On this page, the word nature also includes certain man-made habitats, such as hedges, stone fences, fields, and reservoirs.
Firs (Abies) are a genus of c. 50 species of conifers, mainly growing in montane areas across Eurasia, North Africa, and much of North and Central America.
The Himalayan silver fir (Abies spectabilis) can grow to very large proportions, to 50 m tall, with a trunk up to 1.5 m across. This species is very common in the Himalaya, found from Afghanistan eastwards to Myanmar. It is widely used locally, its wood for construction, carpentry, furniture, paper-making, and firewood. The foliage is utilized medicinally for asthma, bronchitis, colds, and rheumatism, and is also burned as incense.
Patterns on the trunk of a burned Himalayan silver fir, encountered on the Lamjura La Pass (3530 m), Solu, eastern Nepal. The yellow fungus in the lower left part of the picture is a species of stagshorn (Calocera). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) is a small gull, which is widely distributed in Arctic seas, breeding in colonies on steep rocks or cliffs, where each pair builds a nest, consisting of plants and seaweeds, on a narrow ledge. As a breeding bird, this species is found southwards to the Kuril Islands, southern Alaska, Newfoundland, the British Isles, and France, with scattered colonies in Portugal and Spain. In winter, it disperses to a huge area in subarctic and temperate seas.
The generic name is derived from the Icelandic name of the bird, rita, whereas the English name was given in allusion to its call. The specific name is from the Greek tridaktulos (‘three toes’), referring to the fact that this species is missing the small, back-pointing fourth toe, which most other gull species possess.
In North America, this species is called black-legged kittiwake to differentiate it from its near relative, the red-legged kittiwake (Rissa brevirostris), which breeds on small islands in the far northern Pacific.
White kittiwakes, breeding on dark rock monoliths off Rauðanupur (‘Red Cliff’), northern Iceland. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Grevy’s zebra (Equus grevyi) has a very limited distribution, found only in scattered grasslands in northern Kenya and eastern Ethiopia. It is a highly endangered species, whose population since the 1970s has dropped from about 15,000 to only c. 3,000. However, this number now seems to be fairly stable.
This beautifully patterned zebra was described in 1882 by French naturalist Jean-Frédéric Émile Oustalet (1844-1905), who named it after Jules Grévy (1807-1891), president of France, who received a specimen as a gift by the government of Ethiopia.
Grevy’s zebra is beautifully patterned. – Buffalo Springs National Park, Kenya. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This Grevy’s zebra in Buffalo Springs National Park shows the distinct rump pattern of this species. The tail is squirting water up to the right. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Trees, reflected in Lake Brassø, central Jutland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The striated swallow (Cecropis striolata), previously known as Hirundo striolata, is distributed from north-eastern India, south-western China, and Taiwan southwards through Southeast Asia and the Philippines to the major part of Indonesia. It was formerly regarded as a subspecies of the widespread red-rumped swallow (Cecropis daurica). It is presented in depth on the page Animals: Birds in Taiwan.
These striated swallows form ‘nodes’ on electrical wires, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rocks often form beautiful and complicated patterns, and other paatterns are displayed in rock walls. A number of examples are shown below.
Eroded coastal rocks, Sandiao Cape, north-eastern Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Patterns on a rock face, Shakadang River, Taroko National Park, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Green algae, growing on eroded coastal rocks, Montaña de Oro State Park, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Erosion from sea water has created patterns in these volcanic rocks at Fugueijiao, northern Taiwan. The rocks are covered in a species of sea lettuce, Ulva compressa. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Millions of years ago, volcanic activity in today’s northern Iceland brought fluid basaltic lava to the surface, where it formed a plateau. As the lava cooled, it contracted and fractured in a similar way to drying mud. As the lava cooled further, these cracks penetrated downwards, forming 6-sided (sometimes 4-, 5-, and 7-sided) columns. Further volcanic activity since pushed some of the columns into a horizontal position.
Some of these formations, named Hljoðaklettar, have withstood erosion by the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River. Hljoðaklettar means ‘Echo Rocks’, so named due to the peculiar acoustics of the area, which produce echoes.
