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Mystery Plant! #769

John Nelson

Posted 4/3/24

By John Nelson
johnbnelson@sc.rr.com

(Photo by Linda Lee.)

When you look closely at our Mystery Plant, you can rather easily tell that it belongs to the bean family. Each flower is what we call “papilionaceous,” and in a fanciful way, butterfly-shaped. Five petals are present, all a beautiful pink or pale magenta. Four of the petals are about the same shape and size, and occur in two pairs, closely wrapped about the shy stamens and reclusive pistil. The largest of the five petals is what we call a “banner” (as in a flag), since it is the most prominent of the five, sticking straight up, and indeed, probably has something to do with attracting pollinators. The banner is pink like the other petals, but also sports a deep purple blotch in the center, sort of like a bulls-eye. We call this blotch an “eyespot.”

(Photo by Linda Lee.)

This gorgeous herb has over 200 fairly close relatives, all close enough to be placed in the same genus. These various species are mostly found in North America, including the rather familiar Texas bluebonnet, which Texans are proud to have as their state flower. Additionally, some species are native to South America and the Mediterranean. This one is found in open, sandy places of the coastal plain such as roadsides and powerlines, and also shows up in less disturbed forests. It occurs naturally from the eastern end of North Carolina down into the panhandle of Florida, and then over to Louisiana. In all my botanical travels, I’ve never seen great amounts of this plant anywhere, and I suspect that it could be considered rather uncommon within its range.

(Photo by Linda Lee.)

It grows in clumps, sometimes forming large, spreading patches. The plants are very leafy, and the stems, in full bloom, can be a couple of feet tall, maybe more? The leaves are a bit unusual in being simple, that is, not divided into leaflets, as with most of the members of the genus. The leaves are somewhat sword shaped, up to 7” or so long. The stems and leaves are covered with rather shaggy hairs, and so are the bean pods (legumes) which follow the flowers. Each ripe legume will contain several hardened seeds.

Now those of you who are fans of Harry Potter may remember one of Harry’s friends, a Mr. Remus Lupin, who is something of a werewolf. This brings us to a curious feature of our Mystery Plant, whose generic name directly refers to wolves, as well. The word “lupus” is the Latin word for wolf.  For the longest time, it was thought that these plants were bad for the soil on which they grew, ravenously (like wolves) robbing the soil of its nutrients. Yet another old-wives’ tale! This plant, being a member of the bean family, is actually good for the soil. You’ll recall that members of the bean family very commonly have friendly relationships with special bacteria, these living in nodules in the plants’ roots. The happy bacteria are able to produce nitrogenous compounds which end up in the soil. That makes the plants happy.

[Answer: “Lady lupine,” Lupinus villosus]

John Nelson is the retired curator of the Herbarium at the University of South Carolina, in the Department of Biological Sciences. As a public service, the Herbarium offers free plant identifications. For more information, visit www.herbarium.org or email johnbnelson@sc.rr.com.

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Dr. William Holland

Posted 4/1/24 

Living on Purpose: Spiritual sign or natural occurrence?

By Dr. William Holland

A few readers have asked me lately about my thoughts on the coming eclipse. I’m sure that almost everyone has heard by now about the total solar eclipse on April 8. It will cross North America, passing over Mexico, the United States, and Canada. A total solar eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, completely blocking the face of the Sun. The sky will darken as if it were dawn or dusk. The questions that many speculate about include events like when planets come into a straight line or when there is unusual activity in the heavens, and whether or not this is God trying to relay a message of warning to us.

I begin by saying that I am not an expert in astronomy, astrophysics, astrometry, or cosmology. I respect science, but do not agree that everything began on its own. I have also not spent years studying astrology, (which means cycle or circle of little animals) and realize that many people follow this ancient philosophy that believes all heavenly bodies including constellations have influence over or are directly involved with human events. I am a theologian and base my worldview about God and life on the Bible. Whatever the perspective, Let us be aware of the amazing order and accuracy of our earth, moon, and sun that stands as a declaration of God’s infinite power and authority. “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork” Psalm 19:1.

