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City Gardening - Horticulture in the News - July04

 
 

Gardening in the Headlines

A round-up of the past few weeks news of interest to gardeners

 

Landscaping

         Introduce a ground cover of moss or areas of liverworts for a woodland garden. Save the dregs of milk or soya milk in the carton, top up with lukewarm water, shake well and then pour the milky water over the soil or stones. This deposits a protein layer on which spores of mosses and liverworts can commence their life cycle. Diana Beresford-Kroeger of Merrickville, Ontario, suggests an alternative to lawns in Nature Canada, magazine.

         Sales of patio heaters, formerly not exactly the big thing on the Irish outdoor scene, have boomed since no smoking became the law in Hibernian pubs and restaurants.

          . . . blowing another wad and hiring some garden guru like that dishy Mark Hartley to bulldoze the beds of dahlias and put in another black-bottomed swimming pool Minty Parkes Cohen's Rosedale Soap column in Frank magazine acknowledges little-appreciated attributes of the well-known landscaper.

         Landscape installation has never been the safest of occupations, but in recent years, deaths have been rare. Unfortunately a 47-year old worker on an Uxbridge, Ontario, project was recently crushed to death when a slab slipped from a forklift onto the patio on which he was working.

 

Lawns

         In June, you will see hairy chinch bug adults wandering around and mating. It is a bizarre ritual where the females end up dragging the males around behind them during copulation.  I've said this before: men, be happy you are not a hairy chinch bug! Pam Charbonneau, OMAF turf specialist, Guelph, Ontario

         Faced with worse drought since 1983, and accompany water restrictions, upscale Australian gardeners are turning to artificial lawns  at a cost of around $85 per square metre. To think of all the marvellous ways they're using plastics nowadays, as once warbled Tom Lehrer.

 

Trees

         How tall can a tree grow? The answer, according to researchers at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff is 130 metres, reported in the journal Nature after they studied the famed California redwoods.

         Skilled pruning of trees to form walls and covered walkways is called pleaching, as many gardeners know. But what is the correct word for branches growing together naturally, without man's aid? It is inosculation, according to a fascinating article in New Scientist and our Windows spell check knew it already. For more information visit web sites www.orchardsedge.com/articles/pleaching.jsp; www.arborsmiht.com/treecircus.html along with www.danladd.com/Living_Sculpture.htm and www.archinode.com/bienalo2.html

         Northern Michigan forests may be emitting highly reactive gases that scientists haven't yet identified or directly detected, reports Science News. The chemical reaction may be destroying ground-level ozone says William H. Brune of Pennsylvania State University.

         Yew wood was used to make Europe's oldest wooden musical instrument, reports the journal Science. The six pipes unearthed in Ireland are over 4,000 years old and were probably placed upright and attached to bellows, say archaeological musicologists.

         Cottonwoods are declining throughout the western states because dams have tamed the streams and rivers on whose banks they grew, says David Lytle, an aquatic entomologist at Oregon State University. Cottonwood seeds need scoured flood plains produced by flash floods to germinate, and these are few and far between thanks to the dams.

 

Shrubs

         Rhododendron displays may be over in southern Ontario for another season, but if your cannot get enough of these wonderful blooms, check out the natives in Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. www.nhparks.state.nh.us/ParksPages/Rhododendron/Rhododendron.html

 

Roses

         The Explorer and Parkland roses booklet has been unavailable for a number of years but a new edition should be available this month, says Agriculture and Agrifood Canada. Hopefully, the colour production will be superior to the original, first printing

         Alleged singer Janet Jackson reportedly causes a rosarians rumpus by ordering 10 black roses for her dressing room before appearing on a British talk show. But can we believe this girl's tastes have become instantly anglicized that she also order in Lucozade and marmite? Is it true that Timberlake was meant to tear off her left breastplate because it was neither right nor fair?

 

Flowers

         Why does one colour of cut flower fade before another of the same species? An enquirer to London-based New Scientist magazine posed this excellent question but, to the relief of florists, there is no clear and unambiguous answer, according to Tony Stead, School of Biological Sciences at the University of London

         A hundred years ago the world's largest floral clock commenced operation at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition at St. Louis, notes Scientific American. It was sixteen times larger than any timepiece in the world, the magazine proudly reported.

         Tulip petals may have fallen from trees, say horticulturally-challenged New York police detectives, discovering them scattered on the corpse of a murder victim in Manhattan's Inwood Hill Park. Of course, they say, the petals could also have been put there by the murderer.

