telegraphic Convention in Berlin created the signal "SOS" for summoning assistance. The letters were chosen for their simplicity in Morse Code - three dots, three dashes and three dots. While the "SOS" superseded "CQD" in 1908, the Marconi operators rarely used it. It became standard after the sinking of the Titanic.

The distress signal used by Marconi operators - CQD - boomed out over the Atlantic. The wireless operators joked they may as well also try another new distress signal that had been introduced - SOS - because they might never get a chance to use it again.

While the lifeboats were lowered, with awful goodbyes between husbands, wives and children, the wireless operators stuck to their task.

While these are not every wireless message to go from or to the Titanic, they are the most pertinent to the tragedy which befell the ship:

The Titanic's last wireless transmissions

1.40 p.m.
14 April 1912
S.S. Baltic to R.M.S. Titanic:
"Captain Smith, Titanic. Have had moderate variable winds and clear fine weather since leaving. Greek steamer Athinai reports passing icebergs and large quantity of field ice today in latitude 41.51 N, longitude 49.52 W. Last night we spoke (with) German oil tanker Deutschland, Stettin to Philadelphia, not under control, short of coal; latitude 40.42 N, longitude 55.11 W. Wishes to be reported to New York and other steamers. Wish you and "Titanic" all success".

7.30 p.m.
14 April 1912
S.S. Antillian to R.M.S. Titanic:
"6.30 p.m., apparent time, ship; latitude 42.3 N, longitude 49.9 W. Three large bergs five mile to southward of us".

9.30 p.m.
14 April 1912
S.S. Mesaba to R.M.S. Titanic and All Eastbound Ships:
"Ice report: In latitude 42 N to 41.25 N, longitude 49 W to 50.3 W. Saw much heavy pack ice and great number of large icebergs, also field ice. Weather good, clear".

9.35 p.m.
14 April 1912
R.M.S. Titanic to S.S. Mesaba:
"Recieved, thanks".

9.38 p.m.
14 April 1912
S.S. Mesaba to R.M.S. Titanic:
"Stand by".
(Stanley Adams, on the S.S. 'Mesaba', was waiting for the Titanic to indicate the message had been given to the captain. Jack Phillips did not respond, but continued to send passenger messages to Cape Race.)

11.00 p.m. (approx)
14 April 1912
R.M.S. Californian to R.M.S. Titanic:
"Say, old man, we are stopped and surrounded by ice".

11.10 p.m. (approx)
14 April 1912
R.M.S. Titanic to R.M.S. Californian:
Keep out! Shut up, shut up! I am busy, I am working Cape Race.

11.15 p.m. (approx)
14 April 1912
R.M.S. Titanic to Cape Race, Newfoundland:
"Sorry, please repeat. Jammed".

Between 11.35 and 11.45 p.m. (most likely the latter) Captain Smith informed Phillips and Bride that the ship had hit an iceberg, and to prepare a distress call. The captain returned at 12.15 a.m. and told them to send it.

12.15 a.m.
15 April 1912
R.M.S. Titanic to Any Ship:
"CQD Titanic 41.44 N 50.24 W"
(CQD was the contemporary distress signal, though soon, the new distress signal would be put to use for the very first time).

12.17 a.m.
15 April 1912
R.M.S. Titanic to Any Ship:
"CQD CQD SOS Titanic Position 41.44 N 50.24 W. Require immediate assistance. Come at once. We struck an iceberg. Sinking".

(SOS was the first use of the new distress signal. So far, two ships had responded to the Titanic's distress call. They included the 'Frankfurt', nearly 170 miles away, and the 'Olympic', nearly 500 miles away.)

12.20 a.m.
15 April 1912
R.M.S. Titanic to R.M.S. Carpathia:
"Come at once. We have struck a berg. It's a CQD, old man. Position 41.46 N 50.14 W"

12.21 a.m.
15 April 1912
R.M.S. Carpathia to R.M.S. Titanic:
"I say old man, do you know there is a batch of mesages coming through for you from MCC (MCC indicated Cape Cod) ?"