My emphasis today is spiritual discernment. We all have opinions about everything especially when it comes to religion and politics and an eclipse is no different. My speculations do not matter or your opinions; what matters is what God is saying. It’s always been that way. I wish I could proclaim to you His specific message for this eclipse, but honestly, I sense that He is simply reminding us that He is the Almighty and in total control. As the architect of all things including the universe, (Isaiah 40:26) let us worship Him in the wonder of who He is. He is offering His grace, mercy, and love to everyone today and we pray that many will receive Christ as their Lord before it is too late. There is a world of imagination out there and you can read from now until next Monday about what everyone thinks, but pray and ask God to give you a personal revelation about this.

Eclipses have inspired fear and awe among civilizations throughout history, from the Aztecs to the ancient Hindus. They’re also associated with some major religious events, including the darkness that accompanied Jesus when He was crucified. In the gospel of Mark 15:33 we read, “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.” Will there be signs in the heavens before Christ returns? Absolutely! Acts 2:20 says, “The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.” Also, read Luke chapter 21. Is the April 8 eclipse when Jesus is returning? I say no as the Bible explains certain things must come to pass before the second coming. Is it a harbinger of judgment for the world because of their rebellion? Possibly. I believe God is always warning us to stop our evil ways and it’s only because of His grace we have second chances. I do believe that God speaks through signs and wonders and there is a way to listen to the Holy Spirit as He guides us into all truth, but to hear the still small voice of God one must draw near to Him.

With this being said, it’s also common for human nature to be superstitious about cosmic events like a blood moon, but this does not mean there is a paranormal or supernatural event happening. An eclipse will naturally happen when objects are moving around one another. They are quite common, with a total solar eclipse occurring somewhere on Earth approximately once every 18 months. Partial solar eclipses occur several times per year, while total lunar eclipses occur virtually every year in most parts of the world. Since Jesus spoke in Matthew chapter 24, there have been thousands of total and partial, solar and lunar eclipses. None of them seem to have had any significance to end-times Bible prophecy. We need God’s wisdom and discernment about all things and to not allow our emotions to guide us

Read more about the Christian life at billyhollandministries.com

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Living on Purpose: Christ is risen and what it means for everyone

Dr. William Holland

Posted 3/27/24

By Dr. William Holland

Throughout history, no one has made a greater impact than Jesus Christ. So, who is this person called Jesus? He was not just a man; He was God. It’s widely known Jesus was born of a virgin 2000 years ago, but He existed long before that. As the Son of God and second person of the Trinity, Jesus is the Alpha and Omega which means He is from the beginning and has no end. His being infinite is beyond our comprehension and exalts God as the highest authority. Jesus the Christ means He is the anointed one, the promised Messiah. All other gods and idols have been created, but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has always been and will always be.

Jesus said in John 8:58, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was – I am” which explains that His physical birth in Bethlehem and His agonizing death on Calvary was a calculated plan to come down from heaven and rescue believers that needed to be saved from their sins. In this holy week, we think of Jesus dying on the cross and how after three days He arose triumphant over death and paid the ransom for those who are hopelessly lost. The crucifixion and resurrection prove how much God loves us and wants to save us! Jesus resurrecting from the dead is truly the greatest event in the history of mankind.

Of all philosophies, ideas, and imaginations within every civilization, there is only one truth when it comes to the Almighty God of the Bible being the creator of all things and the judge of every person’s heart. This is why He is called the King of kings, and Lord of lords. He is Omnipotent which means He is not limited in power or authority. He is Omniscient which reveals He is the only one who has complete knowledge, wisdom, perception, awareness, and understanding. He sees everything and knows the hearts of every person that has ever been born. God is also Omnipresent, meaning He sees and hears everything with the divine ability to be everywhere at the same time including knowing the future.

When we realize that no other religion has anything spiritually or historically comparable to the Bible, we wonder how anyone could not want to know God and be born again. It’s because every person at one time was spiritually blind and unable to see the spiritual truth. We must hear God’s word which allows the Holy Spirit to convict our conscience, then God graciously opens our eyes, and we are compelled and drawn to repent and worship the Savior. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” Romans 10:17. Romans 1:16 also declares, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”

Further understanding is found in II Corinthians 4:4 where it speaks of the lost not being able to comprehend the love, mercy, and grace of God. “Satan, the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Many will ask, “Why did Jesus need to suffer? Could He not just snap His fingers and save everyone?” When Adam and Eve lost their standing with God in the Garden, humans continued to enjoy their free will and it’s this ability to choose that allows us to give our heart and strength completely to Him or walk away. We are constantly deciding between good and evil. We are not forced to sin and neither will God make us love Him.