Following the creation of these columns at Hljoðaklettar, further volcanic activity pushed them into a horizontal position. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
An alpine lady’s mantle (Alchemilla alpina) adds a touch of colour to the otherwise sombre Hljoðaklettar rocks. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Vertical basaltic columns, Aldeyarfoss, Aldeyjardal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Patterns in coastal rocks, Jialeshuei, Kenting National Park, southern Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These coastal rocks have been eroded into formations, which resemble giant mushrooms. Against the light, they form a stark contrast to the paler rock base. – Bitou Cape Trail, northern Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The beautiful patterns on this rock wall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina, United States, are created by rain water, following a heavy shower. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Eroded Nanya Sandstone with layers of oxidized iron, northern Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Patterns on a rock wall along the Tacijili River, Taroko Gorge, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The picture below shows cracked coastal rocks near Simrishamn, Skåne, Sweden, with vegetation of thrift (Armeria maritima)and a species of orange lichen, Xanthoria aureola. You may read about thrift on the page Nature: Urban nature, whereas other pictures depicting orange lichens can be found on the page In praise of the colour yellow.
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A collection of pictures below shows various species of lichens, which form intricate and beautiful patterns on trees, rocks, and house walls.
The orange-yellow common orange lichen (Xanthoria parietina), also called yellow scale or shore lichen, is widespread and common, distributed in most of Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and North America. This species is one of the few lichens, which is favoured by eutrophication.
Common orange lichen, creating concentric rings on a stone wall, Hammershus, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Lichens, growing on rocks of volcanic origin, Tongariro National Park, New Zealand. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
European beech (Fagus sylvatica), as well as European ash (Fraxinus excelsior), are presented in depth elsewhere on this page.
Grey lichens create patterns on the trunk of this beech, growing at a lakeside in central Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
On the trunk of this old ash, growing on the island of Funen, Denmark, lichens create a pattern on the bark, which in itself forms a pattern. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Climbers, grey lichens, and yellow algae on the wall of an abandoned building, near Puli, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Wolf lichens (Letharia), of the family Parmeliaceae, are widely distributed in North America, Siberia, and Europe. In the old days, the common wolf lichen (L. vulpina) was utilized by the Norwegians to kill wolves and foxes. Its toxic foliage was mixed with crushed glass, and then stuffed into a carcass on frozen ground. (The specific name refers to foxes, in Latin Vulpes.)
This species, and the brown-eyed wolf lichen (L. columbiana), are both found in California, where many native peoples formerly utilized them for a variety of purposes. Their foliage was used to produce arrow poison. Klamath people would soak porcupine quills in an extract of the plants, which dyed them yellow. They were then woven into baskets to make patterns. The Okanagan-Colville tribe used these lichens medicinally, internally for stomach problems, externally for wounds.
This picture shows an unidentified species of wolf lichen, growing in concentric rings around the trunk of a white fir (Abies concolor), Sequoia National Park, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Lichens, forming concentric rings on a rock, near Lake Tunnhovd, Norway. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ripples, whether in water or sand, often form beautiful patterns.
Ripples in tidal areas are created by continuous beating of waves. Three examples are shown here.
Fanø, Denmark, with shells of an American razor clam (Ensis americanus). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ras Murundo, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Muriwai Beach, New Zealand, with variable oystercatchers (Haematopus unicolor). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In the Namib Desert, western Namibia, an area around Sossusvlei displays a large number of reddish sand dunes, the highest of which are around 275 m. These dunes and other natural phenomena in Namibia are dealt with in detail on the page Countries and places: Namibia – a desert country.
Ripples on a sand dune, caused by wind, Sossusvlei. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Seven subspecies of the Canada goose (Branta canadensis) breed in North America, from Alaska and northern Canada southwards to the northern third of the United States. It has also been introduced to Britain, Sweden, New Zealand, Argentina, and other places. This species is very bold and has been able to establish populations in urban areas, where it has no natural predators. In many areas, it has been declared a pest because of its noise, droppings, and aggressive behaviour.
A slight puff of wind creates ripples in a calm Pacific Ocean, in which a flock of Canada geese are resting. – Coos Bay, Oregon. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ripples on a lake surface create wavy patterns in reflections of common club-rush (Schoenoplectus lacustris) and broad-leaved pondweed (Potamogeton natans), Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Birds, feeding in water, often create ripple-like patterns of concentric circles on the surface. Three examples are shown below.
