THE LEAF-TAILED GECKO

THE LEAF-TAILED GECKO





The Leaf-tailed gecko - Uroplatus phantasticus is not only one of nature's greatest plant mimics it is also one of the world's scariest looking creatures! Native only to the island of Madagascar, it is the smallest of 12 species of bizarre looking Leaf-tailed geckos and reaches an overall length of only 2 ½ to 6 inches - and that includes the tail! Its defining feature is that its entire body looks like a dead leaf! It naturally holds a twisted posture, and its body, veined skin, and tail look as though it has been nibbled by insects or have partially rotted by decay.

LEAF-TAILED GECKO
It is a nocturnal reptile which stalks its rainforest habitat at night feeding on various insects, and as such it possesses suitably large eyes. However, these huge colourful eyes, together with a frightening, bright red mouth has also earned it a rather sinister, alternative common name - the Satanic leaf-tailed Gecko!

The highly detailed and accurate camouflage that this species of gecko has evolved has made it somewhat of an expert at avoiding predators. Not only do they have the advantage of their incredible mimicry, they also have a number of beneficial 'anti-predatory' behaviours. They can flatten their body to reduce their shadow, they can open their jaws wide to show a frightening, bright red mouth, and they voluntarily shed their tail in order to confuse a predator which buys them precious moments in which to make their escape.

They also use their camouflage to prevent them from being detected by their prey. In their native environment, the will feed on a variety of appropriately sized insects including crickets and moths. Although they are quite happy to stalk their prey the Satanic Leaf-Tailed Gecko will also wait for their prey to come to them. Once in range the gecko will pounce.

Sadly its unique looks have made it a popular choice for collectors and is being captured and sold at an alarming rate for the international pet trade. While it is a CITES Appendix 2 protected animal, this means that the the Satanic Leaf-Tailed Gecko is not necessarily threatened with extinction, it accepts that it could be unless trade is closely controlled.

For related articles click onto the following articles:
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The Malayan Leaf Frog
The Wolverine Frog
What is the World's Largest Moth?

HOW TO GROW OUTDOOR CUCUMBERS

How to grow outdoor cucumbers - http://leckerandyummyrecipes.blogspot.co.uk/




Cucumbers are the mainstay of almost every home-made salad the world over. However there is a problem with the modern cucumber. While you can pick up a healthy looking example from most supermarkets at any time of the year but they are typically flavourless and watery. The reason for this is that supermarkets provide guidelines that require cucumbers to be of a particular size, shape, colour and length. If the growers cannot produce a crop to these standards then they risk their cucumbers being rejected at the point of delivery.

And herein lies the problem. There is no mention of flavour or texture within the guidelines and so growers do not need to make no effort to provide a product that has them.

cucumber crop
Of course, the very best flavoured and textured cucumbers are those which have been grown in the ground using tried and tested methods established of the centuries, but this creates another problem. The cucumber plant is originally from southern Asia, so to successfully grow it in a northern Europe climate you will need to provide the conditions of is native environment. This means high levels of light and warmth. While cucumbers have been grown in England since the 14th century, it has only been possible to produce a consistently, reliable crop by growing them under protection. This is why they have always been considered to be a greenhouse crop.

However the landscape of cucumber production has changed as specialist plant breeders have been at it for years and developed a range of cucumbers that will produce a viable crop outside without the need for a protected environment.

Outdoor cucumber varieties are known as ridge cucumbers, and as the name suggests they look a little different to shop bought varieties. They tend to be shorter, with a rougher skin and produce male and female flowers which will need to be pollinated. However, as they are grown outside pollinating insects will do all the work for you.

Growing outdoor cucumbers from seed

cucumber seedling
If you want to make the most of the shorter, northern European growing season then you will need to sow ridge cucumber seeds in a heated propagator from early March to April. However, if you miss this opportunity to will still be able to bring a crop to fruition if you direct sown outdoors from May to June, but the crop will not be as large.

Cucumber seeds will need to be planted on their sides at a depth of ½ inch 3 inch pots containing a good quality, free-draining, compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting'. Place the pots in a propagator a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius until they germinate. This usually only takes 7-10 days. If you do not have a heated propagator then place the pots into a sealed, clear plastic bag and leave in a warm, bright room out of direct sunlight. Be aware that cucumbers are prone to damage from scorching. Once the seeds have germinated then they can come out of the propagator or be removed from the bag

They can be placed back on to the bright windowsill and grown on until they are large enough to be transplanted. Try to maintain a minimum temperature of 15 degrees Celsius and keep the compost moist but not wet. If the roots become waterlogged then their growth can be retarded, and in extreme cases can result in the death of the plant.

Ridge cucumbers should be gradually acclimated to outdoor conditions over 7-10 days before transplanting into warm, well drained, humus rich soil. Choose a sunny position with shelter from strong winds, and. try to avoid disturbing the roots as much as possible. Planted in to single rows at a distance of 3 ft apart.

