WHAT IS THE MOST VENOMOUS SNAKE IN AMERICA?




As luck would have it, everything you ever learned from those old cowboy films appears to be true. Well, at least when it comes to venomous snakes. It turns out that after much research, Rattlesnakes are in fact the most poisonous snake in north America.

The Rattlesnake is easily identifiable by the tell-tale rattle on the end of its tail. Rattlesnakes are actually a part of the Pit Viper family, and are capable of striking out at up to 2/3rds of their body length.

The Eastern Diamondback in considered the most venomous rattlesnake species in North America. Surprisingly, juveniles are considered more dangerous than adults! This is because they are unable to control the amount of venom injected. Most species of rattlesnakes have hemotoxic venom which destroys tissue, degenerates organs and causing coagulopathy (disrupted blood clotting).

Some degree of permanent scarring is very likely in the event of a venomous bite, even with prompt, effective treatment. In extreme cases this can lead to the loss of a limb or death. Difficulty breathing, paralysis, drooling and massive haemorrhaging are also common symptoms. Thus, a rattlesnake bite is always a potentially fatal injury. Untreated rattlesnake bites, especially from larger species, are very often fatal. However, antivenin, when applied in time, reduces the death rate to less than 4%.

Venomous snakes that are found in each state

Of course, there are other venomous snakes native to North America and so the following list is designed to list the venomous snakes of each state, but should in no way be considered an authoritative list.

Let's face it, many if not most people have some anxiety about snakes and with good cause. Snakes are wild reptiles that will bite and defend themselves if threatened. For the welfare of both humans and snakes, it is best to leave them alone and to avoid contact.

In the United States there are 4 types and 20 species of venomous snakes, which cause even greater concern, due to the potential pain and lethality of being bitten.

Currently, there is at least one species of venomous snake found in every State in the U.S. with Alaska being the only exception. This will surely change as global warming continues and since snakes play such an important part in the ecosystems where they are found, it is a tragedy for them to be  killed, due to fear and ignorance.

Some basic information about snakes in general and venomous snake in particular, can go a long way in lessening our fears, while maintaining our respect for snakes and their role in nature.

My condolences to those living in Arizona - they have the most species of venomous snakes in the entire United States.

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THE WORLD'S GREATEST ADVERT




Created by the Leo Burnett' advertising agency in London, this advert has tapped into Hollywood sci-fi thrills for Kellogg's breakfast cereal - Crunchy Nut. This latest advert in the revitalised 'The trouble is they taste too good' campaign called 'Dinosaur', launches a new variant of the celebrated breakfast cereal- Kellogg's Crunchy Nut with Cranberries, Almonds and Yogurty Flakes.

So, why is it (in my opinion) the 'World's Greatest Advert'? Well, it has the best dinosaurs of any advert that I have seen which makes it alright with me.

 Although clearly based on the kitchen scene in the first Jurassic Park film, these are not velociraptors.

In my uneducated opinion they look like allosaurus, but I am happy to accept a more definitive identification.

'Dinosaur' facts

Dinosaur was directed by MJZ’s Rocky Morton, who also worked recently on Hanes Kittens, with creatives Ed Morris and Andy Drugan also lending their expertise. Rocky’s vision and use of cinematic lighting set a really terrifying atmosphere even before Framestore created the dinosaur.

CG Supervisor Alex Doyle designed the star of the piece in-house, saying “I designed a unique dinosaur from an amalgamation of real species in the form of concept art to present to our clients. Once we had an approved version Mary Swinnerton our Lead Modeller created the CG Asset using Maya, ZBrush and Mari. The result was an extremely realistic and intimidating dinosaur.”

The biggest challenge for Lead Animator Nigel Rafter was fitting the 10-foot creature into the pretty cramped kitchen. The animation also had to fit around the physical effects that had been achieved in camera to make it smash through the room realistically. To add further realism, Anelia Asparuhova created a muscle system to help add weight to the dinosaur.

The CG was then comped by Lead Compositor Simon Stoney using Nuke, with dust, debris, sparks, saliva and lighting effects being used to help sit the dinosaurs into the backplates. The spot was graded at Framestore by Simon Bourne, who worked with Rocky to achieve a dark and moody feel while keeping all the subtle colours and picking out all the lights and reflections around the kitchen.

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WHAT ARE BATS?