The medium-sized ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) has a very wide distribution, breeding across North America, from the northern prairie states of Canada southwards to northern California and the U.S. prairie states, and eastwards to Newfoundland. It winters in the U.S., Mexico, and the Greater and Lesser Antilles.
Its specific name refers to the Delaware River, where it was first collected. It was described by American naturalist George Ord (1781-1866), who, incidentally, also described several specimens, brought back by the Lewis and Clark expedition (1804-1806), including black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus), grizzly bear (Ursus arctos ssp. horribilis), and pronghorn (Antilocapra americana).
The Lewis and Clark expedition is described on the page Animals: Squirrels of North America, whereas the pronghorn is dealt with on the page Nature: Rain.
This young ring-billed gull has just landed in Mill Neck Creek, Long Island, hereby creating concentric circles on the surface. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The wood sandpiper (Tringa glareola) is a smallish wader, which breeds in marshes of subarctic and northern temperate areas of Europe and Asia, wintering in Africa, South Asia, and Australia.
The generic name Tringa was given to a near relative, the green sandpiper (Tringa ochropus), by Italian naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1599), who was the founder of the botanical garden of Bologna – one of the first of its kind. The name is derived from the Greek trungas, a thrush-sized, tail-bobbing wading bird, mentioned by Greek scientist and philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). (Source: J.A. Jobling 2010. The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names)
Feeding in a river in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, this wood sandpiper creates concentric circles on the surface. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The little cormorant (Microcarbo niger) is widely distributed, found from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to Southeast Asia, with an isolated population on the Indonesian island Java.
This little cormorant has just surfaced and is now swallowing a fish, Lake Haleji Bird Sanctuary, Pakistan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The American black duck (Anas rubripes) is found in eastern North America, from Saskatchewan and the Great Lakes, eastwards to the Atlantic Coast. This species is a close relative of the widespread mallard (A. platyrhynchos), and the two species often interbreed, which can make identification of pure black ducks difficult.
Feeding American black ducks, creating concentric circles on the surface, Mill Neck Creek, Long Island. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Leaf nerves often create beautiful patterns. A number of examples are shown below.
The native area of the beach almond (Terminalia catappa), also known as country almond, Indian almond, Talisay tree, and umbrella tree, is unknown. Today, this species is widely distributed in most tropical and some subtropical areas of the world, growing in a wide range of habitats. Three of its popular names stem from the similarity of its fruits to those of the true almond (Prunus amygdalus), but the two species are not at all related, the true almond belonging to the rose family (Rosaceae), while beach almond belongs to the family Combretaceae.
Other pictures, depicting beach almond, are presented on the page Autumn.
Bright red winter leaf of beach almond, Taiwan. On this island, this species is widely planted as an ornamental tree. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus) is a native of Central Europe. It was introduced to Britain around 1500, and has also become naturalized in other parts of Europe, and in Australia, New Zealand, and North America. In many places, it has become invasive, easily spreading by its winged seeds, which are produced in the tens of thousands on a single large tree. You may read more about this invasiveness on the page Nature Reserve Vorsø: Expanding wilderness.
Leaf of sycamore maple, partly eaten by insects, Nature Reserve Vorsø, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The giant taro, or giant elephant’s ear (Alocasia macrorrhizos), which grows to a height of 5 m, is native from Malaysia south through Indonesia to northern Australia, but has been introduced to many other tropical and subtropical areas as an ornamental, food crop, or animal feed. It is listed as an invasive species in Cuba, New Zealand, and several Pacific islands.
