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mindanao_bleeding_heart_dov-600x560.jpgIs there such a thing as a Gothic pigeon?  There are a lot of different breeds of pigeond, however the most Medieval-looking member of the Columbidae family was never shaped by human selection. The Luzon bleeding heart pigeon (Gallicolumba luzonica) is a delicate shy bird which lives in tropical forests of Luzon, the largest island of the Philippines.  The birds eat berries and grubs of the forest floor, which they almost never leave except when they are nesting.  They are a mixture of barred gray above and cream color below, except for their distinguishing feature, which sets them apart from all other birds.

Gallicolombe poignardée Gallicolumba luzonica Luzon Bleeding-heart

Gallicolombe poignardée. Famille des Columbidés. Ordre : Columbiformes

Bleeding heart pigeons have a group of scarlet feathers at the center of their breast which make it look as though they have a terrible bleeding hole in their chest.  In female birds this feature is somewhat subdued, however in males it glows incarnadine like a lurid painting of a Christian martyr.  Male birds even appear to have droplets of blood running down from the terrible heart wound.

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The first time I encountered this bird was not in a book (or on a random blog written by some weirdo), but in the Bronx zoo.  I saw a glimpse of a male bird at the back of an aviary and I got all afraid that he had been horribly hurt.  Only when I saw the picture on the exhibit were my fears assuaged.  All of this leads up to the question of why these animals look like they have been shot through the heart. There are lots of folklore explanations (of the dogwood religious just-so story variety), but the real answer is that nobody knows. It is a shockingly metal look for such an unassuming and modest bird.

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Sadly the bleeding heart pigeon is growing scarce as its forest home is cut down and made into plywood. Additionally, people capture and sell the birds into the pet and aviary trade. Like the planet Jupiter, it is valued for its lovely and unnerving red spot. With its mild nature, endangered status, and religious martyr good looks, perhaps the bleeding heart dove is a perfect mascot of the terrible plight of animals in our over-burdened Anthropocene world.

magnificent adult Peltogyne purpurea tree (photo by Reinaldo Aguilar)

magnificent adult Peltogyne purpurea tree (photo by Reinaldo Aguilar)

Imagine a huge tropical tree with a heart of deep purple. OK—you don’t have to imagine it. Such trees exist: they are the Peltogyne genus of flowering trees. The Peltogyne are native to Central and South America. They are part of the larger Fabaceae family–the bean family–a vast family of plants which are extremely important to humankind. The beans and legumes make up subsistence food for much of the world’s population and are instantly familiar…but it is hard to see the family resemblance between a little bean runner and a purpleheart tree. The latter grows to heights of up to 30–50m (120–150 ft) tall and can have trunk diameters of up to 1.5 meters (5 feet). Only in the pod-like seed is there a ready family resemblance (at least to laypeople like me).

Agerminating purpleheart bean...er seed (Reinaldo Aguilar)

Agerminating purpleheart bean…er seed (Reinaldo Aguilar)

Purpleheart is one of the hardest and stiffest woods in the world. The heartwood cures into a rich purple hue of great beauty. The trees are coveted by woodworkers (even though craftsmen need razor sharp implements of hardened steel or carborundum to work the obdurate wood). As you can imagine this has put great pressure on the wild trees and some species are now endangered.

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Here are some pieces made from purpleheart wood. The wood is ideal for bows, gears, gun handles, tools, and any other application which requires hard wood which does not deteriorate, however because of its rarity and prohibitive price it is generally only seen in small accents and art pieces. If you are lucky enough to have an item made of purpleheart you should treat it carefully. Exposure to ultraviolet light causes the purple to deepen to an opaque medium brown (although it is still pretty and just as hard).

Purpleheart recurve bow (by bowyer for "Lumberjocks")

Purpleheart recurve bow (by bowyer for “Lumberjocks”)

Dusky leaf monkey, Trachypithecus obscurus - Kaeng Krachan National Park, Thailand. Photo by Thai National Parks.

Dusky leaf monkey, Trachypithecus obscurus – Kaeng Krachan National Park, Thailand. Photo by Thai National Parks.

I have been wanting to expand Ferrebeekeeper’s “mammals” categories by writing more about primates…but primates are really close cousins.  They are so near to us on the tree of life that it is tricky to write about them.  Monkeys and apes venture into the uncanny valley…that uneasy psychological chasm that contains things that are very much like humans, but clearly are not humans.