As freaky looking as they are, bats are mammals - like us! They are often mistakenly called 'flying rodents' or 'flying rats', but despite their obvious, superficial similarities they are not directly related to rodents, and much less to birds, and strangely do not have any closely related orders. Furthermore, their uniqueness can be demonstrated by the fact their closest living genetic relatives are thought to be carnivorans, certain hoofed animals, such as alpacas and hippopotamuses, and sea mammals, such as dolphins!

The forelimbs of a bat form webbed wings, making them the only mammals naturally capable of true and sustained flight. By contrast, other mammals said to fly, such as flying squirrels, gliding possums, and colugos, glide rather than fly, and can only glide for short distances.

Bats do not flap their entire forelimbs, as birds do, but instead flap their spread-out digits, which are very long and covered with a thin membrane or patagium.

Bats represent about 20% of all classified mammal species worldwide, with about 1,240 bat species divided into two suborders: the less specialized and largely fruit-eating 'megachiroptera', or flying foxes, and the more highly specialized and echolocating 'microchiroptera'.

What do bats eat?

About 70% of bats are insectivores. Most of the rest are frugivores, or fruit eaters. A few species, such as the fish-eating bat, feed from animals other than insects, with the vampire bats being the only parasitic mammalian species.

Bats are present throughout most of the world, performing vital ecological roles of pollinating flowers and dispersing fruit seeds.

Many tropical plant species depend entirely on bats for the distribution of their seeds.

Bats are also very important in eating insect pests, reducing the need for pesticides.

How big are bats?

The smallest bat is the Kitti's hog-nosed bat, measuring 29–34 mm (1.14–1.34 in) in length, 15 cm (5.91 in) across the wings and 2–2.6 g (0.07–0.09 oz) in mass. It is also arguably the smallest living species of mammal, with the Etruscan shrew being the other contender.

The largest species of bat are a few species of Pteropus and the giant golden-crowned flying fox with a weight up to 1.6 kg (4 lb) and wingspan up to 1.7 m (5 ft 7 in).

How do bats see in the dark?

As a nocturnal mammal, the bat needs to be able to navigate its way in relative darkness and hunt effectively in order to survive. In order to achieve this the bat relies less on its eyesight and more on a sense not found in humans - echo-location.

Bat echolocation is a perceptual system where ultrasonic sounds are emitted specifically to produce echoes. By comparing the outgoing pulse with the returning echoes, the brain and auditory nervous system can produce detailed images of the bat's surroundings. This allows bats to detect, localize and even classify their prey in complete darkness.

At 130 decibels in intensity, bat calls are some of the most intense, airborne animal sounds. To clearly distinguish returning information, bats must be able to separate their calls from the echoes they receive. Microbats use two distinct approaches.

1. Low duty cycle echolocation: Bats can separate their calls and returning echoes by time. Bats that use this approach time their short calls to finish before echoes return. This is important because these bats contract their middle ear muscles when emitting a call so they can avoid deafening themselves.

The time interval between call and echo allows them to relax these muscles so they can clearly hear the returning echo. The delay of the returning echoes provides the bat with the ability to estimate range to their prey.

2. High duty cycle echolocation: Bats emit a continuous call and separate pulse and echo in frequency. The ears of these bats are sharply tuned to a specific frequency range. They emit calls outside of this range to avoid self-deafening. They then receive echoes back at the finely tuned frequency range by taking advantage of the Doppler shift of their motion in flight.

The Doppler shift of the returning echoes yields information relating to the motion and location of the bat's prey. These bats must deal with changes in the Doppler shift due to changes in their flight speed. They have adapted to change their pulse emission frequency in relation to their flight speed so echoes still return in the optimal hearing range.

HOW TO GROW KIWI FROM SEED




The kiwifruit - often shortened to just 'kiwi' in many parts of the world -  is the edible berry of a woody vine in the Actinidia family. Native to southern China, cultivation of the kiwifruit only recently spread from the orient in the early 20th century.

This occurred when seeds were introduced to New Zealand by Mary Isabel Fraser, the principal of Wanganui Girls' College, who had been visiting mission schools in Yichang, China. The name "kiwifruit" comes from the kiwi — a brown flightless bird and New Zealand's national symbol.