         A poppy plant in a Scarborough garden blooms once in years then, this 6 June bursts into full red bloom as though remembering Canada's contribution to the Normandy D-Day landings, notes C. Westall in a letter to the Toronto Sun.

         Rising levels of atmospheric CO2 may be good news for ornamental flower growers. USA Today reports that researchers at Ohio State University, Columbus, believe that there will be a 19 percent increase in flowers, along corresponding gains in seeds and total growth. The downside comes for farm crops, which may be bigger but will be less nutritious, says a team headed by Peter Curtis.

         A blend of white flowers and vanilla-infused musk is reported to be Britney Spears very own fragrance, just two months away from marketing in September. White flowers  given Ms. Spears performances one trusts those are neither Datura or Brugmansia.

         Stand by for media stories of the infamous corpse flower, Amorphophalus titanium or penis plant as the uninhibited Dutch call it. One is due to bloom this month in the greenhouses of the University of Connecticut.

 

Down in the Vegetables

         Okra extracts appear to offer some protection against ulcers, report researchers from the University of Dusseldorf, Germany in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. But according to grocer Garry Young of Toronto, some European women feed it to their husbands to improve their sex lives.

         A low-carb potato will hit the stores early next year. The result of Dutch hybridization, the name of the spud is being kept secret, but it has an incredible taste says Don Northcott, marketing manager for HZPC Americas Corp., in Charlottetown, P.E.I., who also describes it as one of the prettiest things he has seen. Whatever turns you on.

         Foods rich in purines are associated with gout. But vegetable purines metabolize differently from animal purines, reports Jane E. Brody in The New York Times. So although asparagus, dried beans and spinach are high in purines this would put them back on the plate, she writes.

         The corn god was revered by the Maya even earlier than once thought, report archaeologists excavating a city in Guatemala. They have discovered a giant 3-by-5-metre carved terra-cotta mask that researchers believe represents the corn god, reports the journal Science, that dates back to about 300 years before the Christian era.

         The new orange cauliflower that is all the rage south o' the border originated from a single mutant specimen found in Holland Marsh, halfway between Toronto and Barrie, in 1970. British researchers sent some of the seeds to New York's Cornell University and the rest is history. Cauliflower is a cabbage with a college education, explained Mark Twain. Should sell well to certain Irish just before 12 July.

         The National Post's Post Mortem feature quotes StatsCan as reporting that only Saskatchewan, Yukon and Prince Edward Island reported higher sales of domestic red wine than imported brands. Post Mortem speculates that maybe it goes better with potatoes.

         Is it the revenge of Western dining culture? Canada's giant McCain Foods announces it will built a $43.3-million plant in Harbin, northeast China, capable of processing 7 tons of potatoes an hour into frozen fries. McCain has been selling fries in China since 1966, according to the Financial Post. Would that be junk food?

 

Fruit & Nuts

         Germans Hinrich Schaefer and Veronika Frieburg say that the colour of Venezuelan rainforest fruit is a good indicator of their nutritional quality. Orange and yellow indicates high levels of protein but low carbohydrates and blue fruits the reverse. But red and black fruit attract simply by colour.

         The world's largest co-operative of cranberry growers, Ocean Spray, turns down an offer from Pepsi. Apparently some things don't go better with . . . oops, wrong beverage.

         The mutation of a single gene in a wild black grape, Vitis vinifera, resulted in white grapes from which, in turn, arose red grapes, announces Shozo Kobayashi at the National Institute of Fruit Tree Science in Hiroshima, Japan, and colleagues in the journal Science.

         Eat plenty of fruit when you're young and you're less likely to suffer from the leading cause of vision loss later in life known as macular degeneration, reports the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, cautiously declining to say which fruit.

         Grains were first added to human diet 23,000 years ago, according to new findings at an archaeological site in Israel. According to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, other foods enjoyed by ancient man in that area included almonds, pistachios, wild olives raspberries, figs, grapes  and acorns.

 

Spices and Herbs

         Cilantro, the greens from coriander, is vital for salsa  and possibly keeping food free of salmonella bacteria. Researchers reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that a compound in the herb is deadly to the notorious food contaminant.

         The pot of Herbes de Provence from Rye Spice that John Osborne recently purchased states: Produce of several countries, reports New Scientist.