Maintenance

Cucumber harvest
Unlike greenhouse cucumbers, outdoor cucumbers will not need training onto canes. They are quite happily left sprawling across the ground and show no noticeable drop in cropping.

Pinched out at the main stem after 7 leaves have formed as this will encourage fruiting side shoots to develop.

Harvesting

You can normally begin to harvest cucumbers around 12 weeks from sowing. Using a sharp blade, the best time of the day to cut the fruits from the plant is first thing in the morning. Harvest cucumbers while they are still young and tender. If you harvest when they are older then the fruits can become bitter and full of unpalatable seeds

Regular harvesting will encourage the cucumber plants to continue cropping, and this can continue up until September.

For related articles click onto the following links:
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SALAD CROPS FOR LATE SUMMER/AUTUMN PLANTING

THE MATA MATA TURTLE - Chelus fimbriata

THE MATA MATA TURTLE - Chelus fimbriata - J. Patrick Fischer



When it comes to looking like the leaf litter found at the bottom of a pond then there is only one contender - the Mata Mata turtle! Native to the Amazon and Orinoco basins, the Mata Mata turtles range stretches into northern Bolivia, eastern Peru, Ecuador, eastern Colombia, Venezuela, the Guianas, and northern and central Brazil. It is strictly an aquatic species and spends most of its day in shallow water with its snout just proud of the surface so it can breathe.

MATA MATA TURTLE - Stan Shebs
The Mata Mata turtle was discovered by French naturalist Pierre Barrère in 1741 and is the only surviving member of the Chelus genus.

It is a large, sedentary turtle which inhabits the warm, acidic waters of slow moving, blackwater streams, stagnant pools, marshes, and swamps. The mata mata is carnivorous, feeding exclusively upon aquatic invertebrates and fish.

The Mata Mata's camouflage has evolved to help it become undetectable to its prey. Its shell and head resembles fallen vegetation, and as it remains motionless in the water, its skin flaps enable it to blend into the surrounding vegetation until its prey comes close.

When feeding, it thrusts out its head and opens its large mouth as wide as possible. This creates a low-pressure vacuum that sucks the prey into its mouth. Its prey is swallowed whole as the Mata Mata is unable to chew.

J. Patrick Fischer file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Stan Shebs file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

For related articles click onto the following links:
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THE MALAYAN LEAF FROG - Megophrys nasuta

THE MALAYAN LEAF FROG - Megophrys nasuta





Frogs are well-known for their incredible colouration, just look as the poison arrow frogs of south America. But when they use these powers for camouflage, the Malayan Leaf Frog - Megophrys nasuta is at the top of its game.

Native to the rainforest areas of southern Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia to Singapore, Sumatra and Borneo, the Malayan Leaf Frog lives in permanently damp and cool lowland and submontane rainforests amongst the leaf litter.

MALAYAN LEAF FROG - http://www.ecologyasia.com/
They are both nocturnal and solitary in habit, and while adult Malayan Leaf Frogs will spend their lives away from water, breeding still takes place in streams. Female frogs attach the eggs to the underside of partially or fully submerged rocks or logs.

When hunting for food, the Malayan Leaf Frog is an ambush predator and typically lies still on the forest floor waiting for unsuspecting prey to pass by. Using their tongue they then pounce and engulf the prey. They typically feed on spiders, small rodents, lizards and other frogs.

When viewed from above, the Malayan leaf frogs incredible mimicry enables it to remain hidden in the forest leaf litter. It is an almost perfect replica of a dead leaf, even down to the granular skin, ridged leaf veins, the central spines, patterns and lobate margins. This camouflage has evolved to enable the leaf frog to hide from its natural predators such as birds, snakes and lizards. The upper eyelids and snout are drawn out into long triangular projections, forming what looks like horns. This has resulted in their other common name of Long-nosed Horned frog.

The future

THE MALAYAN LEAF FROG  - http://frogsofborneo.org/
Sadly, its survival is threatened by habitat loss due to subsistence agriculture, timber extraction, charcoal manufacture, livestock grazing and expanding human settlements. The species is also harvested for the national and international pet trade.

While Malayan Leaf Frog populations are decreasing, they are listed as a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This has be decided in view of its wide distribution, presumed large population, and because the Malayan Leaf Frog is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for listing in a more threatened category.

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HOW TO GROW HELLEBORES FROM SEED

How to grow hellebores from seed - http://avidgardeners.org/





The genus Helleborus contains some of the most gorgeous of all hardy, winter flowering plants. They are a range of herbaceous or evergreen perennial flowering plants, and depending on the species they are best known as the 'Christmas rose' or 'Lenten rose'.

Hellebore flower - http://carolynsshadegardens.com/
However, it turns out that hellebores are not closely related to the rose family, and a word to the wise -  many of the species are poisonous!