As exotic as it looks, if you live within USDA hardiness zone seven through nine, you can grow a kiwi plant from the seeds of a kiwi fruit in your garden. Just be aware that you must plant multiple plants as male and female vines are required for successful pollination

If you have the space, each kiwi plant should be spaced 10 feet apart, in order for the plants to produce kiwi fruits in three to four years. However, should space be of a premium, you can probably get away with 5 feet, but you will need to spend more time making sure each plant is fed and watered adequately  and pruned to make the most of the available light.

Growing Kiwi fruit from seed

To begin with, remove the seeds from your chosen piece of kiwi fruit and lay them on a paper towel to dry. Make sure the seeds they are placed in an area where they will remain undisturbed for two days.

Fill a seal-able plastic bag with vermiculite or perlite substrate. Add the dried kiwi seeds to the substrate, seal the bag and place it in the bottom of a refrigerator for a minimum of four months.

Once this cold period is over they are ready for potting. First, fill a 6-inch pot with sterilized potting compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Potting'. Then remove the kiwi seeds from the refrigerator and plant them in the potting soil at a depth of 1/8 of an inch and 1 inch apart.

Moisten the compost with a spray bottle of water and cover the pot with a piece of glass, clear plastic or cling film, secured with a rubber band. Place the pot in a warm area while the kiwi seeds germinate.

Remove the plastic wrap once the kiwi seeds begin to germinate, and continue spraying the kiwi seeds with water to keep the soil moist.

Place the pot in an area that receives direct sunlight for at least six hours per day.

Transplant the kiwi seedlings outdoors during the spring, in well-drained soil that preferably has an acidic pH between 5.5 to 7.0.

If you are not sure of your soil's pH you can test the soil with a shop bough pH soil tester in order to determine the acidity before planting. If necessary, amend the soil with lime raise the pH and moss-peat to lower it.

Once in the ground, water the kiwi plants each week as necessary for the first year.

Also, fertilize the young kiwi vine with a 10-10-10 fertilizer according to the label instructions. As the kiwi vine matures it will need supporting with wires or trellis.

You will also find that applying a layer of mulch around the kiwi plants will reduce weed growth and improve drainage.

Do not overwater the kiwi plants or you can cause root damage.

GINGER




If you have ever had to create a recipe using 'real' ginger, then going to purchase an example of it at your local supermarket can be a bit of an eye opener. Why, because there is nothing else like it in the fresh food aisles that can compare with its knobbly strangeness!

So, just what is ginger?

Well, as it turns out, the reason why ginger looks so freaky is because it is actually a lump of root from the the plant Zingiber officinale.

Ginger was originally cultivated in China but its production has now spread around the world - notably in Jamaica.

Ginger root is usually found in sweet foods in Western cuisine, but it is probably better known for being included in popular recipes such as ginger ale, ginger snaps, gingerbread, ginger biscuits and ginger cake.

It is also used in many countries for medicinal purposes, although its true health benefits are still being researched. However, it is believed in some cultures to help cure diabetes, head aches, colds, fatigue, nausea and the flu when used in tea or food.

WHAT IS A BLACK WIDOW SPIDER?




Black widows are notorious spiders identified by the coloured, hourglass-shaped mark on their abdomens.

Black widow spiders are found within the family Theridiidae, which contains 32 recognized species. The common name, widow spiders is due to the rather morbid behaviour seen in some of the species where the female eats the male after mating.

Several species answer to the name, and they are found in temperate regions around the world. This spider's bite is much feared because its venom is reported to be 15 times stronger than a rattlesnake's.

In humans, bites produce muscle aches, nausea, and a paralysis of the diaphragm that can make breathing difficult; however, contrary to popular belief, most people who are bitten suffer no serious damage—let alone death. But bites can be fatal—usually to small children, the elderly, or the infirm.

Fortunately, fatalities are fairly rare; the spiders are non-aggressive and bite only in self-defence, such as when someone accidentally sits on them. The animals most at risk from the black widow's bite are insects—and male black widow spiders. Females sometimes kill and eat their counterparts after mating in a macabre behaviour that gave the insect its name.

Black widows are solitary year-round except during this violent mating ritual. These spiders spin large webs in which females suspend a cocoon with hundreds of eggs. Spiderlings disperse soon after they leave their eggs, but the web remains.

Black widow spiders also use their webs to ensnare their prey, which consists of flies, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, beetles, and caterpillars.

Black widows are comb-footed spiders, which means they have bristles on their hind legs that they use to cover their prey with silk once it has been trapped. To feed, black widows puncture their insect prey with their fangs and administer digestive enzymes to the corpses. By using these enzymes, and their gnashing fangs, the spiders liquefy their prey's bodies and suck up the resulting fluid.