         Cinnamon, cloves, bay, wine, regular or decaf coffee and green tea have all been shown to possibly assist those suffering from non-insulin dependent diabetes. Commonly called type 2 diabetes, it accounts for 95 per cent of all diabetes in the United Sates and is estimated to cost US$92-billion every year, reports Science News. Scientists urge caution, however, before using any of these as supplements.

         It wasn't strange brown pellets of thyme, pinecones and mud that caused the May mystery in Vancouver that sicken a transit bus driver and two paramedics, police determined.

         The oregano is a somnambulist trapped in a dream. Marshall McLuhan is subject to a wicked satire by the National Post's  Post Mortem.

 

Wildflowers

         Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, the self-trained South African naturalist who in 1938 discovered the coelacanth fish, also wrote books on wildflowers, notes The New York Times in her obituary. Ms. Courtenay-Latimer died recently at the age of 97.

 

Houseplants

         A large bear that broke into a home near Huntsville, Ontario, had no appreciation of houseplants. Finding a living room full, he destroyed the lot, helped himself to some food and threw the kitchen stove aside. He left hastily upon hearing police car sirens. The OPP have labelled it a bearglary.

 

Mushrooms

         Finally some good news from the Republic of Congo. A strange mushroom is discovered towering up like some mycological lazy susan almost three feet in diameter near Brazzaville.

         It wasn't exactly your run-of-the-mill mushroom raising operation on Palestine Road in the Kawartha Lakes Eldon Township. Police seized more than $5,000 worth of farm-grown hallucinogenic mushrooms in cottage country.

         Sorry to say, but that probably isn't a fungus anymore. Mycologist George W. Hudler points out in Natural History magazine that they may instead be Chrytridiomycota (one-tailed spores), Zygomycota (pin moulds and their diverse relatives), Ascomycota (sac fungi), and Basidiomycota (club fungi). Myxomycota, or slime moulds, will probably get their own kingdom, he says. And don't forget the now-infamous Oomycota (two-tailed spores) which caused the Irish potato blight.

 

Weeds

         Tropical soda apple weed, native to South America, but introduced into Florida, is causing havoc on beef and dairy ranges in that state. Hard to control with herbicides and mechanically, Ranhavan Charudattan, professor of plant pathology with the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, is convinced he has the answer in a common virus that would become a bioherbicide, says USA Today.

         Almost a thousand goats will be bio-weed-whackers this summer in Montana, as the city of Helena has hired flocks to bring under control invasive weeds there. Of course, Toronto could follow suit  City Hall council chamber is packed full of goats. We kid you not.

 

Bugs and Gardeners

         Used according to directions, they can be used safely. And that's the important part: the label directions, that's what the risk assessment boils down to. Chris Krepski, media relations officer at the pesticides regulatory agency, Health Canada, in an interview with the Financial Post's Terrence Corcoran

         Giant African snails being kept in Wisconsin classrooms as pets has the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the alert. Any escapees could breed rapidly and devastate crops, it says. according to New Scientist. How the beasts would survive a Wisconsin winter isn't revealed. The snails are the size on an apple and can weight a pound or more.

         Emerging cicadas offer photo ops south o' the border down Washington way. Entomologically-minded press photographers snap pics of one buzzing President Bush and another on the neck of an unfortunate master sergeant guarding Air Force One. No word received as to whether the Department of Homeland Security is checking for the beasts possible al-Qaeda associations.

         Despite the attraction of fresh honey for his morning coffee, a resident of Palm Beach County, Florida, decided 700,000-plus bees in his roof were a little too much. Still he split some 30 kilograms of honey with the beekeeper who evicted the swarm.

         Control of West Nile virus-bearing mosquitoes by fogging is a waste of time and money, according to Ted Leighton, executive director of the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre.

         British scientists prove the existence of the oldest flash fire known, 420-million years ago on the English-Welsh border, in part by analyzing the dung left by a millipede. It's a living.

         On the campaign trail in Winnipeg, Jack Layton's bus is reported to have everything, including industrial-strength mosquito repellent, which the NDP leader slathers on before emerging to serve pizza to supporters. Apparently when slap comes to bite and the risk of West Nile virus, natural, environmentally friendly alternatives are abandoned.

         A tractor-trailer load of 512 hives overturns near Bozeman, Montana, releasing 9 million highly annoyed bees. I've never felt so much fear in my life, said driver Lane Miller, who was stung about 20 times escaping from his cab.