This plant has become a traditional cottage garden favourite due to the extensive work that plant breeders have put into producing large-flowered cultivars.

So good is the Helleborus genus that the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) by the Royal Horticultural Society has been awarded to Helleborus foetidus, Helleborus niger and the series of Ashwood Garden hybrids.

Not only are Hellebores easily grow from seed, plant breeders have found out it is even possible to hybridize the species.

Growing hellebores from seed

Hellebore seedlings - http://www.walterreeves.com/
For the best results you should time to sow Hellebore seeds is when they are fully ripe which is usually around June or July. However, it is possible to germinate hellebore seed at any time of year.

Sow hellebore seed into 3 inch pots containing a good quality compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting'. Sow the seed on the surface of the compost and then cover with a little fine compost or vermiculite, or if by some chance you have some to hand, some well rotted leaf mould. Gently water and then cover the pot with a small sheet of glass and place in a cold frame or equally sheltered position with the pot sunk up to its rim in soil. Be aware that germination can be very slow, taking up to 18 months in extreme cases. You can reduce this period by pre-chilling the seed in the bottom draw of a fridge for 4-6 weeks before sowing.

Once germinated, you can prick out young seedlings into individual pots once they are large enough to handle. grow them on for a season and plant out into their final position outside the following autumn or spring. They will require a rich, moist well-drained soil and part shade. Just make sure that wherever you plant them your hellebores do not become water-logged as this can severely damage the root system which in extreme case will result in the death of the plant.

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THE DEAD LEAF BUTTERFLY

The Dead Leaf butterfly




As far as insect mimics go the Dead Leaf butterfly - Kallima inachus is one of the very best. Incredibly, the leaf effect camouflage is only displayed when the wings are in the closed position. Once in place, the Dead leaf butterfly closely resembles a dry leaf with dark veins and even a stalk! It really is one of the very best disappearing acts!

The Dead Leaf butterfly - Nandini Velho
By contrast, when the wings are in the open position they display a colourful selection of opposing colours with no hint of what might follow.

The Dead Leaf butterfly can be found in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. While in Southeast Asia it occurs in southern China, Thailand, Laos, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Presumably down to its incredible and extremely effective powers of mimicry the Dead Leaf butterfly in not considered rare in its native India, however in China, it is considered rare and consequently captive breeding programs have been put in place.

The male and female Dead Leaf butterflies are very similar to each other. The female is generally larger and the apex of the forewing (the 'leaf stalk') protrudes to form a longer point.

Habitat

The Dead Leaf butterfly - user:peellden
The Dead Leaf butterfly is a powerful flier and is usually found within dense forests with good rainfall, flying amongst the undergrowth and along stream beds.

It is attracted to and feeds from tree sap and over-ripe fruit, and like many other butterfly species they congregate on substrates like wet soil, dung and carrion to obtain nutrients such as salts and amino acids. This behaviour is mostly witnessed in the post-monsoon season.

The Dead leaf butterfly is mostly predated by birds and the leaf effect camouflage is believed to be an evolutionary response to this. When in danger it will start off its defence strategy by flying erratically, and then quickly changes to dropping down into the foliage. Once in place it will take on a static pose with its wings closed, and in this position the birds find it almost impossible to locate them.

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WHAT DO HUMMINGBIRDS EAT?



The Hummingbird family Trochilidae contains some of the world's most recognizable and best known bird species. Not only is the world's smallest bird species a member of this family, they are the only birds that exist which can both hover in space and fly backwards.

The name hummingbird is derived from the sound that is emitted by the high speed at which their wings beat. This can be as high as 12–80 times per second depending on the species. In order to maintain this high rate of work hummingbirds are dependent on extremely high energy foods and will require as much of it as they can get their tiny, elongated beaks on!

What do hummingbirds eat?
Hummingbirds are specialized nectarivores which means they drink a sugar rich liquid known as nectar. Nectar is produced by plants in glands called nectaries, which are found within the flowers. Amazingly, hummingbirds are able to assess the amount of sugar in the nectar they consume and will reject plant species which produce nectar that contains less than 10% sugar. Instead they will actively search out and feed from those which have a higher sugar content.

Many plants pollinated by hummingbirds produce flowers in bright shades of red, orange, and pink. While red flowering plants appear to be the most attractive, hummingbirds will in fact take nectar from flowers of any color, just so long as the nectar produced is rich enough.

Hummingbirds can be very territorial when it comes to a nectar source, and once a hummingbird finds a consistent supply of food it will fight off other hummingbirds to maintain complete dominance over it. Not only does this secure its energy requirement, the flower also adapts by increasing nectar secretion the more times it is visited. However, once the flower has been pollinated the production of nectar in most plant species will stop, and any remaining nectar is reabsorbed into the plant.