The gigantic leaves of this plant are often used as umbrellas. Its rhizome is edible when cooked for a long time, but the sap irritates the skin in your mouth, as it contains needle-like calcium oxalate crystals. In Hawaii, this plant is called ʻape, and they have a saying, Ai no i ka ʻape he maneʻo no ka nuku. (’The one who eats ʻape, will have an itchy mouth’), meaning ’There will be consequences for partaking of something bad.’ (Sources: S. Scott & T. Craig, 2009. Poisonous Plants of Paradise: First Aid and Medical Treatment of Injuries from Hawaii’s Plants. University of Hawaii Press; and M.K. Pukui, 1986. ‘Ōlelo No’eau, Hawaiian Proverbs and Sayings. Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu)
Underside of a leaf of giant taro, Taiwan. On this island, this species is ubiquitous in the lowland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Close-up of the leaf nerves, Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Wet rainforest leaf, seen from below, Sepilok, Sabah, Borneo. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The parasol-leaf tree (Macaranga tanarius), also called heart leaf or nasturtium tree, belongs to the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae). It is native to eastern China, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines, New Guinea, and eastern Australia.
The nerves on these leaves of the parasol-leaf tree create beautiful patterns against the light. This picture is from Taiwan, where this species is very common. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Multi-coloured leaf of a member of the arum family (Araceae), Parque Nacional de Cahuita, Limón, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The rice-paper plant (Tetrapanax papyrifer), of the ivy family (Araliaceae), is endemic to Taiwan, but is widely cultivated in East Asia for production of the so-called rice paper, for usage in traditional Chinese medicine, and as an ornamental. It is a large shrub, growing to 7 m tall, its large leaves measuring up to 50 cm across.
Rice-paper plant, seen from below, Wushe, central Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Gullies, eroded by rainwater, often form beautiful patterns. Three examples are shown here.
Over the years, these gullies at the foot of the mountain Fornastaðafjall, near Akureyri, Iceland, have been clad in forest of arctic downy birch (Betula pubescens var. pumila). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Mustang is a very dry area in central Nepal, which, however, receives enough precipitation to create gullies, such as these, encountered in a bluff along the Jhong Khola River. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Erosion from rainwater has cut deep gullies into this slope near Çankiri, north of Ankara, Turkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young fern leaves, which are still not unfolded, are often very beautiful. Their rolled-up shape has been likened to the scroll, or head, of a fiddle, or violin, hence the popular name fiddleheads. Below, a selection of pictures show such ‘fiddleheads’ from around the world.
The common male fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) is widely distributed in temperate areas in the Northern Hemisphere.
As far back as the time of Greek scholar and botanist Theophrastos (c. 371 – c. 287 B.C.), and physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.), who was the author of De Materia Medica (five volumes dealing with herbal medicine), it was known that the rhizome of this species would expel intestinal worms.
English Medieval herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545-1612) writes: “The roots of the male fern, being taken in the weight of half an ounce, driveth forth long flat worms, as Dioscorides writeth, being drunke in mede or honied water, and more effectually if it be given with two scruples, or two third parts of a dram of scammonie, or of black hellebore: they that will use it, must first eat garlicke.”
Nowadays, herbalists do not recommend the rhizome of common male fern, as it is very poisonous.
Common male fern, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Habitats of the cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) include moist woodlands and swamps. This spectacular fern is widely distributed, found in the eastern half of North America, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America, southwards to Paraguay. It also occurs in eastern Asia, from south-eastern Siberia southwards through Japan, Korea, eastern China, and Taiwan to the northern part of Indochina.
Cinnamon fern, Shu Swamp, Long Island, United States. In the background leaves of eastern skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cleared areas in the Himalaya, which lie fallow, are often invaded by large growths of a huge species of fern, Diplopterygium giganteum (formerly Gleichenia gigantea), which belongs to the family Gleicheniaceae, a group often called forked ferns. This species is distributed from Nepal eastwards to China and Southeast Asia.
Diplopterygium giganteum, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dicranopteris taiwanensis is another member of the family Gleicheniaceae, growing in forests of Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, and Sri Lanka.
Dicranopteris taiwanensis, Lugu, Taiwan. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cordillera de Tilarán, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dasyueshan National Forest, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Grown ferns may also often create beautiful patterns. Several examples are shown below.