12.22 a.m.
15 April 1912
R.M.S. Titanic to R.M.S. Carpathia:

12.25 a.m.
15 April 1912
R.M.S. Carpathia to R.M.S. Titanic:
"Shall I tell my captain? Do you require assistance?"

12.26 a.m.
15 April 1912
R.M.S. Titanic to R.M.S. Carpathia:
"Yes, come quick!"

12.32 a.m.
15 April 1912
R.M.S. Carpathia to R.M.S. Titanic:
"Putting about and heading for you".

12.40 a.m.
15 April 1912
R.M.S. Titanic to R.M.S. Carpathia:
"SOS Titanic sinking by the head. We are about all down. Sinking. . ."

From 12.40 a.m. until the final message was sent from the Titanic sometime between
2.15 a.m. and 2.25 a.m. the Titanic, the 'Carpathia' and other ships kept a steady stream of messages, updating their progress and Titanic's condition.

The Titanic continued to send out general CQD and SOS messages, in the chance that there might be a closer ship.

12.45 a.m.
15 April 1912
Titanic calls 'Olympic', (sister ship - 500 miles away en route to England) "SOS" (first use of SOS by Titanic - Bride jokingly suggests to Phillips that it may be his last chance to use the new distress call).

12.50 a.m.
15 April 1912
Titanic calls CQD and says, "I require immediate assistance. Position 41.46 N. 50.14 W." Received by 'Celtic'.

12.53 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Caronia' to MBC ('Baltic'), "MGY (Titanic) CQD in 41.46 N. 40.14 W. Wants immediate assistance".

1.00 a.m.
15 April 1912
MGY (Titanic) gives distress signal. DDC ('Cincinatti') replies. MGY's (Titanic) position 41.46 N. 50.14 W. Assistance from DDC ('Cincinatti') not necessary as MKC ('Olympic') shortly afterwards answers distress call.

1.00 a.m.
15 April 1912
Titanic replies to 'Olympic' and gives her position as 41.46 N. 50.14 W., and says, "We have struck an iceberg".

1.02 a.m.
15 April 1912
Titanic calls 'Asian' and said, "Want immediate assistance". 'Asian' answered at once and received Titanic's position as 41.46 N. 50.14 W., which was immediately taken to the bridge. Captain Smith instructs operator to have Titanic's position repeated.

1.02 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Virginian' calls Titanic but gets no response. Cape Race tells 'Virginian' to report to his Captain that the Titanic has struck iceberg and requires immediate assistance.

1.10 a.m.
15 April 1912
Titanic to MKC ('Olympic'), "We are in collision with berg. Sinking Head down. 41.46 N. 50.14 W. Come soon as possible".

1.10 a.m.
15 April 1912
Titanic to MKC ('Olympic'), Captain says, "Get your boats ready. What is your position?"

1.15 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Baltic' to 'Caronia', "Please tell Titanic we are making towards her".

1.20 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Virginian' hears MCE (Cape Race) inform MGY (Titanic) "That we are going to her assistance. Our position 170 miles N. of Titanic".

1.25 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Caronia' tells Titanic, "Baltic coming to your assistance".

1.27 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Olympic' sends position to Titanic, "1.24 a.m. G.M.T. 40.52 N. 61.18 W", and asks "Are you steering southerly to meet us?" Titanic replies, "We are putting the women off in the boats".

1.30 a.m.
15 April 1912
Titanic tells 'Olympic', "We are putting passengers off in small boats." "Women and children in boats, can not last much longer".

1.35 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Olympic' asks Titanic what weather she had. Titanic replies, "Clear and calm".

1.35 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Baltic' hears Titanic say, "Engine room getting flooded." (Captain Smith had just visited the Titanic's radio room and advised this to Phillips and Bride).