What do hummingbirds eat?
The relationship between hummingbirds and nectar is widely known, so you may be surprised to find out that this isn't the only food source sought out by hummingbirds. The problem is that while nectar is an excellent source of energy for these fascinating creatures, it is actually a very poor source of nutrition, so hummingbirds meet their needs for protein, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, etc. by preying on insects and spiders.

As you would imagine, hummingbirds digest their food rapidly due to their small size and high metabolism, and so when nectar is scarce, feeding can quickly become be a race for survival. To cope with this they spend an average of 10–15% of their time feeding and 75–80% sitting and digesting. To conserve energy further, while they sleep or when food is scarce, hummingbirds have the ability to go into a hibernation-like state (torpor) where their metabolic rate is slowed to 1/15th of its normal rate.

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Charlesjsharp file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

OSTRICH FACTS




The ostrich is one of the world's most identifiable birds. Native to the Savannas of Africa, both north and south of the equatorial forest zone, ostriches prefer open land as it makes it easier for them to detect predators. In south-west Africa they inhabit the semi-desert and even regions of true desert.

Besides the ostriches obvious extraordinary features, such as its long neck and legs, this magnificent creature is in fact a world record holder four times over! It is the world's fastest living animal on two legs, it is also largest species of bird living today. Furthermore, their eyes are the largest of any land vertebrate, and it lays the largest egg of any living creature. In fact, only the extinct elephant birds of Madagascar and the giant moa of New Zealand are known to have laid larger eggs.

What to find out more about the incredible ostrich? Then check out the following list of ostrich facts.

Ostriches, the bare facts

Ostrich facts
1. One ostrich egg contains the equivalent in volume to 20 hens eggs

2. Seven million year old ostrich fossils have been found it southern Russia, India and China.

3. One ostrich living in London Zoo swallowed a spool of film, 3 gloves, a comb, a bicycle valve, a pencil, some rope, several coins, bits of a gold necklace, a collar stud, a handkerchief and a clock.

4. Some African tribes use ostrich eggshells as water containers.

5. It is a common misconception that the ostrich buries its head in the sand. This legend probably came about because – from a distance – the tiny head of a grazing ostrich may not be clearly visible.

6. The male defends his breeding territory by chasing away intruders and displaying aggressively. Flicking his wings or raising them together. This threat display removes the need for more violent confrontation.

Ostrich facts
7. Ostriches do not put their heads in the sand!

8. Standing over 9 feet tall and weighing as much as 400 pounds, the ostrich is the largest living bird today.

9. Its powerful legs enable it to hit a top speed of 43 mph in a short burst and it has been known to kill with one kick.

10. Ostriches originated in the Asiatic steppes about 40 to 50 million years ago. They once occupied all of Eurasia and Africa, but today can only be found on the hot arid Savannas of Africa.

11. The ostrich is farmed around the world, particularly for its feathers, which are used to produce feather dusters.

12. When threatened, ostriches can cause serious injury and death with kicks from their powerful legs. However, if you are unfortunate enough to find yourself threatened by an ostrich then try and get behind them. Why? Because their legs can only kick forward

For more information click onto:
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EMU FACTS
Flamingo facts
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OSTRICH FACTS
The Javan Rhinoceros - Rhinoceros sondaicus
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WHAT DO EMU'S EAT?
Where do Elephants Live?

SCHOMBURGKIA EXALTATA

Schomburgkia exaltata


Schomburgkia exaltata (now reclassified as Myrmecophila exaltata) is one of the most beautiful of all the flowering orchids. Delicate in both structure and colouration, it is indeed worthy of the pseudonym the 'Snowflake Flower'. Unfortunately, as gorgeous as it is, Schomburgkia exaltata is a relatively recent introduction and as such very little is known about it.

Schomburgkia exaltata
The genus is named after Dr Richard Schomburgk, a German botanist who explored British Guiana during the 19th century. While he did not discover Schomburgkia exaltata, he did discover the type species, S. crispa and S. marginata. The genus name is currently under debate, and while the name Schomburgkia is the one most commonly used it has been superseded by the current name of Myrmecophila.

Species in this genus are either epiphytic (a plant that grows non-parasitically upon another plant) or lithophytic (plants which grow in or on rocks) in their growth habit.

Schomburgkia exaltata was discovered by Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig Kraenzlin in 1926. Its native habitat is found along the Caribbean coasts of Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico in the low mountain forests and scrublands. It is a large, robust epiphyte that require the high temperatures of the tropics to perform. While it has short ribbed pseudobulbs no longer than a foot in height, the terminal flower raceme can reach two meters in height and carry up to 80 flowers. The species name 'exaltada' refers to this tall flower raceme and its ability to carry its flowers well above the surrounding plants.

Note. The Common name 'Snowflake Flower' was first coined by myself due to the striking resemblance of the flower structure to a snowflake. My apologies to anyone who feels that this name is not appropriate. To those I will use the case of the Black Hellebore as my argument. Do not forget that snow does not actually have any colour pigmentation - unless it is yellow!