Leaves of a tree fern, seen from below, Bedugul Botanical Garden, Bali, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These moss cushions form a distinctive pattern around leaf scars on the trunk of a tree fern, Trounson Kauri Park, New Zealand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
An epiphytic fern, growing on a slender tree trunk in a rainforest, is illuminated by a patch of sunshine, Sepilok, Sabah, Borneo. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Most members of the hard-fern genus, Blechnum, have rather short and rather stiff leaflets, but, as its name implies, the leaves of the palm-leaf fern (Blechnum novae-zelandiae) are larger, up to 2 m long and 50 cm wide, somewhat resembling palm leaves. This species, which is very common in New Zealand, may also be identified by its sporangies, forming at the tip of the leaves, which turn black when ripe.
Detail of a leaf of palm-leaf fern, Rotokura Lake, New Zealand. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young leaflet of a fern, unfolding, Parque Nacional Volcán Poás, Cordillera Central, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Shadows of serrated leaflets on this fern create zigzag patterns on other leaflets, El Yunque, Puerto Rico. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), also known by about a hundred other names, including lion’s tooth, cankerwort, milk-witch, Irish daisy, monks-head, priest’s-crown, blowball, puff-ball, face-clock, pee-a-bed, wet-a-bed, and swine’s snout, is native to the Northern Hemisphere, but has been introduced to most other parts of the world, where it has often become naturalized.
This species is described in depth on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
Leaf rosette of a dandelion, Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Patterns on sandy beaches, created by small crabs, which have brought up tiny sand balls from their den and deposited them, near Tongxiao, western Taiwan (upper two pictures), and on the island of Pulau Gaya, Sabah, Borneo (bottom). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In Norse religion, yellow bedstraw (Galium verum) was dedicated to Frigg, goddess of knowledge, love, and marriage, who was also protector of women giving birth. It was a custom to line the childbed with this fragrant herb. When Christianity was introduced, this heathen habit was banned, but as it persisted, the Church decided to dedicate yellow bedstraw to Virgin Mary instead, claiming that this herb was lining the crib of the newborn Jesus, hence the folk name of the species, Our Lady’s bedstraw.
Yellow bedstraw is dealt with in detail on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
At the edge of a gravel road in Småland, Sweden, the wind has been moving this yellow bedstraw back and forth, hereby creating a pattern of concentric circles in the sand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The aardwolf (Proteles cristata) is a small relative of the hyaenas. It is fairly common in eastern and southern Africa, but is rarely seen due to its nocturnal habits. The name aardwolf is Afrikaans (the language spoken by immigrating Dutch Boers to South Africa), meaning ‘earth wolf’, relating to the fact that it lives in underground burrows.
Back pattern of an aardwolf, killed by a car, South Africa. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Beautiful patterns are often created by the texture of tree bark, especially on older trees with furrowed bark. Lichens, growing on the bark, also often create decorative patterns. Several examples are shown below.
The flamboyant tree (Delonix regia), also called flame tree, is a huge tree of the pea family (Fabaceae), named for its gorgeous flowers. It is native to Madagascar, but is cultivated as an ornamental in almost all warmer countries. Its beautiful flowers are shown on the page In praise of the colour red, and a picture, depicting its huge, flat pods, which can grow to 60 cm long and 5 cm wide, may be seen on the page Silhouettes.
Bark pattern on a flamboyant tree. This species is widely planted in Taiwan, where this picture was taken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The sycamore maple is described above.
Peeling bark creates patterns on a sycamore maple, Hareskoven, Zealand, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera) is described in depth in the pages Nature: Invasive species, and Nature: Urban nature.
Pattern on the bark of a young paper mulberry, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Common, or European, ash (Fraxinus excelsior), of the olive family (Oleaceae), is a native of Europe, eastwards to the Caucasus and the Alborz Mountains in northern Iran. It has also become naturalized a few places in New Zealand, the United States, and Canada.
In later years, populations of ash have been much reduced by ash dieback, a disease caused by a fungus, Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, previously called Chalara fraxinea. Most trees that contract this disease die after a few years. However, research has shown that some trees have resistance to it.
Patterns in the bark of an old ash, nature reserve Vorsø, Horsens Fjord, Denmark. A twig of cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera) is seen to the right. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The bark on this old ash tree has fallen off, revealing tunnels in the wood, made by the ash bark-beetle (Hylesinus fraxini). From the female’s egg-laying tunnel, the feeding tunnels of the larvae spread out like a fan. – Öland, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The native area of the wild cherry (Prunus avium) was probably from France across Europe to the Caucasus. At an early stage, however, it was cultivated throughout northern Europe, at least since the Viking Age, and today it is widely naturalized.
