Impatiens bequaertii - Dancing Girl Impatiens!

Isn't this outrageous? It doesn't have a common name, but i call it the Dancing Girl Impatiens! Impatiens bequaertii is a rare species from the rainforests of east Africa. This petite plant only grows about a foot across and the blooms are barely 1/2" long, but their enchanting shape makes up for it! The petals resemble a little girl in a skirt with outstretched arms. These white or light-pink blossoms appear year-round for me, and the foliage is attractive too. This is a very rare collector's plant - I don't know any other U.S. source for it on the internet.

Impatiens bequaertii is a perennial species that trails and climbs to about 8" in each direction, rooting wherever it touches the soil. It looks nice when grown in a hanging planter, so the flowers can be admired up at eye level. The blooms are mostly white but occasionally soft-pink, and have 2 yellow "buttons" on the petals. The heart-shaped leaves are a nice olive green on top, and the underside is wine red, as are the branches. This a true species, not a hybrid. It's possible that it can be crossed with some other Impatiens species to create new hybrids.

This Impatiens comes from a climate that is mild year-round, rarely getting above the low-80s or below 45 degrees. It is untested outside this temperature range. It's possible that it may lag above 85 degrees, so consider it experimental in warmer areas like Florida. It probably can handle down to about 35 degrees, but i don't think it can survive frost. It grows well indoors in a small pot. Like most Impatiens, it prefers filtered light and moist, well-draining soil. Over 40-50% humidity is best.

A cross-legged "curtsey"!


Jabuticaba - Brazilian Grape Tree

Jabuticaba is a Brazilian grape tree found in the states of Minas Gerias and Sao Paulo, in the south of Brazil. The fruit grows directly from the trunk and branches of the tree, which gives the Jabuticaba tree a very unusual appearance. The fruit itself is a small and round, about 3 to 4 cm in diameter, with one to four large seeds, a thick, deep purple colored skin and a sweet, white or rosy pink gelatinous flesh. Naturally the tree may flower and fruit only once or twice a year, but when continuously irrigated it flowers frequently, and fresh fruit can be available year round in tropical regions. During Jabuticaba season in Minas Gerais, thousands of street vendors sell fresh Jabuticaba in small net bags, and the sidewalks and streets are stained the same deep purple by discarded Jabuticaba skins.

Jabuticaba is largely eaten fresh, but because the fruit starts to ferment just 3-4 days after harvest, they are often used to make jams, tarts, strong wines, and liqueurs. Due to the extremely short shelf-life, fresh Jabuticaba fruit is very rare in markets outside of areas of cultivation. The fruit also has many medicinal uses. Traditionally, an astringent decoction of the sun-dried skins has been used as a treatment for hemoptysis, asthma, diarrhoea, and gargled for chronic inflammation of the tonsils. It also has several potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory anti-cancer compounds.

Although the Jabuticaba grows in most regions of Brazil, it’s found mostly in Minas Gerias. It’s association with the state is so strong that the Jabuticaba tree appears on the coat of arms of the city of Contagem, and another city in Minas Gerais, Sabará, hosts a Jabuticaba festival annually.


Bristlecone Pines

The Great Basin Bristlecone Pines, or Pinus longaeva, is a long-living species of tree found in the higher mountains of the southwest United States. Bristlecone pines grow in isolated groves in the arid mountain regions of six western states of America, but the oldest are found in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains of California. These trees have a remarkable ability to survive in extremely harsh and challenging environment. In fact, they are believed to be the some of oldest living organisms in the world, with lifespans in excess of 5,000 years.

Bristlecone pines grow just below the tree line, between 5,000 and 10,000 feet of elevation. At these great heights, the wind blows almost constantly and the temperatures can dip to well below zero. The soil is dry receiving less than a foot of rainfall a year. Because of these extreme conditions, the trees grow very slowly, and in some years don't even add a ring of growth. Even the tree's needles, which grow in bunches of five, can remain green for forty years.

Pinus longaeva’s wood is very dense and resinous, and thus resistant to invasion by insects, fungi, and other potential pests. The wood's extreme durability plays a big part in the tree’s longevity. While other species of trees that grow nearby suffer rot, bare bristlecone pines can endure, even after death, often still standing on their roots, for many centuries. Rather than rot, exposed wood, on living and dead trees, erodes like stone due to wind, rain, and freezing, which creates unusual forms and shapes. The ancient warped and twisted bristlecone pine trees draw huge number of photographers, painters and other artists.

The oldest Pinus longaeva was discovered growing in the White Mountains of eastern California. The tree is an astounding 5,062 years old, as of 2012, and still living. Another specimen nicknamed "Methuselah", also located in the White Mountains near Bishop, is 4,843 years old (as of 2012). The exact location of both trees are kept secret to prevent tourists and hikers from damaging the trees. Previously, a 4,862-year old Bristlecone pine nicknamed "Prometheus", was cut down shortly after it was discovered in 1964 by a geology graduate searching for evidence of Ice Age glaciers.

Bristlecone pines are now protected in a number of areas owned by the United States federal government, such as the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains of California and the Great Basin National Park in Nevada.


Portonaccio Sarcophagus

It is strange to think that this sarcophagus is eighteen hundred years old so vivid are the carvings on its sides. Who was buried inside is unknown, but there are facts that can be gleaned from the study of the ornate sculpting. Housed in the National Museum of Rome, the sarcophagus is displayed in a darkened room under spotlights which show its decorative figures beautifully.