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THE CHRISTMAS ROSE - Helleborus niger

THE CHRISTMAS ROSE - Helleborus niger



The Christmas rose is a plant that comes with its fair share of confusion. While it does flower around the Christmas period, it is not a true rose - although I do accept that the flower shape is representative of a wild rose. Be that is at may, Hellebores are actually from the buttercup family - Ranunculaceae.

Helleborus niger blooms
There is an old legend surrounding the Helleborus niger which appears to be the responsible for to reinforcing its 'Christmas' association. It is said that it sprouted in the snow from the tears of a young girl who had no gift to give the Christ child in Bethlehem.

However, there is a second, more down to earth story that secured it name in English culture. In the 1500's, a single specimen of Helleborus niger that was found growing in an English abbey that was believed to have been established by St. Thomas, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. Under the old Julian calendar, this hellebore bloomed near to January 6 which in those days had been the date for Christmas Day. So when the Gregorian calendar was first introduced to England in 1588, and Christmas Day was moved to 25th December, the flower did not bloom at the expected time! It was seen as such a terrible omen that England chose not to adopt the Gregorian calendar at that time and had to wait until it was re-introduced 1751.

What is in a name?

But I digress, the Christmas rose is a hardy, evergreen perennial which can produce an abundance of pure white flowers, although occasionally they are tinged with pink. So to summarise, it has green leaves and white flowers. So where does the species name 'niger' meaning black come from. Furthermore, the Christmas rose has a second, popular common name which is the Black Hellebore! It turns out that the black part of its name actually refers to its roots.

Helleborus niger illustration
Helleborus niger is native to the mountainous areas of mainland Europe, with a range that spreads from Switzerland, southern Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and northern Italy. It is also found naturalised in Great Britain, believed to have been brought here during the Roman occupation in AD 43 under Emperor Claudius. So why would Romans bring the hellebore to Britain? Well, it turns out that the Hellebore has a lethal reputation and the clue is in its name!

The generic name of this plant is derived from the Greek elein 'to injure' and bora meaning 'food', and indicates to its highly poisonous nature.

In the early days of medicine Black Hellebore was used by the ancients to treat paralysis, gout and particularly insanity, among other diseases. In the wrong hands though, Black Hellebore can be an effective poison. Small doses will cause tinnitus, vertigo, stupor, thirst, and a feeling of suffocation, while a larger dose can cause swelling of the tongue and throat, emesis and catharsis, bradycardia (slowing of the pulse), and finally collapse and death from cardiac arrest.

It is the ancient Greeks who appeared to make the most of the hellebores deadly properties. During the Siege of Kirrha in 585 BC, Greek forces poisoned the city’s water supply by adding huge amounts of crushed hellebore leaves to it. The besieged inhabitants drank the affected water and were quickly overcome with severe diarrhoea. No longer able to defend the city, the Greeks mounted an aggressive attack and with little obstruction secured the city for themselves.

Perhaps the most insidious use of hellebore is in the death of Alexander the Great. Having created many powerful enemies through his conquests of the Mediterranean and North Africa, a deadly concoction containing hellebore was administered by the royal cup-bearer in a betrayal of his position. Twelve days later and Alexander was dead from an overdose of hellebore.

For related articles click onto the following links:
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HOW TO GROW GREENHOUSE CUCUMBERS

How to grow greenhouse cucumbers - http://leckerandyummyrecipes.blogspot.co.uk/




If you want to produce the best crop of cucumbers possible then you can't do better than buying a good quality greenhouse-specific cultivars and growing them in a greenhouse. Greenhouse-specific cucumber cultivars produce long, smooth fruits similar to those that you find in the supermarkets, but with two marked differences. Both the texture and the flavour will be far superior.

Growing cucumbers from seed

Growing cucumbers from seed
To begin with, sow cucumber seed on their sides at a depth of ½ inch in 3 inch pots containing a good quality, free-draining compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting'. Gently water, then place the pots in a propagator or seal them inside a plastic bag at a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius until they germinate. You can expect to see the seedlings emerge in about 7-10 days.

Once they have germinated the seedlings can come out of the propagator/sealed bag and can be moved to a bright windowsill, but not in direct sunlight as the leaves can scorch. At this point try to maintain a minimum temperature of 15 degrees Celsius, and keep the compost on the moist side however avoid water-logging as this will easily kill the roots. Once the young plants are large enough to be transplanted they can be moved to their final position, be it a grow bag or in the soil of the greenhouse. Try to avoid disturbing the roots at this point as the Cucumbers plants can go into shock (known as root-shock) and may take a couple of weeks before they start growing again.

In the greenhouse

Cucumber greenhouse
Pot grown cucumbers will need to be planted in a warm, humid greenhouse that is kept at a temperature of at least 15 degrees Celsius. Plant them at a spacing of 2 plants per grow bag or 18 inches apart if they are being grown directly into the soil.