This species is dealt with in detail on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
Narrow cork stripes create patterns on the bark of a wild cherry, eastern Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Concentric rings on a wild cherry stump, surrounding a ‘heart’ in the centre, Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera), also known as myrobalan plum, is a close relative of the cherry. This small tree, sometimes reaching a height of 12 m, is a native of south-eastern Europe and western Asia. Due to its edible fruits, which taste somewhat like plums, it was introduced to most parts of Europe and North America at an early stage, and has become widely naturalized there.
Cherry plum trees often produce an abundance of fruits. If they are not picked by people, they remain on the tree, until they are over-ripe and fall to the ground. Wild birds are not at all able to eat all these berries, which often lie almost in layers on the ground beneath the tree. Rotting cherry plums are much praised by butterflies and wasps. Pictures of these fruits are presented on the page Autumn.
Patterns on the trunk of an ancient, gnarled cherry plum, central Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Persian lilac, or Chinaberry (Melia azedarach), is probably native to Iran and the Indian Subcontinent. However, due to its beautiful flowers and fruits, it is widely planted elsewhere. It readily becomes naturalized and is now regarded as an invasive in several regions, including North America, East Africa, some Pacific Islands, New Zealand, and Australia. It is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
The bark on old Persian lilac trees often forms cross-like patterns, like on this one in Taitung Ecological Park, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
As silver birches (Betula pendula) age, the colour of the bark on the lower part of the trunk changes from almost pure white to blackish. This species is presented in detail on the page Autumn.
Patterns in the bark of a younger (top) and an older silver birch, Jutland, Denmark. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The cross-striped bark on this over-turned trunk of a silver birch contrasts greatly with the luminous moss, central Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The kauri tree (Agathis australis), or, to be more precise, the southern kauri tree, is a conifer of the family Araucariaceae, which is restricted to the northernmost part of New Zealand’s North Island. This species is among the world’s largest trees, growing to over 50 m tall, with trunk girths up to 16 m. Although their age is difficult to estimate, it is believed that they may live for more than 2,000 years. They are out of an ancient group of trees, which first appeared during the Jurassic period (190 to 135 million years ago).
The sad fate of the kauri is described on the page Plants: Ancient and huge trees.
Bark on a kauri tree, Trounson Kauri Park, New Zealand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), also called tulip tree, whitewood, or fiddle-tree, is one of the largest East American trees, sometimes reaching a height of 60 m, with a trunk diameter up to 3 m. This popular tree is the state tree of Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
The generic name, from the Greek leirion (‘lily’) and dendron (‘tree’), as well as the name tulip tree, refer to the large flowers, which superficially resemble lilies or tulips. However, this species is a member of the magnolia family (Magnoliaceae). The popular name fiddle-tree refers to the peculiar shape of the leaves, which sometimes resemble small violins.
The characteristic furrowed bark of yellow-poplar often creates beautiful patterns. – Caumsett State Park, Long Island, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Shadows from leaves of an American beech (Fagus grandifolia) are cast on the trunk of a yellow-poplar, Long Island. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Japanese zelkova (Zelkova serrata), of the elm family (Ulmaceae), is found in Japan, Korea, eastern China, and Taiwan. The leaves of the variety tarokoensis in Taiwan are smaller and less indented along the margin than in the nominate form.
Patterns in the bark of a Taiwan zelkova, var. tarokoensis, Malabang National Forest. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The European, or common, hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), of the birch family (Betulaceae), is native to Europe and south-western Asia, from southern Scandinavia southwards to Italy and Greece, and from southern England and France eastwards to Ukraine, Turkey, the Caucasus, and the Alborz Mountains of northern Iran.
A twig of an ivy (Hedera helix) clings to the trunk of a common hornbeam, Møn, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Pattern on the underside of fallen bark, Haverhill, Massachusetts, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Even though you can hardly call cultivated fields nature, a few weeds always take root, even in modern large-scale fields. A mole and a mouse or two may also live here, and an occasional deer or hare may be roaming. Under all circumstances, fields often hold a peculiar beauty in their broad outline, or in the patterns created by the harvesting of the crops. A number of examples are shown below.