It was discovered in 1931 near Via Tiburtina, in the eastern suburbs of the Rome. Its front depicts a symbolic picture of a battle which is on two levels. The carving remains to this day an achievement – the dark and light contrast beautifully, a veritable chiaroscuro effect. This skill involved was enormous.

The sarcophagus was probably used in the burial of a Roman general who was closely involved in the campaigns of Marcus Aurelius. He is seen on the front of the sarcophagus, frozen forever in a charge against his enemies. Yet the face of the high ranking officer for which the sarcophagus was intended is left blank.

It is thought that it was left blank with the intention of the sculptor creating a death mask of the general in that position. Yet perplexingly it has been left unfinished and we can only guess at the reasons for that. We will never know if some form of shame descended on the general before his death or why it was his family or friends decided that he was to be left nameless and faceless for eternity.

Certainly it was not for expediency when it came to money. This sarcophagus would have been incredibly expensive to create. Plus the rest of it (and thus his reputation) was left intact. You can see his troops laying in to their barbarian enemies. Some are already on the ground, others apparently beg for his mercy.

Yet we can have a good guess. The military insignia which can be seen on the upper edge of the casket allows us to guess at the identity of the man. It shows the eagle of the Legio IIII Flavia and the boar of the Legio I Italicai. Historians who have studied the casket have pointed towards Aulus Iulius Pompilius. He was an official of Marcus Aurelius who was in control of two squadrons of cavalry which were on detachment both legions for the duration of the war against the Marcomanni (172-175AD).

Whether this does belong to Pompilius is not for certain known. However, it is without any doubt that the battle depicted here was resoundingly won by the Romans and it probably represented a high point in the career of our unknown general. We know this because if the over-sized nature of the carvings of the barbarians – trophies of war. Their arms (and so their honor) are displayed by the victors.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus who reigned from 161 to 180 CE was known as one (and the last) of the five good emperors. "Alone of the emperors," wrote the historian Herodian, "he gave proof of his learning not by mere words or knowledge of philosophical doctrines but by his blameless character and temperate way of life." Yet he also conducted military campaigns against the Parthian Empire, the Marcomanni, Quadi, Sarmatians and the Germanic Tribes.

This sarcophagus would serve as a reminder to visitors to the necropolis of the strength, valor and achievements of this high ranking officer. 1800 years later its exquisite craftsmanship still serves this purpose especially when it is so beautifully displayed under spotlights in a darkened room as it is in the Palazzo Massimo.


The Most Powerful Waterfall in Europe

The waterfall Dettifoss is located in Vatnajökull National Park in Northeast Iceland, and reputed to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. It is also the largest waterfall in Europe in terms of volume discharge, having an average water flow of 193 cubic meter per second. Its volume often increases, especially when the weather or volcanic activity prompts glacial melting on the Vatnajokull glacier icecap. The waterfall is so powerful that it makes the surrounding rocks vibrate, the vibrations can be felt by hand.

Dettifoss is situated on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river, which flows from the Vatnajökull glacier and collects water from a large area in Northeast Iceland. The fall is 100 metres wide and have a drop of 45 metres down to the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon.

Since it’s partly buried in the canyon, Dettifoss is overlooked by cliffs on both sides. From the west, the full face of the waterfall can be seen, and a short walk places you on top of the lava dam and fault line, that are responsible for the waterfall’s location. The river water is almost always dark with sediment, in contrast with the white rapids and spray. During floods the river and the falls are often virtually black with sediment and debris.

The mighty Dettifoss is accompanied by two other substantial waterfalls. Selfoss is a few kilometers south and Hafragilsfoss is a few kilometers north. It is possible to reach the waterfalls from both sides of the glacial river Jokulsa, but one has to be careful when traversing the rugged terrain on foot. On the west bank there are no facilities and the view on the waterfall is somewhat hindered by the waterfall's spray. On the east bank there is an information panel maintained by the staff of Vatnajökull National Park (Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður) and a maintained track to the best viewpoints.

Dettifoss appeared in the opening scenes of the 2012 science-fiction film Prometheus. Since then, some people have been calling it “the Prometheus Waterfall”.


Reed Flute Cave, China

The Reed Flute Cave is a natural cave carved out of the karst limestone mountains over millions of years, and has been one of Guilin’s most famous attractions for over 1200 years. The cave got its name from the verdant reeds growing outside, which can be made into melodious flutes. Inside this water-eroded cave is a spectacular world of various stalactites, stalagmites, stone pillars and rock formations created by carbonate deposition and illuminated by multi-colored lighting to create a surreal experience.

240-meter-long cave is lined with interesting rock shapes and formations resembling all kinds of strange things. Many of the formations have taken on recognizable shapes of mythological creatures, or natural images. There are formations that look like vegetables and one even looks like the Statue of Liberty.

Inside, there are more than 70 inscriptions written in ink, which can be dated back as far as 792 AD in the Tang Dynasty. They are travelogues and poems writing by Tang Dynasty literati who visited the cave. These aged inscriptions tell us that it has been an attraction in Guilin since ancient times. The cave was almost forgotten for a thousand years, before it was rediscovered in the 1940s by a group of refugees fleeing the Japanese troops. The Reed Flute Cave is now marked on almost all travel itineraries.