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WHERE TO FIND DOLPHINS?




Dolphins are arguably the best known and loved of all the marine mammals. However, many aspects of the dolphins way of life still remain a mystery. Be that as it may, dolphins have been the subject of scientific research for decades and so at least there are some areas of dolphin behaviour that we do know of.

Dolphins are marine mammals closely related to whales and porpoises. There are almost forty species of dolphin in 17 genera. They are found worldwide, mostly in the shallower seas of the continental shelves.

However, should you wish to see dolphins in the wild then you will need to be a little more choosy.

However, it is possible to view dolphins in the wild all around the world.

Here are a few examples of some of the best dolphin watching locations so wherever you are in the world - and if you are prepared to make the effort, a small journey and a little research - you should get to see dolphins.

Western Australia: Mandurah , Monkey Mia, Ningaloo Reef, Rockingham, Bunbury, and Esperance

Eastern Australia: Moreton Bay, Fraser Island, Hervey Bay, Port Phillip Bay, Jervis Bay, Port Stephens, and Forster

New Zealand: Kaikoura, Whakatane, Bay of Islands, Marlborough Sound, Coromandel Peninsula, Akaora Moorea and Tahiti Lanai.

USA - Key West, Florida, Panama City Beach, Galveston Texas, Monterey, and the waters off New Jersey,

Oceanside California, Delaware Bay, and Carolina.

In the waters off of Mexico and Hawaii - its only a small island so it should be quite easy.

Dingle Bay, or the Shannon Estuary, Ireland

Moray Firth, Scotland

Cardigan Bay, Wales,

Durlston, and Cornwall in England as well as the  Channel Islands. Even Gibraltar.

The Bahamas - white sand ridge.

Tenerife, the Canary Islands Turks and Caicos, West Indies

The Azores Islands (eg off Faial and also Pico) São Miguel Island, and Futurismo.

You can follow whale watching in the waters off Hua-lien, the east coast of Taiwan  and in the waters off South Africa

Don't forget the Black Sea off the coast of Georgia and Crimea peninsula, and the Red Sea by Egypt.

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ALL ABOUT GORILLAS




Gorillas are the largest species of primates alive today. They are ground-dwelling, predominantly herbivorous, and although they are frequently portrayed as aggressive, dangerous killers, they are in reality shy, peaceful vegetarians. Furthermore, because of massive loss of habitat, these majestic primates are now at huge risk of extinction!

Gorillas are divided into two species and then further still into four or five subspecies. The DNA of gorillas is increadibly similar to that of humans, between 95 and 99%! In fact they are our closest living relatives next to chimpanzees.

Gorilla Habitat

The Gorillas natural habitat covers the tropical and subtropical forests of Africa. Although their range covers only a small percentage of Africa, gorillas cover a wide range of elevations. The mountain gorilla inhabits the Albertine Rift montane cloud forests of the Virunga Volcanoes, ranging in altitude from 7,200–14,100 ft. Lowland Gorillas live in dense forests and lowland swamps and marshes as low as sea level, with western lowland gorillas living in Central West African countries and eastern lowland gorillas living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo near its border with Rwanda.

Gorilla Behaviour

Gorillas live in groups called troops. Each troops will tend to be made of one adult male or silverback, multiple adult females, and their offspring. However, multi-male troops also exist.

Silverbacks are typically more than 12 years of age and named for the distinctive patch of silver hair on his back, which comes with maturity. A silverback gorilla has large canine teeth that also come with maturity.

Both males and females tend to emigrate from their natal groups. Dispersal from natal troops is more common in females than males for mountain gorillas. Female mountain gorillas and western lowland gorillas also commonly transfer to a second new group.

Mature males tend to also leave their groups and establish their own troops by attracting emigrating females. However, male mountain gorillas sometimes stay in their natal troop and become subordinate to the silverback. They may gain the opportunity to mate with new females or become dominant if the silverback dies. This behavior has not been observed in eastern lowland gorillas.

In a single male group, when the silverback dies, the females and their offspring disperse and find a new troop. Without a silverback to protect them, the infants will likely fall victim to infanticide, and seaching out and joining a new group is likely to be a tactic against this. However, while gorilla troops usually disband after the silverback dies, female eastern lowlands gorillas and their offspring have been recorded staying together until a new silverback transfers into the group. This likely serves to decrease chance of being attacked by leopards. Although very rare, all male troops have also been recorded.