         A bit like overcooked beans, but very crunchy, says Biologist Jena Jadin, author of a cookbook of recipes for 17-year-old cicadas, now swarming through the eastern U.S., according to New Scientist.

         The U.S. Federal Trade Commission challenges California electronics company Prince Lionheart Inc. to prove its mosquito-repelling device that is said to reproduce the sound a dragonfly's wing beat actually scares off away mossies.

 

For the Birds

         Why would some Old World flower blossoms appear to be perfectly shaped to allow for pollination by hummingbirds when there are no hummingbirds there? Fossils found in Germany, however, prove there were species there between 34 and 30 million years ago. Now the mystery is why are there 300 known hummingbirds in the Americas but none in elsewhere?

         Canada's first appearance of West Nile virus this season is confirmed by Health Canada near Hanover, Ontario, in a dead blue jay (bird, not baseball victim). Local health protection unit manager Chris Munn patriotically joins in the great Canadian pastime of knocking America, reportedly saying the bird most likely migrated into Ontario from the United States.

         Ontario marks its second record of  West Nile virus this season with a  dead crow found in Aurora.

 

         Canada geese can feed in peace in the public parks of St. Catharines this summer. Bungleaucrats have decided that the students employed for the past three seasons with her two dogs to discourage the birds away must now carry $2-million in liability insurance.

         Previous research has established that birds use certain aromatic plants in their nests to ward off insects. But plants such as yarrow, juniper, birch, oak, horsetail, wild carrot and dandelion also act as bactericides, reports New Scientist magazine.

 

Water Gardening

         It is very rare for anyone to drown in a water garden so the tragedy in Fort Worth, Texas, of an 8-year-old girl drowning along with her father, brother and another child who had tried to rescue her from what is described as a deep, swirling pool, is appalling.

 

Lichen

         Trouble with lichen: it was likely Xanthoparmelia chlorochroa that poisoned over 300 Rocky Mountain elk in Wyoming, reports the journal Nature. Drought apparently pushed the elk north into an area where the lichen is abundant, but unfamiliar to the animals.

 

Gardening in the City

         Will Toronto's bylaw-enforcement officers be pedaling to pesticide use? Ten of them are being hauled from their automobiles and mounted on bicycles, announces Paula Dill, commissioner of urban development services. Do you think she rides a bicycle to work?

         Larviciding with methopreme in catch basins and Bacillus thuringiensis var. israeliensis (Bti) to standing water will take place in the Toronto, advises the city's health department, continuing into September. More at www.toronto.ca/health.

         Was it a pending election federally and mounting disgust at provincial and municipal politicians? Whatever, all three levels of government agreed to an environmental assessment of plans to naturalize the lower reaches of Toronto's Don River, which flows very quietly thr0ugh artificial channels into the harbour.

         British researchers say that summer nights in cities will get hotter and sweatier, reports New Scientist magazine, thanks to global warming. One would think they would be grateful for extra heat in that gardening loving nation, if only to improve their horticultural happiness.

         Following the examples of Vancouver and other western cities, boulevard plantings reach Ontario in Guelph, reports Lorraine Johnson in the summer issue of Ontario Nature. The website to visit for more information, she says, is www.boulevardclub.guelph.org

         A Toronto storeowner is attacked with a flowerpot during an attempted robbery of the Woodbine Mini Mart. His assailant is charged with assault with a weapon plus three counts of failing to comply with probation.

         A squirrel is released from its collar and leash, tied to a tree in a St. Catharines, Ontario backyard by a Humane Society inspector. Most gardeners want to discourage them, not keep them as pets.

 

Tools

         Here's an idea from a correspondent of New Scientist magazine for a more effective way of ant control. David Byrne, Farnborough, Hampshire, U.K., wants to know if it would be possible to tame an anteater to do the job for you instead of resorting to toxic ant powder. Toronto city council, please copy.

         Garden hose does not make a good snorkel, Michael Hatfield, 54, of Kansas City discovers when he nearly drowns using it in an attempt to retrieve is car keys from the bottom of Longview Lake.

 

Inventions

         Take heart, tea drinkers: science researcher John L. Lombardi has discovered it is the very thing to assist makers of hard-disc drivers for PCs to use as a non-toxic polishing liquid that would cling to ceramic grains and flush them away, reports Science News. 