The Dusky leaf monkey (Trachypithecus obscurus)

The Dusky leaf monkey (Trachypithecus obscurus)

Therefore, in order to ease us into the subject of primatology, I am going to start with the spectacled langur aka dusky leaf monkey (or, more properly Trachypithecus obscurus).  This is a beautiful langur which lives in the dense rainforests of Malaysia, Burma, and Thailand, but realtively little seems to be known about the creatures. Adult male dusky leaf monkeys weighs approximately 8.3 kilograms (18 pounds). Females are somewhat smaller.  The monkeys live in troops of about ten or a dozen and they subsist on a variety of tropical fruits and nuts (supplemented perhaps occasionally with other vegetables or small animals).  Infants are born orange, but quickly turn dark gray with the distinctive “spectacles” for which the species in known. I don’t really have a great deal of information about these monkeys, but I am blogging about them anyway because they are adorable!  Just look at these young langurs.  This is exactly the sort of cute introduction which we need to get us started on the topic of primates.  We will work on the serious grim monkeys later!

Dusky Leaf Monkey (Trachypithecus obscurus) photo by Petfles

Dusky Leaf Monkey (Trachypithecus obscurus) photo by Petfles

Miscellaneous ornamental cannas

Miscellaneous ornamental cannas

Canna is the only genus in the family Cannaceae.  The genus consists of 19 species of flowering plants from the tropical and subtropical regions of the New World.  Although sometimes called “lilies” they are not true lilies at all–their closest relatives are the bananas and the arrowroots.

Aquatic Cannas as the Centerpiece of a water garden at Longwood Gardens

Aquatic Cannas as the Centerpiece of a water garden at Longwood Gardens

Canna flowers are notable for huge colorful stamens—the highly modified structures of which are mistaken for petals (cannas actually have tiny easily overlooked petals).  Although cannas are a rich source of starches, they are predominantly known as ornamental flowers and they are grown as annuals far outside of their native tropics. They are popular around the world, and indeed they have become invasive in Old World tropical regions of Asia and Africa.

Red Canna

Red Canna

My roommate and I went to the flower nursery and she insisted on buying a canna (which I then thought looked vulgar and tacky) for our shared garden.  Yet the canna has proved itself a worthy garden plant many times over.  Not only are its pretty flowers an unrivaled shade of fire-engine red, it is also vigorous in the sweltering July heat and it beautifully matches the giant green elephant ears which I have planted.  The garden looks strangely tropical and magnificent with these exotic yet hardy plants.  Maybe next year I will be looking for cannas of additional colors.  It is a really lovely flower. I am sorry I initially dismissed it because of its unusual shape!  There’s probably some sort of lesson there…

I wish this were my garden!

I wish this were my garden!

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Here in Brooklyn it has already been a long, long winter…and more snow and bitter ice is on its way.  Spring seems like a vanishing dream which recedes further with every day instead of growing closer (as is the proper course of nature’s ancient power).  Would that I were able to visit my felicitous readers in the beguiling south where tropical breezes cajole weary wayfarers with the heavenly scent of orange and gardenia—where winter itself is a whimsical conceit and life is an eternal pleasure garden completely free of care [ed’s note: the writer has not spent very much time in southern latitudes or among tropical people].

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Unfortunately I am presently unable to leave the ice-fastness of my home to travel the happy Azores or frolic in the eternally verdant south.  Even my imagination is beginning to turn cold and cracked. People of past eras likewise missed the summer during long winters.  Unlike us, such bygone generations also lacked Hollywood movies, jet airplanes, and refrigerated trains full of produce—even aristocrats were far more trapped by the winters of yesteryear.

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To keep some of summer’s pleasures with them (and, more practically, to provide a home for tropical fruits and flowers which would never grow in temperate climes), bygone generations kept conservatories, greenhouses, and orangeries.  These splendid glass buildings were heated in the winter.  Such conservatories had a golden age in the18th and 19th centuries, when glass and heating became cheaper, yet international transit infrastructure was not robust enough to provide cheap travel and tropical produce to the masses (or indeed to anyone).

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The favorite architecture for such buildings was ornate gothic–which suited the shape of the iron and glass (and of the taste of the times).   To help my winterbound readers escape the endless arctic storms, I have included a gallery of some of the loveliest gothic greenhouses I could find online.  Sadly the majority of these buildings seem scantly furnished with flowers and fruit, but that means you can imagine them filled with whatever sensuous orchids and sumptuous fruits you would like.  As an added bonus the last few greenhouses are contemporary, so if you have some space you could always add such a miniature gothic greenhouse to your own garden!

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The lovely shell of a Venus Comb Murex

One of the most delicate and exquisite shells of the world belongs to the Venus Comb Murex (Murex pectin) a predatory snail which hunts in the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific.  The snail is covered by over one hundred tapered spines which protect it from predators and support the creature (in the fashion of a snowshoe) when it traverses soft muds.  The Venus Comb Murex hunts small mollusks, tunicates, worms, and crustaceans.  When one handles the delicate 15 cm long shell it is strange to imagine that it belonged to a fearsome hunter.  The Venus Comb Murex is a member of the Murexes, medium to large gastropods within the family Muricidae.  Murexes were described by Aristotle–who used the exact same name for them.

A Murex Hunting in Shallow Warm Waters

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