Monday, May 31, 2010

Trivial Tuesdays - Black as night

For this week's post, I must admit I cheated; it wasn't a random pick, you'll see why.

What colour is produced by the complete absorption of light rays?



Great Job! This might have been an easy question this week but I won't be discussing colour wheels or even colour perception, nope, I'll be introducing you to some mysterious black flowers. This fascination of mine began with talk of a black rose, not a tinted rose, but a genuine black rose.

A black rose just has a certain je ne sais quoi about it that makes me dream. It may however just be a dream since that darkest variety known (or that I have managed to find a latin name to) is called the "Louis XIV" and it's more of a dark crimson red.
Oh don't get me wrong it's beautiful, but it's not really black. Which brings about the question, are there really black plants? Well, keep scrolling to find out.

If you read my post about orchid's a while back (click here), you know now that orchids are the most diverse flowering plant family in the world, surely, if a black flower exists, it will be found within this group.

You be the judge.

I selected these two mainly for the awesomeness of their name. I just had to share.

       Devil's Dracula Orchid                           Vampire's Dracula Orchid
     Dracula diabola                                       Dracula vampira
    via                                                                                      via

Right? Who says science is boring. Speaking of Vampires and scientific names, have I ever mentioned the amazing Vampire Squid from Hell - Vampyrotheutis? No? Well, let me digress and post a link.

Yep it's amazing! But since it's not black or a plant, I'll stop at that.

Out of the orchids now (although they do yield other dark flowers) but continuing with the vampire theme. I'd like to introduce the Bat Flower. I recently discovered it at the Botanical Gardens and fell in love.

  Bat Flower
Tacca chantieri
via                                                                                                                    via

Aren't they cute? The seed pods in the picture to the right really look like little sleeping bats. It is also called Cat's Whiskers (for obvious reasons) and Devil's Flower and is originally from South Est Asia.

The next flower is particularly dark and is one of the closest I have found to a true black (it does however vary from flower to flower even within the same plant. 

Black Hollyhock  
Alcea Rosea 'Nigra'

And then there is the last one, so cute and so dark I kept it for last. 

Sorbet Black Delight Viola
via via

Do you have dark or even black flowers in you backyard?

Have you ever received a Black Rose or any other Black flower as a gift?
I'd love to know for what occasion.

Have a great week!
Take care!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Trivial Tuesdays - MSG

Dear readers,
I am fully aware of the drastic drop in posting this last month or so, life yet again has caught up with me and I get home completely pooped from work with no will to write or do anything but eat, shower, and sleep. However, starting this week, I will try to post twice a week. I can't wait to tell you all about this huge moth my brother found next to our front door yesterday - really exciting stuff.

Let's get started. 

From last week's short post on tomatoes, we move on to the fascinating world of food and chemical additives.

What does MSG stand for? 


Mono Sodium Glutamate

      Ah! what a tasty topic. I think I would describe it as meaty, brothy, and/or savory. Wait, that's too long. What would encompass all of these things? Oh, why of course, why not dub it ''umami'', the Japanese word for delicious. Brilliant, considering it was first extracted from seaweed in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese scientist. This compound has been used as a flavour enhancer for over a century now, but still the debate continues: to eat or not to eat MSG, that is the question.

     The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) finds no problem with the usage of MSG and has placed no limit to the quantity that can be added to food as it is a naturally occurring amino acid.  In addition to naturally producing the stuff ourselves, it can also be found in tomatoes, parmesan cheese, mushrooms and certain nuts -which explains why we often use them to flavour our food. EUFIC (European Food Information Council) vouches for the safety of the product and that claims it can even help reduce sodium levels in food. No studies, so far, have managed to directly link MSG to the ''Chinese Restaurant Syndrome'' (CRS - yes this is a medically recognized syndrome discovered in 1968...crazy, I know). CRS is characterized by sweating, headaches, flushing, and in more serious cases, swelling of the throat and chest pain.

    Well, everything would be peachy if the only information out there came from pro-MSG groups, it's not and far from it. The information I've read in many cases is quite disturbing and merits your own research into the matter but for the time being here is what I'm keeping in mind next time I'm buying a pack of chips. 
Scientists use MSG to create obese strains of mice and rats for research on diabetes and diets. These same animals have been diagnosed with, in addition to diabetes and obesity, brain lesions, stunted skeletal growth, and female sterility to name a few of the more comprehensible medical terms. MSG has also been linked to Alzheimer's disease. 

    I particularly liked this explanation of MSG's modus operandi offered in The Science Creative Quarterly article published in 2009.
  ''MSG stimulates appetite by inducing insulin release so that glucose is taken up, despite not having consumed anything with carbohydrates (sugars). As a result of high insulin concentrations, your blood sugar level drops and you end up being hungry again only hours later.''
Basically, you can add MSG to just about anything and make your body believe that it is eating something savory and protein rich.

    MSG is a proven additive and  justifies the slogan  ''Betcha can't eat just one''. Some go as far as blaming MSG to the sudden rise of childhood obesity.