For those of you who do not know Jesus as your Lord, I pray you will ask Him to save you today. We realize the gospel of Christ appears to be relatively simple as Romans 10:13 proclaims that “Whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” but the concept of His grace does not erase human accountability, neither is it based on human works. What Jesus did is not an automatic ticket to heaven for everyone, it’s an opportunity to know our Creator and be in blood covenant with the Lamb that was slain. May we not abuse God’s mercy as an excuse for our disobedience because the true definition of covenant requires both parties to honor their vows.

Read more about the Christian life at billyhollandministries.com

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Mystery Plant! #768

John Nelson

Posted 3/27/24

By John Nelson
johnbnelson@sc.rr.com

“Now ’tis the spring, and weeds are shallow-rooted; Suffer them now, and they’ll o’ergrow the garden And choke the herbs for want of husbandry.”
                        [Shakespeare, Henry VI (part 2)]

Watch out for the weeds, both the annuals and the perennials! Even in Shakespeare’s time, as now, gardeners had to be vigilant, getting rid of the interlopers as soon as they appeared. Of course, they didn’t have fancy, expensive herbicides to spray all over the place. (Maybe that’s the way it should be now.)

(Photo by John Nelson.)

Now here is a spring weed –a perennial– that is popping up, and it’s a wonderful little thing. It’s an old-timey bulb plant for the garden, but is not often cultivated these days. When they suddenly appear in lawns, most people want to get rid of them. They do tend to spread themselves around, especially by divisions of their little bulbs. The plants don’t get but about a foot tall with a shock of narrow, deep green, odorless leaves. The stem will bear up to a dozen or more milk-white flowers, each one on a long stalk, and very star-like. These flowers don’t open until about noon, and then they tend to get “sleepy” at dusk, and will be closed all night long, opening up again the next day. There will be three sepals and three petals, each of them with a prominent green stripe on the back. Six stamens are inside, their filaments broad and flattened at the base, and tipped at the end with a yellow anther. The ovary down below is bright green, eventually forming an angled seed pod.  The flowers look like they would be fragrant…but, no.

(Photo by John Nelson.)

This plant is distantly related to lilies, and is probably more closely related to what we know as hyacinths. It is native to southern Europe and northern Africa, and has been grown for a long time in Europe and America in gardens. It is commonly naturalized east of the Mississippi River, and scattered elsewhere in North America, often showing up in vacant lots and meadows. As charming as this plant is in the garden, it does have a rather poisonous side. All the parts are a bit toxic, especially the bulbs, and it should never be eaten.

The scientific name alludes to the flowers, and the genus name, taken from Greek, actually translates as “bird’s milk”…a name you won’t see in the garden centers. This curious name comes from an ancient notion that white doves were able to produce milk, and so feed their young ones. The flowers of our Mystery Plant are as white as doves, so there we are; it’s a bit of a stretch. (If you do know this plant, you may have heard it called “Star of Bethlehem,” a name that has also been used for a completely different spring-bloomer, Tristagma uniflora, which is also blooming now, but which has bluish-purple flowers, and very oniony-smelling leaves.)

[Answer:  “Milk-star,” Ornithogalum umbellatum]

John Nelson is the retired curator of the Herbarium at the University of South Carolina, in the Department of Biological Sciences. As a public service, the Herbarium offers free plant identifications. For more information, visit www.herbarium.org or email johnbnelson@sc.rr.com.

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Living on Purpose: A person is only as true as their word

Dr. William Holland

Posted 3/20/24

By Dr. William Holland

We live in an age that tends to shrug its shoulders when confronted with spreading information that is not true. Instead of asking, like Pilate, “What is truth?” the postmodern man says, “Truth is relevant to each individual” or perhaps “There might be truth somewhere, but we cannot know it.” Those of us who follow Christ realize that not being ashamed of speaking lies is another dangerous deception that much of our progressive culture has accepted as normal. God is an absolute true reality. He is perfect in all of His ways, He cannot lie.

Our human nature is infected with depravity and unless our carnality is controlled we can think bad things and speak lies without blinking an eye. Let us beware of becoming numb to sin. In the book of James the first chapter, it speaks of how someone might seem to be a Godly person, but if they do not bridle their tongue, their religion is in vain. The idea here is that the mouth reveals what is in the mind and the heart. If the words are corrupt, this is proof that the conscience has not been renewed through the transforming power of Christ. Integrity is embracing the truth about ourselves, honesty always speaks the truth to everyone else.