As before, cucumber will need protection from direct sun to prevent scorching and this can be achieved by providing shading either as lengths of material or as a 'paint' applied directly to the glass. Keep the conditions humid by regularly spraying or damping down the pathways.

Male flowers will need to be removed as soon as you see them to prevent the plants energy from being directly away from fruit production. Female cucumber flowers are easily distinguished from male flowers as they have a swollen bulge between the bottom of the flower and the flower stem which will look like a miniature cucumber. Male flowers will just have a plain stalk. To make life easier you can always purchase ‘all female’ F1 hybrid varieties which will only produce female flowers.

Cucumber harvest
Keep the plants well watered to help them establish and to increase crop yields. Cucumber plants will need to be fed with a high potash feed every two weeks once the fruits begin to develop. You can further improve yield by encouraging your plants to climb upwards. Train the main shoots onto 6 ft canes or strings until they reach the top of their support. At this point pinch out the growing point at the top of the plant. Once the cucumber fruit begins to develop, pinch out the end of each side shoots, leaving two leaves after each fruit. This will help to encourage more sides-hoots which in turn will produce a bigger crop of cucumbers.

You should be able to harvest you first crop of cucumbers approximately 12 weeks after they were sown. They should be picked first thing in the morning when temperatures remain cool. Cut the fruits from the stem using a sharp blade. Timing is important as it is best to pick cucumbers while they are young and tender, and before they show signs of producing seeds. This is because older fruits can become bitter, and a mouth full of seeds can make eating it unpalatable.

If you continue to harvest your cucumber regularly then you can expect them to crop well into October if temperatures remain warm enough.

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STURT'S DESERT PEA - Clianthus formosus

STURT'S DESERT PEA - Clianthus formosus



Sturt's Desert Pea - Clianthus formosus, is an absolutely stunning annual ground-cover plant that is native to the arid regions of central and north-western Australia. It was first discovered in 1699 by the English explorer William Dampier (1652-1715), but the common name honours the English explorer Charles Sturt, who recorded seeing large quantities of the flowers whilst exploring central Australia in 1844. It is one of Australia's best known wild flowers and as such has become the floral emblem of South Australia.

Clianthus formosus illustration
The striking and unusual flowers appear from spring to summer, particularly after rain. They have uniform crimson petals, broken up by a glossy purple-black bulbous black centre, however there is some natural colour variation within this species. In particular there is a very attractive pure white form, as well as some hybridised varieties which can produce flowers ranging from blood scarlet, to pink and even pale cream. The silky, grey-green leaves arise from low stems and act as a fantastic foil to the flowers.

Although you can't really tell by the flowers but Sturt's Desert pea is from the Fabaceae family which means it really is from the pea family. Be that is it may, it has adapted well to life as a desert plant and while it is generally considered to be a short-lived annual, it has been known to persist as a perennial if environmental conditions are favourable.

As you would expect from a plant that has evolved under such harsh conditions the seeds have a long viability, and can germinate after many years. Seeds have a hard seed coat, which protects them from the harsh arid environments but will allow germination after the next rainfall. Of course this hard seed coat will inhibit germination if you are trying to grow Sturt's Desert pea at home, but this can be overcome by nicking the seed coat away from the 'eye' of the seed or by gently rubbing the seed with sandpaper. Alternatively you can placing the seed in hot (just off-boiling) water and leave to soak overnight before planting.

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STURT'S DESERT PEA - Clianthus formosus

THE GIANT HIMALAYAN LILY - Cardiocrinum giganteum

THE GIANT HIMALAYAN LILY - Cardiocrinum giganteum



The giant Himalayan lily - Cardiocrinum giganteum, is truly a king amongst flowering bulbs. In fact it is the largest species of any of the lily plants, growing up to 3.5 metres in height. It was first discovered by western explorers in Nepal and introduced into commercial production in Britain in the 1850s.

THE GIANT HIMALAYAN LILY ILLUSTRATION
Native to the Himalayas (as indicated by its common name) you will find clumps of Cardiocrinum giganteum growing in woodland clearings at altitudes of between 1,500 and 3,600 metres.

In their natural habitat these magnificent plants can grow up to an incredible four metres tall and carry as many as 20 large, white, sweetly fragrant flowers. These flowers are produced on a single stem that emerges from each bulb. Sadly the bulb dies after flowering but it would have produced a number of new offsets which carry on the genetic line.

With regards to propagation, each of these offsets can be separated and re-planted just below the soil surface. While these offsets will flower much sooner that the parent bulb, taking only three to five years, specimens grown from offsets will never reach the stature of plants grown from seed.

Seed grown bulbs will take about seven years to reach flowering size, by which time it has a diameter of at least 20 centimetres and has managed to make itself partially visible by having physically pushed itself half way out of the soil. This does means that Cardiocrinum giganteum it is quite shallow rooted, and it is not uncommon to find a flowering stem that has keeled over due to the weight of its waxy flowers.