Silverback Gorillas

The silverback is the center of the troop's attention, making all the decisions, mediating conflicts, determining the movements of the group, leading the others to feeding sites and taking responsibility for the safety and well-being of the troop. Younger males subordinate to the silverback, known as blackbacks, may serve as backup protection. Blackbacks are males between 8 and 12 years of age and lack the silver back hair. The bond a silverback has with his females forms the core of gorilla social life. Bonds between them are maintained by grooming and close proximity. Having strong relationships with males is important for females as males give them mating opportunities and protection from predators and infanticidal outside males. However aggressive behaviors between males and females are common although they rarely lead to serious injury.

Relationships between females may vary. Maternally related females in a troop associate closely and tend to have friendly interactions. Otherwise, females usually have little friendly interactions and commonly act aggressive towards each other. Aggressive interactions between females tend to be centered around social access to males with males intervening in fights between females. Male gorillas have weak social bonds, particularly in multi-male groups with apparent dominance hierarchies and strong competition for mates. However, males in all-male groups tend to have friendly interactions and socialize through play, grooming and close proximity, and occasionally they even engage in homosexual interactions.

Gorilla Nests

Gorillas construct nests for daytime and night use. Day nests tend to be simple aggregations of branches and leaves on the ground while night nests are more elaborate constructions in trees. The nests may be 2 to 5 feet in diameter and are constructed by individuals. The young nest with the mother but construct nests after three years of age, initially close to that of their mother. Gorilla nests are distributed arbitrarily and use of tree species for site and construction appears to be opportunistic. Nest building by great apes is now considered to be not just animal architecture but as an important instance of tool use.

How do Gorillas Communicate?

There are now twenty-five distinct vocalizations recognized now through extensive scientific research, many of which are used primarily for group communication within dense vegetation. These sounds classified as grunts and barks are heard most frequently while traveling. They are often used to indicate the whereabouts of individual group members. They may also be used during social interactions when discipline is required. Screams and roars signal alarm or warning, and are produced most often by silverbacks.

Deep, rumbling belches suggest contentment and are heard frequently during feeding and resting periods. They are the most common form of intragroup communication. Severe aggression is rare in stable groups, but when two mountain gorilla groups meet, the two silverbacks can sometimes engage in a fight to the death, using their canines to cause deep, gaping injuries. The entire sequence has nine steps:

1. Progressively quickening hooting.
2. symbolic feeding.
3. Standing upright.
4. Throwing vegetation.
5. Chest-beating with cupped hands.
6. A single leg kick.
7. Sideways running, two-legged to four-legged.
8. Slapping and tearing vegetation.
9. thumping the ground with palms to end display.

Tool use in Gorillas

The following observations were made by a team led by Thomas Breuer of the Wildlife Conservation Society in September 2005. Gorillas are now known to use tools in the wild. A female gorilla in the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo was recorded using a stick as if to gauge the depth of water whilst crossing a swamp. A second female was seen using a tree stump as a bridge and also as a support whilst fishing in the swamp. This means that all of the great apes are now known to use tools.

In September 2005, a two and a half year old gorilla in the Republic of Congo was discovered using rocks to smash open palm nuts inside a game sanctuary. While this was the first such observation for a gorilla, over 40 years previously chimpanzees had been seen using tools in the wild, famously 'fishing' for termites.

Great apes are endowed with a semi-precision grip, and certainly have been able to use both simple tools and even weapons, by improvising a club from a convenient fallen branch.

DRACUNCULUS VULGARIS - The Dragon Lily



If you are looking for a plant that is unusual in effect and habit, yet is still capable of surviving the winters of a northern European climate, then you can do a lot worse than consider the sinister looking dragon lily! Related to the arum lilies, it is is the most spectacular of all from this family of European aroids.

It is native to the Balkans, extending as far as Greece, Crete and the Aegean Islands, and also to the south-western parts of Anatolia. In fact, it is from Greece that this fascinating plant has received its name. Here, the plant is called Drakondia, as the long spadix is viewed as being a small dragon hiding inside the flower! This flower consists of a hood-like deep purple spathe to 60cm long, with a blackish-purple spadix

However, Dracunculus vulgaris is not just about being a bazaar looking flower as it also has an extremely handsome purple-spotted stem. The dragon lily only produces several leaves - 30 cm wide or more. These narrow lobes are sometimes splashed with silver.