Our pastor recently taught on the commandment of Thou shalt not bear false witness. Of course, anytime something is said that is not true, it is a lie whether intentional or not. There is the old downright and dirty lie that is meant to cause intentional harm, but it doesn’t have to be a bald-faced lie to be a falsehood. There is no such thing as a harmless lie? A sobering component of being honest is that many people even Christians tend to not be transparent with others, themselves, or God. Have you ever called in sick to stay home from work and were not sick? Have you ever exaggerated about anything including your taxes? When you tell a story do you add extra details that you just made up? We have broken all the commandments because each one deals with issues of the soul.

Is there such a thing as a white lie? Have you ever tried to cover your tracks with lies to prevent being exposed? Do you distort your abilities and accomplishments to appear more successful than you are? Have you ever spread rumors and speculations about other people to tear down their integrity? I believe that most of us at some time or another have told things that are not true for some reason, but one thing is sure, no amount of lies can change the truth. God knows. Then we have the case of not speaking the truth when we have the opportunity. This is called a sin of omission. Shouldn’t a Christian desire to be honest and the first one to declare truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help us God?

The thought for today is not only about us telling the truth, it’s also about us believing the truth. If we desire to speak the truth, we must know what it is. Do we love the truth? Is understanding truth important to us? Sadly we’ve grown accustomed to being lied to, and many have become comfortable with the false notion that it’s a normal response to be dishonest. We witness the biased attitude of some media outlets as they report a news event. It’s not the truth that’s important to many people, it’s how information can be twisted to support a certain agenda.

How often do we ask God to reveal His truth to us? What about seeking God to let us see ourselves the way He sees us? Can we “handle” the truth? Have you considered that some people love their deception so much that it’s now a part of who they are? It’s interesting how we are ready to drink any lie that flatters us but reluctantly sip at truth that makes us feel ashamed. Even though Jesus in John 8:32 said that within the word of God, we can know the truth and it will set us free, it’s evident that many people are more comfortable and secure living within the fantasies of their illusions. All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered and accepted, but who will remove their mask and deal with the dishonesty and deception within themselves?

Read more about the Christian life at billyhollandministries.com

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Mystery Plant! #767

John Nelson

Posted 3/20/24

By John Nelson
johnbnelson@sc.rr.com

Although spring has sprung, it is still a bit cool on these Southern mornings. As a botanist, I understand that many of my colleagues, botanists, that is, have been suffering through bouts of cabin-fever during the dark winter months, and now that spring has arrived with the promise  of fascinating botany out there, these intrepid brethren (and sistren) of mind are already beating the bushes, rushing to get out of doors, laughing at the chill, and searching the land for the first blooms, in order to make specimens for their various herbaria, and to get that first collection number for the new year. Such a brave soul was I this past weekend, on a foray into the wilds of what we South Carolinians call Bamberg County.

Now, the county seat is a town named Bamberg, not far from the pleasant village of Denmark, and as well from Norway and the little crossroads of Sweden: you might never have known that my state had such an apparent connection with western Europe. The town of Bamberg is itself situated just south of the south fork of the Edisto River, and is a drive of about an hour (the way I drive) south from my home, in Columbia. My destination was Lemon Creek, a proud swamp crossed by both US 601 and US 301, and thus crossed by many thousands of people, unknowingly and over the years, on their way from somewhere up north toward Florida. (Or back.)

(Photo by Linda Lee.)

Lemon Creek: I decided that the best way to ascertain its botanical secrets was by entering the flow directly, and yes, the water, up to my knees sometimes, was pretty darn chilly. Botanists get used to that sort of thing, of course: the mud and sticks present no problem for a brave phytologist.

It was gorgeous there in the blackwater stream. Cypress and tupelo towered above me, accompanied by red maple and ash. The early spring offered a bounty of young Carex atlantica, as well as cheerful butterweed, (Packera glabella), an aquatic bittercress (Cardamine pensylvanica), the fantastically glowing, golden spikes of “Never-wet” (Orontium aquaticum), all of these being native to the area.