         It may pay to be an entomologist and  silkworm specialist. A Thai police officer has designed a bullet-proof vest that passed FBI standards consisting of 37 layers of silk.

         PC casings, keyboards and mice made of wood have been developed in Sweden as an environmental alternative to the ubiquitous plastics.

         German inventor Helmut Worner patents a hose so you can see your plants as you water at night (WO 2004/18935)

 

Fertilizer

         While the procedure called the Haber-Bosch process will continue to be the mainstay for producing ammonia for fertilizer production, chemist Paul J. Chirik and his colleagues at Cornell University have invented a faster method to synthesize this ammonia, reports Science News.

         Toronto's attempts to pawn off its copious quantities of sewage sludge  biosolids in bureaucratspeak  as fertilizer is chronicled by Frank magazine, perhaps not inappropriately given the content of the satirical biweekly. Toronto, it turns out, is in deep, deep, er, biosolids. Councillor Sandra Bussin's pet project has sunk with nary a trace.

         Used chicken litter, in some areas commonly sold as a natural fertilizer, maybe a source of antibiotic resistance, says USA Today, reporting on research at the University of Georgia in a special science edition.

         A study of manure handling practices on Canadian farms is released by Statistics Canada on Election Day, 28 June. Any comment would be superfluous.

 

Science and the Gardener

         A batch of the almost extinct Tahitian land snail is found frozen in a freezer at the University of Michigan, reports the journal Nature. It was attacked by the rosy wolfsnail (Euglandina rosea), which was introduced to Tahiti to control pests but ate the native snails instead. This was a spectacularly inept attempt at biological control, said Diarmaid O Foighil, a mollusc expert at the university.

         The spiral patterns of growth seen plants such as cacti and sunflowers, follow a precise mathematic sequence. The mystery of why they do so has been solved, reports New Scientist: These patterns minimize the amount of mechanical stress in a growing plant.

         Frogs and other amphibians are declining across the planet. Habitat loss, pesticides, climate change, new diseases, parasites and ultraviolet radiation have all been blamed. But, says Scientific American, The emerging consensus is that no single overarching cause lies behind the global decline; instead several factors threaten amphibians in varying degrees.

         What use the formacine ants, the subfamily that include wood ants and carpenter ants? Plenty if you are a famed poison frog, some at least of which have now been proven to obtain the pumiliotoxin alkaloids that poison their skins from these ants. Science News notes that one purpose of this is to discourage mosquitoes from biting them.

         Despite it being revealed over a decade ago how pranksters make crop circles, Canadians Robert Nichol and Neil Olsen peddle their DVD Star Dreams on the subject at that fountainhead of science, the University of Toronto. It is all a sign of either God or off-planet aliens, they say. And to prove it, Nichols tells how while duck-hunting a half-century ago north of Orillia, he was kidnapped by extraterrestrials. Watch those wheat fields for aliens going against the grain!

         Just like the bug in your rose bushes, ancient arthropods slipped out of their exoskeletons into something more comfortable, say scientists studying a unique 505-million-year-old fossil from B.C.'s famed Burgess Shale deposits, according to Desmond H. Collins of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

 

Travel

         An exhibition at London's Tate Britain art gallery, Art of the Garden (3 June to 30 August) celebrating British paintings of plants and gardens. www.rhs.org.uk

 

Weather

         This extremely enjoyable film has been let down by the simple fact it has got its science all wrong. Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, on the film The Day After Tomorrow, The Sunday Telegraph, 9 May 2004 [Soundbites, New Scientist]

         Two days before it became common knowledge that snakehead fish had invaded the Potomac River, the journal Nature publishes an enthusiastic account of how the fish, at least in its fossilized form, may soon make a contribution to paleoclimatology as it is limited to climates with at least one month of rainfall of 150 millimetres and a mean temperature of 20C.

         The paradox of thermometers at the surface reporting rising temperatures while detection devices on satellites circling the Earth denying this may have been solved, reports the journal Nature. Nothing wrong with the high-in-the-sky instruments, but the analysis of their measurements of the atmosphere's microwave emissions was.

         Did the pseudo-scientific environmental disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow get to you? Did you know that the screenwriter, Whitley Strieber, adopted it from his book with the same title? His early efforts at lasting literature include a book on his alleged kidnapping by aliens.

         The Niagara region received almost 130 mm of rain in May, causing predictable wails of woe from corn farmers over possible risk to their June seeding of the crop.