Paddy fields with newly planted rice plants, near Longluan Lake, southern Taiwan. The bird is an eastern cattle egret (Bubulcus coromandus). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Terraced fields, lying fallow, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Terraced fields, some lying fallow, Ilam, eastern Nepal. One field has been inundated to plant rice, and others are covered in yellow-flowered leaf mustard (Brassica juncea), described on the page In praise of the colour yellow. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sloping, harvested field, Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Onion fields on the lower slopes of Gunung Bromo Volcano, Java, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Stubble of harvested maize create a pattern, which merges into a pattern of trunks in a spruce plantation, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Impressions of ox-cart wheels create patterns in fallow paddy fields beneath Phnom Krom Hill, near Siem Reap, Cambodia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Seemingly endless rows of cultivated currant bushes (Ribes nigrum), Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Irregular pattern in rows of densely cut tea bushes (Camellia sinensis), near Alishan, Taiwan. – The origin of tea brewing is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Early in the morning, a patch of sunshine illuminates people, harvesting rice on terraced fields in the Trisuli Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Beeches (Fagus) is a genus of 10 to 13 species of trees, native to temperate and subtropical areas of Europe, Asia, and North America.
The European beech (Fagus sylvatica) is largely restricted to Europe, occurring from England and the Pyrenees eastwards to Poland and Ukraine, and from southern Sweden southwards to Italy and the Balkans, with a patchy occurrence in southern Norway, central Spain, and Turkey. In the Balkans, it hybridizes with the oriental beech (Fagus orientalis), which is found in Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, the Caucasus, and the Alborz Mountains in northern Iran.
Other pictures of beech may be seen on the pages Plants: Ancient and huge trees, and Autumn.
Trunks of young beech trees cast shadows, which form patterns on the forest floor, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Beech logs, lined up along a forest road, Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Patterns in algae, growing in a polluted stream, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In another polluted stream, near Trounson Kauri Park, New Zealand, foam is creating patterns. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Common adenostyles (Adenostyles alliariae), also called hedge-leaved adenostyle, is a composite, native to the major part of southern Europe, from Spain eastwards across the Alps to the Carpathians, the Balkans, and Turkey. It is very common in the Alps, growing at altitudes between 1,300 and 2,400 m, in shrubberies, meadows, and rocky areas.
You often come across a growth of common adenostyles, whose leaves have been almost completely eaten by larvae of a metallic, bluish or greenish beetle, Oreina cacaliae, which belongs to the family broad-shouldered leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae). This species is partial to common adenostyles, as well as alpine butterbur (Petasites paradoxus).
Leaves of common adenostyles, almost completely eaten by larvae of Oreina cacaliae, Grossglockner area, Austria. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Stevns Klint, eastern Zealand, Denmark, is a white cliff, 17 km long and a maximum of 41 m high. This cliff is of great importance due to a 5 to 20 cm thick layer of so-called fiskeler, a 65 million-year-old layer on the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary. This ash layer marks the time, when an enormous meteor impact in Mexico caused widespread disasters across the globe and probably was the cause of mass extinction, including the dinosaurs. The reason that this layer of fiskeler is proof of the meteor impact is that it has a high content of a rare metal, iridium, which occurs in meteors.
Part of Stevns Klint with black layers of flint. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Another Danish white cliff is Hvideklint, on the island of Møn, which consists of white chalk, with deposits of brown soil above. Rain has caused mud to run down the white chalk, creating a streaked pattern. The deposit of rust to the right indicates the presence of iron ore in the cliff. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Large honey bush (Melianthus major), of the family Francoaceae, is an evergreen shrub, which is endemic to South Africa, but has become naturalised elsewhere, including in India, Australia, and New Zealand. All parts of the plants are poisonous. The generic name is from the Greek meli (‘honey’) and anthos (‘flower’). Various birds, including sunbirds of the family Nectariniidae, often feed in the flowers.
