What Is that Crud on the Trees? That may not be the best way to word a scientific question, but the black, crusty growth on the limbs of some of our small trees is certainly worthy of the word crud. Here's a photo:
The growth is something called black knot. It most commonly affects cherry, plum and apricot trees and is caused by a fungus. If you see it on trees near you, don't ignore it. It weakens, stunts, disfigures and eventually kills trees. Horticulturists suggest pruning knot-covered branches before spring, when the knots (also called galls) expel spores that spread the fungus. Cut each branch off at least four inches below the knot and burn the branch.
Getting back to the headline, the editor in me is compelled to note that crud comes from a word that means " to congeal." That is also the root of the word curd. So Little Miss Muffet's famous curds and whey might have been described by a more caustic poet as "crud and milky cheese water." And, realizing that, Little Missy would have been frightened away long before the spider ever came along.
Answers to Last Puzzlers:
1) The world’s fastest two-legged animal (top speed: 40 mph) is an ostrich.
2) A slug moves at a peak velocity of .03 mph, slightly slower than the giant tortoise (.13 mph) and the three-toed sloth (.15 mph). The speedster is the starfish, which can move across the ocean bottom at up to 8 mph.
1) Unscramble these into nature-related words:
2) As a tribute to Henry Dudeney, the British mathematician and creator of math and logic puzzles who would have turned 154 on Sunday, here is one of his brain-teasers: A man went into a bank to cash a check. In handing over the money, the cashier, by mistake, gave him dollars for cents and cents for dollars. He pocketed the money without examining it, and spent a nickel on his way home. He then found that he possessed exactly twice the amount of his check. He had no money in his pocket before going into the bank. What was the exact amount of the check?
Ponce de Leon, the Spanish explorer whose failed quest for a fountain of youth led the way for countless scientists and charlatans to devote their lives to (not) finding other anti-aging elixirs, might have turned 551 on Friday (his birth date is sort of a guess). He discovered the Gulf Stream (which became a speedy highway for Spanish ships), gave Florida its name and was somewhat less ruthless than some other conquerors, though he supposedly had a vicious dog that was the equal of 50 soldiers. Funny, I used to have to ride my bicycle by that dog's house when I was a kid.
Theobald Boehm, the German musician who invented (or at least perfected) the modern concert flute, would have been 217 on Saturday. The son of a goldsmith, he made experimental flutes out of gold, silver, nickel, cooper and wood, putting the fingering holes in different positions and making the holes larger than on traditional flutes. Once he settled on the the model he liked, his flutes quickly became the standard, and his design principles were later applied to other wind instruments.
Jim Fowler, the Georgia-born zoologist who hosted Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom on TV, turns 79 on Saturday. You might have seen some of his comical adventures bringing animals onto the Johnny Carson show:
John Claudius Loudon, the Scottish naturalist and landscape designer who was one of the first garden-magazine editors (and no doubt the first who had an opium habit), would have been 228 on Friday. Loudon influenced the look of British gardens and cemeteries, helped spread knowledge of good farming practices and planned some of London's green spaces even as he became hooked on drugs to deal with lifelong pain from rheumatism and arthritis. A botched surgery to repair a broken right arm forced him to have the arm amputated at the shoulder and learn to sketch his garden designs left-handed. He did just that, and eventually got the opium monkey off his back.
David Helvarg, the New York-born journalist and environmental activist, turns 60 on Sunday. The founder of the Blue Frontier Campaign, a lobbying group that works to protect the world's oceans, and a board member of Reef Relief, he has written about (and produced documentaries on) science, the environment, war and AIDS. In one of his memorable pieces, headlined "SpongeBob and Friends: Splendor in the Kelp," he responded to preacher's kooky allegations that the popular cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants was promoting a homosexual agenda by offering an amusing look at the sexual activities of ocean creatures. Hervarg pointed out that "the oceans that cover 71% of our planet are rife with reproductive strategies and behaviors that would make Caligula, or even Bill Clinton, blush."