How to grow the dragon lily

Plant dragon lily tubers 15cm (6in) deep in the autumn or spring. The will prefer a  humus-rich, well-drained soil that dries out in summer.

The dragon lily will grows best in full sun, but will actually tolerate partial shade so you can expect it to do well in in open glades, in sheltered woodland or at the base of a sunny wall

Protect with a dry winter mulch and consider the smell of the flowers when deciding its permanent position.

Dragon lily facts-ish

1. As one of nature's more unusual plants, it is pollinated by flies not bees. When ready for pollination, the plant produces a smell, described as like rotten meat, to attract the flies but, once pollination is complete, the smell stops.

2. Carrying the roots or leaves was believed to protects against vipers and serpents. It may have been carried on boats to repel sea serpents.

3. There are widespread erotic connotations resulting from its shape and the newest of its common names indicates that plant folklore and beliefs continue to develop.

4. It was one used to preserve cheese by wrapping the leaves round it.

5. If you wash your hands in a liquor made from the plant you can handle snakes with impunity - allegedly! 

6. The root is toxic and a skin irritant. It produces berries like the Arum maculatum but the taste discourages ingestion. 

WHAT IS THE WORLDS LARGEST REPTILE?




If you are thinking Komodo dragons or giant boa constrictors then unfortunately you are wrong - at least when it comes to the worlds largest 'living' reptiles. It turns out that the salt water crocodile is the worlds largest living reptile.

Be that as it may, the largest size that salt water crocodiles can reach is the subject of some considerable controversy.

The longest crocodile ever measured snout-to-tail and verified was the skin of a dead crocodile, which was 6.2 metres  long. As skins tend to shrink slightly after removal from the carcass, this crocodile's living length was estimated at 6.3 metres, and it could have weighed more than 1,000 kilograms.

However, complete remains (the skull of a crocodile shot in Orissa) have been claimed to come from a 7.6-metre crocodile, but subsequent examinations have suggested a length no greater than 7 metres. There have been numerous claims of salt water crocodiles in the 9-metre range. In fact,a crocodile shot in the Bay of Bengal in 1840, reported a length of 10 metres!

A crocodile shot in Queensland in 1957 was reported to be 8.63 metres long, but no verified measurements were made and no remains of this crocodile exist.

With the recent restoration of salt water crocodile habitat and reduced poaching, it is now possible for salt water crocodiles to grow past 7 metres once more.

The Guinness Book of Records has accepted a claim of a 7-metre, 2,000 kg male salt water crocodile living within Bhitarkanika Park in the state of Orissa, India, although, due to the difficulty of trapping and measuring a very large living crocodile, the accuracy of these dimensions has yet to be verified.

In September 2011 a 6.4 metres salt water crocodile was captured alive in the Philippines, making it one of the largest specimens ever reliably measured snout-to-tail. This specimen - nicknamed 'Lolong' and weighing roughly 1,075 kilograms - has a past as a possible man-eater and is being kept alive as an attraction in a local zoo.

So now you know!

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IS GINGER A PLANT?




If you have ever had to create a recipe using 'real' ginger, then going to purchase an example of it at your local supermarket can be a bit of an eye opener. Why, because even though you will find it in the fresh food aisles, there is nothing else there that can compare with its knobbly strangeness!

So, just what is ginger?

Well, as it turns out, the reason why ginger looks so freaky is because it is actually a lump of root from the the plant Zingiber officinale. So to answer the question, yes - ginger is a plant, or at least part of one.

Ginger was originally cultivated in China but its production has now spread around the world - notably in Jamaica.

Ginger root is usually found in sweet foods in Western cuisine, but it is probably better known for being included in popular recipes such as ginger ale, ginger snaps, gingerbread, ginger biscuits and ginger cake.

It is also used in many countries for medicinal purposes, although its true health benefits are still being researched. However, it is belived in some cultures to help cure diabetes, head aches, colds, fatigue, nausea and the flu when used in tea or food.

WHERE DO YOU FIND BLACK WIDOW SPIDERS?