And then this: a most curious wetland plant, with delightfully divided leaves on a slender stem, rooted in the muck. This too is a native species, known from New England to Texas along the Coastal Plain. All of its leaves are alternate, or one at a time on the stem, and they feature, long, comb-tooth divisions on the margins. It’s not always in a swamp, but often in ditches and gum-ponds, often in great abundance, and forming mats. It’s an odd little plant, and doesn’t have the showy flowers of some of its neighbors, but it’s still worth a look on your next field trip. Wear your muck-boots.

(By the way, the town of Bamberg took a serious hit from a tornado on January 11 of this year, with considerable damage. We all hope they can get back on their feet as soon as possible.)

[Answer: “Mermaid-weed,” Proserpinaca pectinata]

John Nelson is the retired curator of the Herbarium at the University of South Carolina, in the Department of Biological Sciences. As a public service, the Herbarium offers free plant identifications. For more information, visit www.herbarium.org or email johnbnelson@sc.rr.com.

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Living on Purpose: Pulling down strongholds within our minds

Dr. William Holland

Posted 3/18/24

By Dr. William Holland

The Human experience includes the standard requirement to choose right and wrong and has always been accountable when it comes to good and evil. Each of us has the free will to choose how we live and no matter how much we brag about being independent, there is no such thing as walking through this life refusing to be accountable to God. Every self-governing and self-reliant person who has ever lived does not have the authority to be excused from God’s judgment. It would seem that humans would understand there are only two choices in this life which is cooperating with God or fighting against Him. A good question is how many sincerely see this truth, and how many see it but refuse to deal with it?

It’s not a secret that people want freedom to speak, live, and worship this is why our ancestors began this great nation. Many have taken an even more extreme path by living off the grid so they can be free to do whatever they desire. However, the ultimate freedom is spiritual and includes turning away from sin and yielding our will to God so we can enjoy the liberty of walking in His presence wherever we are. When we sing, “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free” it’s a declaration that our carnality and the persuasions of evil are no longer holding us in the bondage of misery and depression. When God’s truth sets us free, we are free indeed if we desire to be.

The majority of the world would rather not dwell on the fact that someday they will give an account of their life. A convenient way to temporarily escape conviction is to block these thoughts from our minds and replace them with things that make us happy. We realize that unbelievers do this, but why would a follower of God not want to think about this? The basic reason is they refuse to give Him their heart. Our default nature has a sneaky self-preservation mode that gives us the capability to convince ourselves we are right when we are wrong. It’s deadly but true that the un-renewed conscience can cleverly persuade the brain that we have fooled everyone. This is an intentional deception that justifies what is personally acceptable. A stronghold that needs to be broken.

This ability to come up with excuses and override every voice of reason (including the Holy Spirit) can be blamed for much of why we are our own worst enemy. It’s true, humans are smart and are often secretly proud that maybe they can hoodwink God. A fascinating aspect of this serious problem is that many individuals do not take sin seriously. We seem to be religious experts in comprehending what is right and wrong and are always first in line to judge others but have a tendency to be very lenient with who we are.

Come to find out, we are not as smart as we thought. God is not only perfectly aware of how humans are wired but keeps track of every thought as the Bible says in Jeremiah 17:10, “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” He realizes how difficult it is for us to change, but He must retain the highest standard of purity to preserve the integrity of His absolute truth. It’s true, His mercy endures forever but His grace does not give us a license to play games with secret sin. This transformation process to become holy as He is holy does not happen because it’s a good idea, we are drawn into Him when we love Him with all of our mind, soul, and strength.

Becoming an overcomer with Christ in this life will happen when our obedience to God becomes more important than allowing our rebellion to control us. The Bible is heavy on the theme of repenting which sadly is why it has more dust on its cover than the latest issue of National Geographic. It’s also why watery religion is much more popular than taking up our cross and truly following Christ. We all resist laying upon the altar and sacrificing our will to become a new creation, however, it’s the way He demands. Living in denial and ignoring our accountability to God allows our old nature the perfect opportunity to ruin us in this life and possibly the next.

Read more about the Christian life at billyhollandministries.com

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Mystery Plant! #766

John Nelson

Posted 3/18/24

By John Nelson
johnbnelson@sc.rr.com

            I hereby decree that spring has arrived, along with its fragrant wisterias, brilliant jessamine, and charming crimson clover. Finally! And to celebrate, let me offer one of the most attractive of the spring-blooming Southeastern species…and a woody species at that. Red flowers are not very common in our southern tree species, and certainly not tubular red flowers. This species’ flowers fit both attributes. A flash of bright red in the shady woods is always a treat, especially now.