1.35 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Mount Temple' hears DFT ('Frankfurt') ask, "Are there any boats around you already?" No reply.

1.37 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Baltic' tells Titanic, "We are rushing to you".

1.40 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Olympic' to Titanic, "Am lighting up all possible boilers as fast as (we) can".

1.40 a.m.
15 April 1912
Cape Race says to 'Virginia', "Please tell your Captain this: "The 'Olympic' is making all speed for Titanic, but her ('Olympic's') position is 40.32 N. 61.18 W. You are much nearer to Titanic. The Titanic is already putting women off in the boats, and she says the weather there is calm and clear. The 'Olympic' is the only ship we have heard say, "Going to the assistance of the Titanic. The others must be a long way from the Titanic".

1.45 a.m.
15 April 1912
Last signals heard from Titanic by 'Carpathia', "Come as quickly as possible old man: our engine-room is filling up to the boilers".

1.45 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Mount Temple' hears 'Frankfurt' calling Titanic. No reply.

1.47 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Caronia' hears Titanic though signals unreadable still.

1.48 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Asian' heard Titanic call SOS. 'Asian' answers Titanic but receives no answer.
DFT ('Frankfurt') calls Titanic and says, "What is the matter with u ?"

1.50 a.m.
15 April 1912
Titanic says to 'Frankfurt', "You are a fool, stdbi - stdbi - stdbi and keep out".
'Caronia' hears 'Frankfurt' working to Titanic. 'Frankfurt' according to position 172 miles from MGY (Titanic) at time first SOS sent out.

1.55 a.m.
15 April 1912
Cape Race says to 'Virginian', "We have not heard Titanic for about half an hour. Her power may be gone".

2.00 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Virginia' hears Titanic calling very faintly, her power being greatly reduced.

2.10 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Virginian' hears 2 V's signalled faintly in spark similar to Titanic's (Phillips adjusting his transmitter to compensate for the dying power supply from the engine room).

2.17 a.m.
15 April 1912
Virginian hears Titanic, call "CQ" (call to all ships) , but unable to read him. Titanic's signals end very abruptly as power suddenly switched off.
(Phillips had actually intended to send "CQD DE MGY", however at this point there is a loss of all power to the radio room - water can be heard flooding the wheelhouse - Phillips says to Bride "Come on, let's clear out". Bride climbs to the roof of the officer's quarters and assist with launching collapsible Lifeboat B - Phillips disappears aft).

Sometime between 2.15 a.m. and 2.25 a.m.
15 April 1912
The final wireless message sent from the Titanic:
R.M.S. Titanic to R.M.S. Carpathia: "SOS SOS CQD CQD Titanic. We are sinking fast. Passengers are being put into boats. Titanic."

Bride and Phillips left the wireless room after that message, after being urged to leave their post by Captain Smith. They made their way to the Boat-Deck and began trying to help the other men in the releasing of collapsible Lifeboat B. While neither of them immediately made it onto a lifeboat, both were rescued from the sea. Bride's feet were so severely frozen he could not walk. Phillips died of hypothermia on or near Collapsible lifeboat B, his body was never recovered.

2.17 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Virginian' called Titanic and suggested he should try emergency set, but heard no response.

2.20 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Virginian' to 'Olympic', "Have you heard anything about Titanic?" 'Olympic' says, "No. Keeping strict watch, but hear nothing more from Titanic. No reply from her".

2.20 a.m. (approx)
15 April 1912
This was the official time the Titanic foundered in 41.46 N. 50.14 W. as given by the 'Carpathia' in message to the 'Olympic'.

Between 2.20 a.m. and 9.00 a.m. April 15th, the 'Carpathia' and the other ships kept a steady stream of messages, updating their progress to reach the Titanic's last known position in order to rescue the survivors of the sinking in that "Fateful Night".

