Monday, October 4, 2010

Crash Course

Once again this year, flowers are repeat blooming way out of season...and petals are misshapen and pale and transparently thin.
It would appear that now we can add Conkers - horse chestnuts - as another to the almost-and-soon-to-be- all-inclusive official list of tree species that face likely extinction, which is, as usual, blamed by "the experts" on invasive insects and fungus or bacteria.  According to one pontificant cited in this article in the Independent, they are "prone to disease."

But this begs the question following (keep in mind I have no idea whatsoever a "conker game" consists of - and I'm not at all sure I want to!  Leave it to the Brits for the macabre and bizarre...and for Christ's sake, stop fretting...oops sorry that's another topic, move on!)

"Mr Barter warned that conker games, including those due to be played at this Sunday's World Conker Championships near Ashton, Northamptonshire, might have to be played with "synthetic or virtual conkers" in the future. Organisers of this year's championships are already struggling to find enough conkers for the 450 competitors who travel from around the world to take part. A spokesman said they were short of at least 1,000 conkers and urged anyone within a 20-mile radius of Ashton to donate any decent ones that they could find.
The average conker has shrunk during the past few decades. Keith Flett, from the Campaign for Real Conkers, said conkers had halved in size during his lifetime. "Really large ones used to be about 2 inches [5cm] across; now on average we see a lot more that are about the size of a 10p piece, which is too small to be usable."

Let us ponder this statement more carefully and ask how it can be reconciled...
"The average conker has shrunk during the past few decades."
in the context of this one:
"the leaf miner moth...first emerged on a tree in a garden in Wimbledon, west London, in 2002..."
Clearly, the horsechestnut - or conker - trees, were having some fundamental genetic problems well prior to the introduction of the leaf miner moth!
Here's a lovely specimen of Hen in the Woods, a prime edible fungus which I quickly demolished after taking this photo... and intend to saute with a bit a shallot in prodigious butter, liberally adding cream, broth and maybe some brandy plus fresh thyme and tarragon leaves, then I will load it into a pastry shell and bake a lovely tart.
RPauli, a fellow doomer - who is ever industrious and provides invaluable research - emailed me the following link to his query about ozone impacts on plants (with the subject:  "here, go wild" which I promptly did).

Next to the tree with the delicious mushroom is a trail of stumps.
His link above (full disclosure!) traces back to several scientific studies, and also, a comment that moi, moiself made at Climate Progress!

Whatever...some particularly agitating statements:

"Evergreen trees stressed by ozone and other injuries can become more susceptible to bark beetle infestations and display needle mottling and loss.
Researchers examined the relationships between ozone pollution and bark beetle attacks on ponderosa pines and found that trees with severe ozone injury suffered changes to the structure and chemistry of the phloem tissues, reducing the natural resistance of the trees to bark beetle attack (Cobb et al. 1968, Cobb and Stark 1970)."
"Air pollution (ozone) can be one of predisposing factors that increases the susceptibility of mountain Norway spruce stands to attack by Ips typographus and associated bark beetle species."
"In several cases, stands adjacent to sites with higher ozone values were associated with higher bark beetle populations."
It IS crazy warm though.  These impatiens are tropical and yet they are still blooming in October.  Their leaves, however, have chlorosis from exposure to ozone.  Not heat - they love heat - and not drought!!!  They are in a pot, being watered copiously.


Personal Note:
Oldest Daughter and Dennis are ENGAGED!  Since I have been designated the wedding planner, it may cut into my time to blog on TEOTWAWKI.  Nah, just kidding...


  1. We used to play a game with horse chestnuts when I was a young teenager. We didn't call it conkers, though. We go up to the old SUNYAB campus and collect chestnuts from the trees that grew there in the early 60s. We'd drill a hole through the center and hang the chestnut on a shoelace. We'd take turns smacking each other's chestnut until one broke apart. The winner was deemed a 'kinger'. Kingers were harder than most of the other chestnuts and would continue to win in many matches. They were prized.

    I'm guessing that this game is 'conkers'.


  2. Hierarchy among chestnuts!? Darwin would expect that.

  3. I'm one of these 'Brit' things myself. I played conkers in the summers of my youth (I can't now recall which years... most likely one or two of 1969-1975) when, for whatever reason, it was popular in North London, where I lived then.

    The game I played was much the same as the one catman talks about above. Conkers: a word that I've always understood to be the name of the game, and the fruit, and the seed. Naturally ('scuse the pun), conkers fell from conker trees.

    'Kingers,' yes, what a blast from the past that word is (and 'noners', 'oners'...): kingers were indeed highly prized by me and my friends. We tried all sorts of things to try to make our conkers harder, such as soaking in vinegar, and baking in the oven (I have no idea whether these things were effective, we were kids, playing, not scientists!).

    There were always hundreds of conkers lying around on the ground every Autumn for the taking, all over my home town. I haven't been back there for years but that part of London was then still spattered with green spots which have, of course, now all been completely swallowed up by paradise paving in the years since.

    As for size, I've been trying to think how big the conkers were, but I can't recall any hard measurements. Perception's a weird thing. I was half the size then that I am now, and everything in the universe was correspondingly bigger (and more exciting, but don't let me get maudlin).

    The thought that conker trees (horse chestnuts, Aesculus Hippocastanum) -- let alone other species -- actually face extinction because of the way we're raping the planet really brings it home to me personally. I've been growing a conker tree (trying to bonsai it) since 1988 (see my blog, which is in need of an update) and it hurts to think that the brown leaves I've been seeing on my little tree in the last few years may be the harbinger of its death.

    I will definitely be revisiting Wit's End again in the coming days for more education on this topic. Thank you ever so much for your work on this!

    Best wishes,



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