    Be warned, MSG can take on many names, here are a few key ingredients to look for (from :
* Food Additives that ALWAYS contain MSG *
Monosodium Glutamate
Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
Hydrolyzed Protein
Hydrolyzed Plant Protein
Plant Protein Extract
Sodium Caseinate
Calcium Caseinate
Yeast Extract
Textured Protein (Including TVP)
Autolyzed Yeast
Hydrolyzed Oat Flour
Corn Oil 

    With the information available, I conclude too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing. As for all things, moderation and consuming a wide variety of food should keep you healthy enough. But as a reference point, McGill's faculty of science draws the line of no return at 2.5 grams. Their studies have shown a slight increase of headaches and feelings of weakness beyond this point.

Happy Munching!
Take care!

Eufic. 2002. The Facts on Monosodium Glutamate. Eufic Archives. [online] Available here. [Accessed May 24th 2010)
Lam, P. 2009. MSG: More Than Meets the Tongue. The Science Creative Quarterly. 4. [online] Available here. [Accessed May 24th 2010].
Olney, J.W. 1969. Brain Lesions, Obesity, and Other Disturbances in Mice Treated with Monosodium Glutamate. Science. (164) p.719-721

Schwarcz, J. 2009. Monosodium Glutamate: Fact vs Fiction. McGill Faculty of Science Blogs [online] Available here. [Accessed May 25th 2010].
Unknown. MSG – Slowly Poisoning America. [online]. Available here. [Accessed May 25th 2010].

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Trivial Tuesdays - Fruit or vegetable

Last week, I got to tell you about ''Green Blood'' aka Chlorophyll, this week, we are continuing with the plant theme and resolving the confusing question: Fruit or vegetable? 

What are love apples?


         The appellation probably derives from the literal translation of french pomme d'amour which is believed to have come from the belief in the tomatoes' aphrodisiac properties or more likely from the transliteration of the Italien pomo dei Mori, "apples of the Moors". As interesting as this may be, let's get to the meat of the topic.

Tomatoes are fruit a fact well accepted by all - although, they are still found in the vegetable section of most grocery stores. Why this discrepancy you ask?

It's as simple as this: vegetable is a generic term used for all edible parts of garden plants; by this definition, a tomato is a vegetable. Botanically, their is no such thing as a vegetable. A plant is composed of roots (6), stem (4), leaves (1), flowers (2), fruits (3), and seeds (5) (some plants have additional or different structures but generally you're safe with these).

A tomato is a fruit because it comes from a flower and contains seeds. Can you list other vegetable-fruits or fruit-vegetables?

Pepper, eggplant, pumpkin, squash, cucumber, just to name a few.

What veggy-fruits do you eat?

Next week: What does MSG stand for? and an added bonus explanation of why so many people try to avoid it. 

Take care!
References :
"love apple." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 18 May. 2010.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Trivial Tuesdays - Plants

Trivial Pursuit is hitting us with a basic but highly important question this week. It needs no further introduction.

What makes plants green?


Hibiscus leaves


Discovered in 1817 by Pierre-Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Bienaimé Caventou, chlorophyll in addition to giving plants their characteristic green colouration makes photosynthesis possible. You might of heard about photosynthesis, it's a reaction that takes place in plants transforming carbon dioxide (CO2) and the energy from the sun into sugar and oxygen (O2). This reaction is one of the main reasons there is life on Earth. Plants make the air breathable and transform the energy from the sun into something we can use. Important little buggers aren't they?

Tree: A Life StoryI'm reading Tree by David Suzuki and Wayne Grady - an absolutely fantastic book which I will be reviewing in a couple of weeks - this book is filled with fascinating information, including mind boggling facts about chlorophyll. David Suzuki tells us that chlorophyll is composed of 5 elements: carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and magnesium. Big deal you might say, that's the four basic elements of life plus one (ok, I admit the chances you said this are slim).  It gets interesting when you find out that we, humans, need 200 milligrams of magnesium a day to maintain healthy bones and blood. Revolutionary as this may be for the Eat More Greens cause, it's only when you turn the page that you are completely mind boggled and must put the book down in chock. Chlorophyll is eerily similar to hemoglobin, the basic molecule of human blood. The difference is that in the center of chlorophyll is an atom of Magnesium which attracts light and whilst hemoglobin has iron in it's center specialized in binding oxygen. ''Chlorophyll is green blood.'' It is also stated that chlorophyll is used in alternative cancer treatments, they give chlorophyll transfusions to the patients. Crazy. 

Oh and Tony Stark, a.k.a. Ironman, drinks chlorophyll to counteract the effect of his power source. 

Take care!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Trivial Tuesday - Avian Query

In last week's episode we talked about our sense of smell (and about the random snow storm that hit Montreal), you can read it by clicking here.

This week we are returning to natural history knowledge with a question about birds.

What's the smallest bird in the world?

The hummingbird

To be more precise, the smallest bird in North America is the Calliope hummingbird  (Stellula calliope) whilst the smallest bird in the world is the Bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae) both weighing in under 2g. 
Hummingbirds are delicate little nectar feeding birds known for their incredible wing flapping speed and capability to hover in one spot (essential when feeding from flowers).
You can attract them to your yard by planting  large tubular nectar producing flowers such as Columbine,  bleeding hearts, Impatiens, Petunias, and Larkspurs just to name a few. If gardening is not your style, you can set up a hummingbird bird-feeder instead.

On that note, I'm off to bed. 
Take Care!

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