2.35 a.m.
15 April 1912
Mount Temple hears MPA ('Carpathia') send, "If you are there we are firing rockets".

2.40 a.m.
15 April 1912
MPA ('Carpathia') calling MGY (Titanic).

2.58 a.m.
15 April 1912
SBA ('Birma') thinks she hears Titanic so sends, "Steaming full speed for you. Shall arrive you 6.00 in morning. Hope you are safe. We are only 50 miles now".

3.00 a.m.
15 April 1912
MPA ('Carpathia') calling MGY (Titanic).

3.28 a.m.
15 April 1912
'La Provence' to 'Celtic', "Nobody has heard the Titanic for about 2 hours".

4.24 a.m.
15 April 1912
SBA ('Birma') says, "We are 30 miles S.W. off Titanic".

6.40 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Parisian' hears weak signals from MPA ('Carpathia') or some station saying Titanic struck iceberg. 'Carpathia' has passengers from lifeboats.

6.40 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Asian', with German oil tank in tow for Halifax asked what news of MGY (Titanic). Sends service (message) later saying heard MGY (Titanic) V. faint working.

7.40 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Mount Temple' hears MPA ('Carpathia') report rescued lifeboats.

8.07 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Baltic' sends following to 'Carpathia', "Can I be of any assistance to you as regards taking some of the passengers from you? Will be in position about 4.30 p.m. Let me know if you alter your position".

8.10 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Baltic' in communication with MPA ('Carpathia'), "Exchanged traffic re passengers, and get instructions to proceed to Liverpool".

8.15 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Baltic' turns round for Liverpool, having steamed 134 miles W. towards Titanic.

8.40 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Mount Temple' hears MPA ('Carpathia') call "CQ" (message to all ships) and say, "No need to std. Bi (stand by) him. Advise my Captain (sic), who has been cruising round the icefield with no result. Ship reversed".

8.45 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Olympic' sent MSG (message) to Owners, New York via Sable Island saying, "Have not communicated with Titanic since midnight".

8.55 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Carpathia' replies to 'Baltic', "Am proceeding to Halifax or New York full speed. You had better proceed to Liverpool. Have about 700 passengers on board".

9.00 a.m.
15 April 1912
'Carpathia' to 'Virginian', "We are leaving here with all on board about 700 passengers. Please return to your Northern course".

The Carpathia now heads for New York where she will arrive at 9.00 p.m. on the evening of April 18th with aboard the 705 survivors.

The survivors

Afterwards, the wireless became the only way for survivors to contact their families.

"Meet me dock with two hundred dollars, underwear, cap, big coat - am well but slightly frozen," messaged one survivor from the Carpathia rescue ship.

"Completely destitute, no clothes," said one another. Words cost money - and a masterpiece of brevity reported: "Safe, Bert."

These poignant, first-hand reactions to the disaster had been gathered in an archive by John Booth, a Titanic historian and expert on old prints. But many were sold off at auction in the early 1990s.

Jack Phillips did not survive the sinking. But his heroism, staying at his post after being released from his duty by the captain, became an enduring part of the Titanic story.

Not least because one of the most influential templates for all future Titanic stories came from Harold Bride, his junior wireless operator.

Bride survived on an upturned lifeboat and then sold his story to the New York Times.
His story was a global media sensation, setting the tone of heroic self sacrifice, with the first accounts of the band playing while the ship sank, with tales of selflessness and cowardice.

And he commemorated the role of Jack Phillips, unflinching, even when he knew better than anyone else that there was no chance of a rescue ship arriving in time.

"I will never live to forget the work of Phillips during the last awful 15 minutes," said Bride.
"I suddenly felt a great reverence to see him standing there sticking to his work while everybody else was raging about."

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Based on an article from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17631595 and http://www.qsl.net/g3yrc/Titanic.htm

Images care of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jack_George_Phillips.jpg and http://www.ssqq.com/travel/titanic2012.htm