 

Kyoto Kafuffles

         Radical environmental groups have claimed that the World Bank's Prototype Carbon, founded to absorb carbon dioxide from the air, is a sham and should be scraped, reports the weekly New Scientist. But it is because they plant eucalyptus, and not replace rainforest that irks the environmentalists, not that the whole scheme on pseudoscience.

         In a superb example of flogging a dead horse, the journal Nature reports British Prime Minister Tony Blair is throwing his weight behind a group made up of the cities and corporations that have done most to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

         We are well past the threshold of inevitable change and on the cusp of climate destabilization. Verlyn Klinkenborg, an editorial writer at The New York Times, offers up a major serving of gloom and doom environmentalism along with a side order of pseudoscience.

 

         Fear and loathing from environmentalists toward Tory Leader Stephen Harper on the campaign trial when he announced the Kyoto deal was dead with his party and Canada under him would withdraw from the protocol, which is not yet in force.

 

GM

         The environmentally friendly funeral and transgenic tombstone envisioned by graduates of London's Royal College of Art George Tremmel and Shihi Fukuhara is likely to die an early death in that GM-negative nation, writes James Robertson in the weekly New Scientist. As reported here a few months ago, the idea was to insert junk human DNA into an apple tree, thus offering a permanent memorial to a loved one. Just what would you be sampling with that bite of Granny Smith apple?

         In its infinite wisdom, the EU has lifted its unofficial moratorium on GM crops, effective since 1998, so even if GM crops are not grown in Europe, they can be imported  provided the comply with other strenuous conditions imposed by the EU.

         A single GM research crop will likely be grown this year in Britain, with but one application to the EU granted.

         Turning over large areas of farmland to just one crop, relying on one method of weed control, and failing to take precautions such as rotating crops, is asking for trouble, explains New Scientist of the havoc caused by gross mismanagement of GM soya beans in Argentina.

         Ventria Bioscience of Sacramento, California has been shot down in its attempts to grow 50 hectares of rice genetically to yield pharmaceuticals. Opponents claimed it would threaten the state's exports to Japan and Europe, worth US$500-million in 2003.

         Is this a dig deal or a small effect? asks Allison Snow of Ohio State University in Science News of the report by researchers at the University of Arizona and Texas A&M University that pollen from Bt-bioengineered corn may be undermining the fight to keep pests from evolving resistance to pesticides. Wider refuges of conventional corn or those that flower at different periods may be required.

         Science raises another problem for vegetarians as Nature Biotechnology reports that Gary Dobson of the Scottish Crop Research Institute in Dundee, Scotland, have succeeded in bioengineering Arabidopsis thaliana, or thale cress, to produce the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, a necessary nutrient, presently only obtainable from oily fish.

         And still further hazards may await vegetarians, another report from Nature Biotechnology hints. Yu-Cai Liao and his colleagues at Huazhong Agricultural University, Wujan, China, are on the way to defeating the notorious wheat scab, fusarium head blight, bioengineering the gene for a fragment of chicken antibody that binds to the scab.

         Want to follow the whole canola n' caboodle of Monsanto vs. Schmeiser as the Supreme Court of Canada saw it. Go towww.lexum.umontreal.ca/csc-scc/en/rec/html/2004scc034.wpd.html

         The patent on the herbicide Roundup having expired, researchers are eager to cash in on the success of Monsanto's Roundup Ready GM soybeans, cotton and corn. A paper in the journal Science reports finding an enzyme and re-selecting it to make it 10,000 times more efficient in detoxifying glyphosate, the common name for Roundup. It will still take at least 5 years before Monsanto sees the challenge in the field.

         Those who thought Monsanto pulling their GM wheat from the market was victory are in for an unpleasant surprise. In the pipeline are Roundup Ready soybeans that have reduced or no trans fats, along with others that have been tweaked to produce omega-3 fatty acids. Rival firm Syngenta is about to introduce a GM banana that ripens more slowly.

 

Law and Gardeners

         Chemical pesticides may be banned from Toronto gardens, but not for the city Health Department, who commenced combating West Nile virus-bearing mosquitoes by popping pesticides down storm sewers last month.

         France's top Court of Cessation rules that while the painting Jardin a Auvers (Garden at Auvers) may not look like a typical Vincent van Gogh, it is indeed the real thing, settling a eight-year dispute.