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SNOW LEOPARD FACTS




The snow leopard is arguably the most beautiful of all the big cats, but sadly it is also one of the most endangered. Native to the mountain ranges of Central Asia, the snow leopard is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as it is now believed to be globally endangered.

Snow leopard - image Son
Like many cats, they are also opportunistic feeders, eating whatever meat they can find, including carrion and domestic livestock, however they are unusual among cats as they also eat a significant amount of vegetation, including grass and twigs!

Unfortunately their beauty has become their curse as their global existence is now under threat. They have been relentlessly pursued by man because of their remarkable coat.

While it is now protected by laws banning the sale of its fur, the high prices that such furs command means that illegal hunting still goes on.

It has had full protection in India since 1952 and also enjoys year round protection in the USSR. Despite this snow leopard coats still make their way on to the market.

Snow Leopard facts

Snow leopard
1. The snow leopard is actually slightly smaller than the leopard, but its dense fur makes it look larger than it really is.

2. Compared with the other members of the big cat family, the snow leopard's tail is much longer in proportion to the rest of its body. They use their long tails for balance and as blankets to cover sensitive body parts against the severe mountain chill.

3. While being hunted for its fur is the main cause of the snow leopard's population decline, another significant reason is that man has over hunted its natural prey species.

4. Snow leopards live in the high, rugged mountains of Central Asia, extending through twelve countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

5. Snow leopards are carnivores and actively hunt their prey. However like all cats, they are opportunistic feeders, eating whatever meat they can find, including carrion and domestic livestock.


Snow leopard - http://celltoday.wordpress.com/
6. Snow leopards are so powerful that they can kill animals three to four times their size, such as the Bharal, Himalayan Tahr, Markhor and Argali but will readily take much smaller prey such as hares and birds.

7. Unusual among cats, snow leopards will also eat a significant amount of vegetation as part of their normal diet.

8. Snow leopards have not been reported to attack humans, and appear to be among the least aggressive of all the big cats.

9. Snow leopards prefer to ambush prey from above, using broken terrain to conceal their approach, and can leap as far as 14 metres (46 ft).

10. Snow leopards kill with a bite to the neck, and may drag the prey to a safe location before feeding. They consume all edible parts of the carcass, and can survive on a single bharal for two weeks before hunting again.

11. One Indian snow leopard, protected and observed in a national park, is reported to have consumed five blue sheep, nine Tibetan woolly hares, twenty-five marmots, five domestic goats, one domestic sheep, and fifteen birds in a single year. As these numbers indicate, snow leopards sometimes have a taste for domestic animals, which has led to killings of the big cats by herders.


Snow leopard - http://animal-backgrounds.com/
12. The snow leopard will typically breed towards the end of winter. The female will come on heat twice a year. First for about a week, and then, if mating does not occur, for a second period of up to 70 days.

13. The female snow leopard will make her nest among the rocks, using her own fur as bedding. About 14 weeks after mating, she will give birth to a litter containing anything between two to five cubs.

14. When born, the cubs are much darker than their mother. they are blind for their first week and can crawl after ten days. By the time they are two months old, and they have learned to run and are eating solid food as well as suckling milk. By mid-summer they follow their mother when she goes out to hunt, and they will stay with her until they are about a year old.

15. The snow leopard is extremely rare in most of their range due to the continuing demand for their skins. Although trade in snow leopard furs is illegal, it continues, threatening the snow leopard's existence. An estimated 3,000-10,000 are left in the wild, and about 370 are in captivity.

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COCONUT CRAB - THE INCREDIBLE FACTS




There is no denying that the coconut crab - Birgus latro, is a highly impressive (if not rather scary) member of the arthropod family. They live on islands or larger landmasses in the Indian Ocean and the central Pacific Ocean, and predictably their distribution closely matches that of the coconut palm.

Coconut crab - Brocken Inaglory
Discovered around 1688 by western scientists since the voyages of William Dampier (first Englishman to explore parts of Australia, and the first person to circumnavigate the world three times), the Coconut crab populations in several areas has now declined or become locally extinct due to habitat loss and human predation. In 1981, it was listed on the IUCN Red List as a vulnerable species and now conservation management strategies have been put in place in some, but not all regions.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of biological data it is difficult to asses the true state of Coconut crab populations, but with research still being undertaken we are learning more as each year passes. It stands to reason that the more we know about the Coconut crab the more we can do to ensure that these incredible creatures not only survive but thrive.

These are just some of the amazing facts that have been found out so far:

1. The coconut crab is a species of terrestrial hermit crab. So adapted are they for living on dry land that they cannot swim, and will drown if immersed in water for long. Be that as it may, they haven't completely left their watery heritage behind,. While mating occurs on dry land, the females need to migrate to the sea to release their fertilised eggs as they hatch.