(Photo by Linda Lee.)

            This species is most often a small, slender tree, or perhaps just as commonly, a shrub. Its bark is pale brown, and smooth. All winter long it has been leafless, but now its foliage is coming back, the leaves quickly unfolding and spreading from their large, knobby buds. The leaves are very attractive, and a bit unusual for the trees species in this area. There are two long-stalked leaves at each node, and thus the leaf arrangement is opposite…not too many different types of trees around here have opposite leaves. Furthermore, each leaf blade is palmately divided into distinct leaflets, each one pointed on the tip and toothy along the margins.

            The flowers are appearing now. They develop in a branching panicle, arising from the tip of a branch. Each flower has a tubular, reddish calyx at the base, with bright red petals and some stamens, poking out of the end. Usually, two of the petals stick out at an angle from the tip, and the effect is something like a red cigar with Mickey Mouse ears. In my experience, the flowers aren’t fragrant, but they are very attractive and showy. And, this species, as an early-spring bloomer, is one of the first food sources for hungry hummingbirds coming back from their winter sojourns.

(Photo by Linda Lee.)

            After the flowers fade, young fruits will develop. Over the summer these fruits will swell considerably, forming solid, smooth, pod-like structures, up to about 3” across. Each fruit will eventually begin to split open on two or three seams, and one or two handsome brown seeds will fall out. The seeds are quite attractive, beautifully glossy, and marked such that each one looks a bit like the eye of a deer. (You have to use your imagination.)

            This species is found from eastern North Carolina along the coastal plain, and in parts of the piedmont, down to northern Florida and all the way along the Gulf Coast to Texas, where a yellow-flowered variant is also known. In the Mississippi River valley, it can be found as far north as the southern part of Illinois. It seems to be most common in swamps, rich woods and along ravine slopes, especially over soils rich in limestone, or coquina. It does very well in considerable shade, but is also seen in sunny habitats. You don’t often see this species grown in cultivation, which is a shame, because it really is pretty, and adaptable, they say. One of the prettiest native spring-blooming woody plants you could put in your yard.

[Answer: “Red buckeye,” Aesculus pavia]

John Nelson is the retired curator of the Herbarium at the University of South Carolina, in the Department of Biological Sciences. As a public service, the Herbarium offers free plant identifications. For more information, visit www.herbarium.org or email johnbnelson@sc.rr.com.

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Mystery Plant! #765

John Nelson

Posted 3/18/24

By John Nelson
johnbnelson@sc.rr.com

Picture yourself in Bavaria in the spring, in a friend’s back-yard, admiring the view of the Alps in the distance. Your host, showing you around, spots this little weed, and exclaims, “Schau mal, Erdrauch!” (translation below…)
(Photo by Linda Lee.)

            Our little plant is common now as a naturalizing species in North America. It is indeed native to Europe and the Mediterranean, and is now widely found throughout the United States, and certainly in all of the southern states…although it seems that south Florida is too hot for it. It is an annual, appearing in the early spring, each plant lasting but one short season. Sometimes it grows in spreading patches. It’s not very tall, usually less than a foot. Its stems are rather soft and delicate, usually with a lot of branches. It has alternate leaves, which are fragile, easily torn, divided and fern-like, and often very chalky and gray. Because of this, the plants, when abundant enough, resemble a sort of smoky fog cloaking the ground. Or maybe a foggy smoke.

The small flowers, which are starting to appear now, are somewhat tubular and pink, each with two narrow sepals and 4 petals. The petals are darker and purplish toward the tips. One of the petals is swollen at the base, and forms what we botanists call a rounded “spur.” The flowers are able to pollinate themselves, not needing to rely on insect visitors. After the flower parts wither and fall away, small, rounded seed-pods are formed on the stem, each tiny pod containing a single globose seed. Once spring decides to become summer, whether in Europe or America, the little plants are all dried up and gone, but the tiny seeds are left in the soil, waiting for the next spring. There are a good many other species which follow this early blooming pattern: blooming in great numbers in weedy places, setting seed, and then disappearing.

(Photo by Linda Lee.)