         France considers changing the law to allow wine to be reclassified as a food, reports The Daily Telegraph. Spain made a similar change in 2003 to assist domestic wine sales.

         Home tomato canners are mad in Manitoba. Bungleaucrats there are demanding they double the bottles boiling time to almost 1 hours to reduce the risk of botulism-causing bacteria.

         Actress Liz Taylor settled out of court with her former gardener Willem Van Muyden, who claimed he had been fired by her after 10 years of unpaid service when he rejected sexual advances from her butler.

         The Supreme Court of Canada rules that Canadian Forest Products Ltd. is liable for damages to the B.C. Crown for a 1992 fire on public land that destroyed 1,500 hectares.

         The UN reports that the South American acreage of cocaine dropped by 11 per cent last year, down to 380,000 acres, certainly a horticultural endeavour not to be sniffed at.

  

Business

         The government does not want to admit that its land grab has been a disaster and that Zimbabwe can no longer feed itself. John Makumbe, chair of the Zimbabwe branch of Transparency International, on the expulsion of a UN crop-assessment team, The Guardian, 10 May 2004 [Soundbites, New Scientist]

         Seeking out safe, environmentally-friendly substances for the kiddies may not always be the best way to go as wooden swing sets are recalled as potentially unsafe by a Collingwood, Ontario, manufacturer. For more information, visit www.backyardproducts.com.

         Sales of Ontario wines were up last year, says the Wine Council of Ontario, rising about 6.5 per cent. Of course, unless labelled VQA what purports to be Ontario wine could be made locally from imported grape juice.

         We used to laugh at the wording in oriental and European garden catalogues. Perhaps we should be looking just south o' the border, if one can believe London-based New Scientist magazine. A large number of American firms are offering furniture and fixtures made of rod iron, the publication notes. Personally, we were overwrought at the sign outside a foundry reading cast iron sinks.  Well, it would, wouldn't it?

 

Environment

         Half of all the world's 1,200 bamboos are threatened with extinction. A timely global survey is released by the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), for more on which see www.ourplanet.com/wcmc/14.html.

         The black triangle of southern Poland south-east Germany and the Czech Republic was so toxic with fallout from air pollution that until recently few trees would grow there, notes Fred Pearce in New Scientist.

         Failure of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to implement the Endangered Species Act caused 113 species of plants and animals to become extinct between 1973 and 1994, claims the Tucson, Arizona-based environmental activist organization Center for Biological Diversity.

         Increasingly it seems, facts are not necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief. It is about whether you are going to be a sinner or saved, one of the people on the side of salvation or on the side of doom, one of us or one of them. Famed physician and author Michael Crichton comments in USA Today.

         Practice saying polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Once Greenpeace, the Sierra Club et al. catch on, these flame retardant chemicals promise to emerge as the next environmental contaminants, already in food, fish, homes and offices. And if you still can't pronounce  it, remember PBDEs.

         The UN reports that one-third of the earth's surface at risk of turning into desert wasteland. Funny, but we thought about two-thirds of the planet was under water. If you've encountered UN statistics types in the field, you'll understand.

         Bears wait until squirrels have finished stashing their nuts in fall, writes Tim Cahill in National Geographic Adventure magazine, then scoff the lot. This is why, he thinks, squirrels scold us when we walk in the woods they mistake us for bears bent on burglary.

         Is there anything that carbon dioxide gas isn't being blamed for? Now, reports New Scientist, researchers in Italy are connecting it with earthquakes in the Apennines.

         The 5th Annual Smog Summit is held in Toronto (a.k.a. The Big Smoke), attended by federal, provincial and municipal bungleaucrats arriving by plane, train and car

 

Health

         Using a traditional shampoo of fruit seeds and alcohol, a Peruvian teacher blinds four children and leaves 20 more with severe eye injuries.

         Mosquito nets treated with pesticide given to Kenyan families have reduced infant deaths as well as the numbers of malarial mosquitoes.

         Killers and rapists incarcerated in Mexico's Cindad Juarez jail are being treated to aromatherapy as well as classical in order to be able to introduce them into the general prison population.

         Peyote cactus and magic mushrooms, natural sources of hallucinogenic drugs are quietly beign tested for use in psychiatric medicine. But even the proponents of such studies caution that the drugs are not risk-free, reports the journal Nature. Frightening hallucinations may still be experienced by people reports at least one researcher.

         A crow carcass from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, tests positive for West Nile virus

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