My well of inspiration for post topics has run dry today so I am going to emulate a friend and write about trees.
My favourite tree is the Kowhai, especially the sub species with very fine leaves (Sophora microphylla). To me the kowhai is a gentle tree, welcoming spring with a spectacular burst of bright yellow flowers for the tuis and bellbirds to feast upon. Then once clothed in its summer leaves woodpigeons love to munch upon the new leaf shoots, teetering their bulk on fine branches.
At each of the two houses we have owned I planted kowhai trees. The best seedlings came from an old chap in Owaka who raised seedlings from his son’s farm in the Catlins and sold them for a song. These were hardy plants, well suited to a coastal climate but slow growing. I also managed to grow some from seeds, first soaking the seeds for a week in water to get the hard outer shell of crack open.
The seeds of kowhai are actually poisonous, containing a compound which mimics the effect of nicotine and in amounts sufficient to make a person quite ill. However, the seed coat is so tough that it resists degradation in the human digestive system so fortunately actual poisonings are quite rare as only the green seeds are soft enough for a person to chew and release the toxin. It seems a little incongruous that a tree I view as being ‘gentle’ would have poisonous seeds, but perhaps it is just as well for it to have some defence against opossums.
Another interesting thing about kowhai trees is that they are legumes. They have nodules on their roots containing bacteria which can fix nitrogen from the soil, making it available for the tree to use. This enables kowhai trees to grow in low quality soils such as sandy, gravelly areas with less organic material in the soil.
I’m not sure exactly why I consider kowhai trees to be gentle, it may be due to the softness of the leaves and it’s wiry delicate shape when young. But to me even mature old kowhai trees have a gentle dignity about them. They are not one of the mighty giants of the New Zealand forest, but they provide food for some of my favourite birds and have some of the most spectacular flowers of all our trees. There is a kowhai beside the bus shelter where I catch my morning bus to work and in the spring it leaves a carpet of fallen yellow flowers, making a great contrast of yellow softness against the black harshness of the asphalt footpath.
I have an interesting article titled Why do dogs and cats eat grass? by Benjamin L. Hart which was published in the journal Veterinary Medicine (December 2008, 103, 12 pp648-649).
The author did several small surveys of students and customers who were dog owners based on the assumption that plant eating is associated with illness or dietary deficiency. The results indicated that illness was unlikely to be the reason for eating grass and that vomiting afterwards is not as common as thought.
To dig a bit deeper they used an online survey to ask dog owners about plant eating behaviour. With 1571 useful responses:
- 67% said their dogs eat plants daily or weekly.
- 8% reported their dogs showing signs of illness before eating plants.
- 22% said their dog regularly vomits eating plants
- Younger dogs are seen eating plants more often than older dogs
There was no indication that dogs with lower fibre in their diet ate plants more than other dogs.
Contrary to popular opinion, most dogs that eat grass or other plants are not unwell and most do not vomit afterwards. So why do they eat grass?
Both domestic and wild dogs eat plant material. It does not seem to be associated with illness or dietary deficiency but is a common behaviour so presumably serves some purpose.
The theory put forth by the author of this article is that eating plants helps purge parasites such as intestinal worms from the gut by increasing how quickly material moves through the gut and also by wrapping around the worms and carrying them out of the body
Sooo, about poo?
My question then is; why does my disgusting dog eat her own poo? She does eat grass but the theory of removing parasites is defeated by her coprophagy!
2018 began well for me with a visit to the Orokanui ecosanctuary where we had the opportunity to see takahe up close, including a mum feeding her chick.
In addition to seeing the takahe, it was a great day out for us all as a family. The weather was good, kids were happy and we had plenty of time to enjoy a picnic, explore further than we have on previous visits and finish the day with hot chocolates, coffee, and well-brewed tea.
Being able to enjoy a bush walk together with everyone happy is something we treasure but doesn’t often come together as we might like. There are lots of things that can put a dampener on an otherwise good experience so it’s good to recognise and fully enjoy when it is a good experience. I remember taking kids for short walks when they were younger, trying to negotiate tree roots with a stroller that was not built for such adventures but was all we could afford, hearing complaints about having to walk uphill, at those times we dreamed of when we would no longer need to push or carry children and could enjoy a simple bush walk together.
Having happy, healthy children, being able to enjoy a beautiful public space alive with natural wonders – this is a blessing I try not to take lightly. Appreciating such things and being thankful for them is a good way to begin the year.
Not the Murchison Mountains near Te Anau, but a takahe nonetheless! (At Orokanui ecosanctuary, Dunedin)
I read an interesting, and worrying, article today from the Guardian:
Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers.
It discussed the results of a longitudinal study surveying the biomass of flying insects in German nature reserves over the period from 1989 to 2016. Overall, the study found a 76% decline in the biomass of flying insects.
The authors of the published paper suggest that pesticide use and climate change are likely to be significant factors contributing to the loss of insects.
Some might react with gladness – the fewer annoying bugs the better. However, insects are a crucial part of the food chain and both plants and animals depend upon them to survive so rapid loss of insects over such a relatively short period is extremely concerning.
Another way to dismiss the relevance of this study to us in New Zealand would be to argue that it was performed in Europe which is considerably more developed than here and possibly more polluted. Yet we are even more dependant on agriculture than Germany so a similar decline in insect population here could have a massive impact on our economy. We also use large amounts of pesticides here too, and history shows that New Zealand’s ecosystems are sensitive to changes like this.
I have no idea if similar studies have been conducted in New Zealand, though I’m now curious to find out. The implications of a global decline in insects are huge, many of us may dislike bugs but for life on earth to continue we do need them.