Coconut crab - Fearless Rich
2. The coconut crab is also known as the robber crab or palm thief, and is the largest land-living arthropod in the world! It is also believed to be at the upper size limit for terrestrial animals with exoskeletons in recent Earth atmosphere

3. Not only is the Coconut crab larger than life, so is their lifespan. A fully grown adult can live for over 60 years.

4. Adult coconut crabs not only feed on fruits, nuts, seeds, and the pith of fallen trees, they will also consume other organic materials such as tortoise hatchlings and dead animals. Surprisingly, one coconut crab was observed killing and eating a Polynesian Rat!

 While this species is clearly associated with coconuts they are not a significant part of their diet. However the coconut crab is more than capable of climbing trees to pick coconuts, which it then opens to eat the flesh.

5. Adult coconut crabs have no known predators besides larger coconut crabs. Unfortunately, due to its huge size and quality of its meat it is extensively hunted for food by man and is now rare on islands with a human population. It is considered to be both a delicacy and an aphrodisiac, and intensive hunting has threatened the species' survival in some areas.

Brocken Inaglory image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

Fearless Rich  image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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COCONUT CRAB - THE INCREDIBLE FACTS
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HOW TO TAKE CUTTINGS FROM CAMELLIA

How to take cuttings from camellia - Image BS Thurner Hof





The Camellia genus contains some of the most beautiful of all flowering trees and shrubs, they also hold some of the most coveted. And why wouldn't they be? They are evergreen, the majority of which are as tough as old boots, and they are more lime tolerant that the equivalent Rhododendron. But that isn't even half the story, it is the incredibly beautiful flowers that make this plant a world class show stopper!

Camellia blooms
As we know, Camellias come in a huge range of species and cultivars so finding the exact species or variety you desire can be difficult. To make matters worse they can be expensive to purchase, especially if you plan to grow a reasonable selection.

Of course there is another way and that is to take your own cuttings. Now if you live in a climate that replicates their Asian environment then taking cuttings does not need to be any more complicated than sticking a short length of stem into the ground. However, if like me you live in northern Europe then you will need to make more of an effort. Now you will find a lot of secrecy and 'old wives tales' surrounding the propagation of Camellias but as with many exotic plants, so long as you are able to replicate its native environment success will follow.

How to propagate Camellias from cuttings

You can take cuttings from camellias at any time of year, except when they are producing new leaf growth. Cuttings are best taken at dawn, preferably on a cool, cloudy day.

Camellia cutting material - http://www.walterreeves.com/
A cutting should be between 4-6 inches long with 3 to 5 leaves, of course some of the larger species may only have 1 leaf on this length. Using a sharp, sterilized blade make a cut underneath a leaf axle, remove the bottom couple of leaves and then take off a sliver of bark (no more than an inch long) down to the base of the stem.

The compost mix is very important. If you can get hold of a good quality sphagnum moss-peat (not sedge peat) then make your own mix. Using moss-peat with horticultural sand create a 5 to 1 mix by volume. Finally mix in about 2 grams of calcium carbonate to 1 liter of potting medium to adjust pH.

If you can't get hold of moss-peat then replace with a good quality compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting' and perlite to create a 2 to 3 mix by volume.

To give the cutting a helping hand, dip into rooting hormone powder, tap off the excess and stick into individual small plastic pots.

Rooted camellia cutting
Place the pots in a heated propagator in bright conditions but out of direct sunlight. The cuttings will need at least 16 hours of light, so if you are taking hardwood cuttings over the winter you will need to provide additional light. A fluorescent tube will be fine however if the propagator is kept an occupied room in the house then the existing room lighting will be fine. Fill the bottom of the propagator with a half inch or so of balls of expanded clay (Hortag). The hortag will need to be kept damp to provide the necessary humidity while the cuttings root. Place the pots on top of the hortag, not in the hortag as the compost will need to be kept damp and not waterlogged. Keep the soil on the most side at all times.

The temperature of the heated propagator can be kept at 18 to 22 degrees of Celsius during the cooler half of the year, but this can be raised to 25 to 28 degrees of Celsius during the warmer half of the year when ambient light levels are higher.

Potting on camellia - http://www.trehane.co.uk/
Be aware that dormant shoots can ripen, produce new buds and can convert these into flower buds -  all without any root formation! This is difficult to judge as you cannot see if any roots have been produced without taking the pot out of the propagator and dismantling the root ball. With Sphagnum moss as the substrate, you can lift the plant, and rooting is easily recognized. However, with denser composts, you should wait until root tips occur at the bottom holes of the pot. If they have not shown within 6 to 9 months, or if the buds have turned brown, you should discard the cutting.

Once successfully rooted the young camellias can come out of the propagator and be potted on onto four inch pots. Placed them outside under the protection of an unheated greenhouse or cold frame in the spring. They can be planted into their final position two to three months later.

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