Black widow spiders can be found around firewood piles, in trash, rubble piles, under or around houses and privies, sheds and garages. They can also be found under eaves, in storage bins, toilets and sheds, meter boxes, and other undisturbed places. The female black widow spider hardly leaves the web and can rebuild or change the web based on her needs. The black widow spider spends most of the time during the day on her web and most of the time, she will be hanging upside down.

It turns out that widow spiders can be found on every continent of the world except Antarctica. Be aware though that black widow spiders are considered the most venomous spiders in North America!

The Southern black widow Latrodectus mactans is found in southern New England states to Florida west to eastern Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas being more common in the southern range. The Western black widow  is found in Western Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas north to the adjacent Canadian provinces and west to the Pacific Coast States.

The brown widow is found in California and southern Florida and throughout Africa. The Northern widow is found in New England and adjacent Canada south to Florida, and west to eastern Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, being more common in the northern part of the range.

In North America, the black widows commonly known as southern, western, and northern  can be found in the United States, as can the grey or brown widow spiders and the red widow spiders. The single species occurring in Australia is commonly called the red-back. African species of this genus are sometimes known as button spiders.

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WHAT IS OREGANO?




Oregano is a popular herb botanically known as Origanum vulgare, which is Greek for 'joy of the mountains'. It can be found growing wild on mountainsides of Greece and other Mediterranean countries where it is an herb of choice.

Unlike many of the Mediterranean herbs you can grow in the garden today, oregano is perhaps the hardiest. So tough is its constitution that, after being introduced to Great Britain by the Romans, it became naturalised in the wild and has remained something of a wild flower - known as marjaram - ever since across large parts of the country.

Unfortunately, as the centuries have passed, the British environment has had its effect on its European cousin. With our reduced levels of light, combined with lower average day temperatures and far more rain, our naturalised Origanum vulgare has had to evolve to cope with whatever the weather here could throw at it.

Gone are the hairy leaves – one of the modifications that plants use to help them cope in hot, dry climates – and gone too are their highly scented leaves. The leaves of the English form are now reduced in essential oils by comparison and are now what you would just call ‘aromatic’.

Although still suitable for culinary use you will be better off with plants grown from seed that has been sourced from the Mediterranean region. Even so, when it comes to growing Mediterranean herbs here in the English garden, oregano is not only one of the easiest; it also has centuries of form.

How to grow oregano from seed

To grow oregano from seed is relatively simple, however there can be a problem working with the seed as it is very fine and difficult to handle. In order to get an even distribution of the seed you may wish to try adding it to some fine, dry sand, mixing the seed in well and then sowing the whole mix to achieve an even distribution.

Thinly sow the seed either indoors into plug trays from mid-April, or outdoors into a prepared and well drained, seed bed from the end of May onwards. When growing indoor, try to avoid standard seed trays as oregano has a long tap root system which is far better suited to the depth that a plug tray can provide. Secondly, experience has shown that oregano tend to be more prone to damping off when seed trays are used.

When sowing indoors, start about 6 weeks before the threat of late frosts are over. You may need to provide basal heat as oregano will need a roughly constant temperature of about 15 degrees Celsius.

Once the newly germinated seedlings have started emerging through the compost, reduce their watering - again, to help prevent fungal infections. After another week or two, thin out the weakest seedlings allowing just one strong plant per plug. Then, once the seedlings have produced at least two sets of ‘true’ leaves they will be ready for transplanting. Pot them on into a free draining compost such as John Innes ‘Seed’ or use a good quality multi-purpose compost mixed 50:50 with perlite or horticultural grit. Once they have been grown on for 3-4 weeks, they can then be planted out side in their permanent position.

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WHAT IS AN ARTICHOKE?




The first time you are served up artichoke - whether it be roasted, boiled, or even as a pizza topping - you can be forgiven for questioning what you are about to eat. Looking a bit like the deformed layers of an onion,  yet tasting infinitely better, the artichoke is actually the juvenile flower head of a cultivated thistle.

The artichoke - Cynara cardunculus - has for centuries been considered as a true connoisseur’s food plant. In fact some of the more flavoursome varieties such as the Italian cultivar 'Violetta di Chioggia' were for a time only allowed to be eaten by the Italian aristocracy.

Although these delicately flavoured flower heads owe their history and cultivation to the Mediterranean regions of Southern Europe, its true origins are believed to have come from North Africa where they are still found in the wild state. Even its name, a derivation of the North Italian dialect word ‘articiocco’, has its origins in the Arabic name for this plant- al-kharshof.
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