Our Mystery Plant, which is related to both the poppy and mustard families, has reputedly been effective as a medicinal plant, even recently. Tonics made from it have been used as an eye-wash, and as a cure for acne, among other things. (Of course, don’t take this as an outright recommendation for using it.) Whatever medicinal qualities it does have must come from the organic compounds (alkaloids) which give its fresh stems and leaves a decidedly acrid, bitter taste. Believe me, it’s not a very good taste. And sure enough, some of the compounds in this plant are probably a bit toxic, if ingested in sufficient quantities. But who could stand to eat it in “sufficient quantities”?

The plants in bloom are a bright, new indicator of the coming spring, and everybody likes early bloomers. It is something of a weed, but once they start blooming, they don’t last very long.

Translation…from above? Your southern German friend is saying, “Looky there! Earthsmoke!” (Hey, Bavaria is in southern Germany.)

[Answer: “Earthsmoke,” Fumaria officinalis]

John Nelson is the retired curator of the Herbarium at the University of South Carolina, in the Department of Biological Sciences. As a public service, the Herbarium offers free plant identifications. For more information, visit www.herbarium.org or email johnbnelson@sc.rr.com.

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Living on Purpose: Do we really want to know God’s plan?

Dr. William Holland

Posted 3/18/24

By Dr. William Holland

Those of us who have been in the Christian faith for a while joyfully embrace Romans chapter eight as it is filled with encouraging promises. God has been so good to us and we know it’s because of His endless love that we can enjoy an abundant life filled with blessings. Of course, we have our share of frustrations and disappointments, but for the most part, the Lord provides for our basic needs and to be honest, He has also given us a lot of luxuries. When things are going well, let’s not become more focused on the gifts than the giver.

We realize the world judges success with how much money and talent a person has and all the things they accumulate throughout their lifetime, but for the followers of Christ, our greatest accomplishment will be how close we are to God and our obedience to Him. By the way, we can be as close to Him as we want, and this brings up a critical question as to how important this is to us.

Life has its seasons and sometimes things can get rough, especially the unexpected crisis. It’s not being negative to say there will be trials that will try to knock us off our feet, but is there a way we can at least somewhat be prepared to handle adversity when it comes? I believe the answer is yes. It’s not easy, but when we develop a friendship with God and understand who He is, trusting Him can be our first response. When problems arise, the only thing in our power is our attitude toward it; we can either ask God which choices to make that will help us do His will and be victorious, or we can resent it and in bitterness surrender to defeat. It’s not what happens, it’s how we react.

My friend Jonah Mitchell in his book, “The Rocks Go With The Farm” explains that problems and difficulties are inevitable and our ideas about how we want to see our problems solved are not always the way God is planning. It’s not about how many rocks we hit with our plow, it’s how determined we are to not allow obstacles to define who we are and what God wants to to do within us. Most of the time we just want a quick fix, but our Father desires that we become spiritually mature and wise in our quest to be more like Him. I recommend this book for those who are serious about learning self-discipline, renewing the mind, and personal transformation.

In the hard times, we are tempted to deny the situation, which we all know is like putting a band-aid on a broken arm. Some search for peace on their own as they give up on faith and live in misery. My friend, the Bible is true and it’s all about God’s love. Luke chapter one and verse 37 declares, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” I realize some will say, “You do not comprehend the severity of my problem” and that might be true, but God understanding everything and being concerned about everyone is absolute truth!

Have you asked Jesus to be your Master and Lord? Do you believe that He died so that you could live? He loves you and has a perfect plan for your life! Instead of seeing God as a cosmic Genie, bow before Him in reverential fear and worship Him as the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth. We are not molding God into our image, it’s the other way around.

Depression and feeling sorry for ourselves are real emotions and unfortunately, a lot of people are smiling on the outside but are crying on the inside. The good news is that we can be set free from the snare traps of deception and instead of being sad or angry because God is not “fixing it” let’s ask Him to let us see ourselves the way He sees us. Have you considered the answer might be that we are the one that needs to be changed? Honestly examining the big picture of our situation and analyzing every detail will allow us to trace the cause of our discouragement and hopefully, we can discover a deeper understanding of our situation. When we comprehend how our personal trigger mechanisms and response buttons operate, this is a huge step toward discerning how our thoughts dictate our confidence and contentment.

Read more about the Christian life at billyhollandministries.com

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