Leaves of large honey bush are very distinctive. – Doubtless Bay, Karikari Peninsula, New Zealand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Reflections of sunlight create patterns in a rocky lake-bed, Lake Femunden, Hedmark, Norway. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rushes (Juncus) are a huge genus of grass-like plants, comprising about 300 species. They are found throughout the world, with the exception of Antarctica. Historically, these plants received little attention from botanists. In 1819, British botanist James Ebenezer Bicheno (1785-1851), who was colonial secretary of Tasmania from 1842 until his death in 1851, described the genus as “obscure and uninviting”. (Source: J.E. Bicheno 1819. Observations on the Linnean genus Juncus, with the characters of those species, which have been found growing wild in Great Britain. Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 12 (2): 291-337)
Saltmarsh rush (Juncus gerardii) is mainly a coastal species, occurring on coasts of Europe and eastern North America, and also on saline soils inland, in western and central Asia and central North America.
These tufts of saltmarsh rush, which have sprouted between large specimens of sea plantain (Plantago maritima), create patterns in a littoral meadow, Horsens Fjord, Denmark. A littoral pond with vegetation of common cordgrass (Spartina anglica) is seen in the background. The greyish plants are sea wormwood (Artemisia maritima). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The small toad rush (Juncus bufonius) is distributed over most of the world, restricted to humid areas.
In this picture, toad rush grows only in the deepest, most humid grooves of a tractor track, central Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tree roots, which have been exposed due to rain water erosion, often create beautiful patterns on the forest floor. Four examples are shown below.
Exposed roots on a hiking trail, Gunung Rinjani Volcano, Lombok, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Exposed roots of a huge banyan, or Bengal fig (Ficus benghalensis), Mount Abu, Rajasthan, India. – This species is described on the page Plants: Pipal and banyan – two sacred fig trees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Exposed roots on a hiking trail in a beech forest near Kranjska Gora, Slovenia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Exposed roots of a Taiwan red cypress (Chamaecyparis formosana) on a hiking trail, Alishan National Forest, central Taiwan. These magnificent trees are presented on the page Plants: Ancient and giant trees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Black and purple volcanic sand with various sea shells, including that of a ram’s horn squid (Spirula spirula), Muriwai Beach, New Zealand. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
At Pamukkale, western Turkey, water, containing dissolved calcium bicarbonate, is seeping down a slope over a wide area, where the mineral is deposited, and, over time, has formed numerous bluish-white terraces, some dry, some containing ponds with shallow water.
Patterns in calcium bicarbonate terraces, Pamukkale. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
As its name implies, the most important food item of the acorn woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) is acorns. It has an interesting habit of storing acorns as a winter supply in small holes, which the bird chisels into the bark of living or dead trees. This bird is common from California through Mexico and Central America to northern Columbia.
This acorn woodpecker has chiseled its nesting hole in the trunk of a palm tree in Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, California, and around the nesting hole, it has made numerous small holes for storage of acorns. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A cristate, or crested, saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) forms, when the cells in the growing stem begin to divide outward, rather than in the circular pattern of a normal cactus. This mutation results in the growth of a large fan-shaped crest at the growing tip of a saguaro’s main stem or ‘arms’.
Several pictures, depicting normal saguaros, as well as pictures of many other cactus species, may be seen on the page Plants: Cacti.
Crested saguaro cactus, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Shambles of branches often form beautiful or complicated patterns. Three examples are shown below.
Branches, seen against the light, Tacijili River, Taroko Gorge, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
As its name implies, the New Zealand fantail (Rhipidura fuliginosa) is restricted to New Zealand, where it is common in many places. This species is very confiding and will often flit about in front of your face, catching insects. It is very variable, being mainly grey, white, and pale brown, and it also occurs in a dark morph, which is sometimes called black fantail.
In the Maori language, the New Zealand fantail is known as piwakawaka. It is a messenger, bringing death or news of death from the gods to the people. Its bulbous eyes and erratic flying behaviour is attributed to it being squeezed by the hero Maui, because it would not reveal the whereabouts of his ancestress Mahuika, the fire deity.
New Zealand fantail among a shambles of willow branches, Trounson Kauri Park, New Zealand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Fallen branches create patterns in a vernal pool, Parker River Wildlife Refuge, Massachusetts, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Wood horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) often resembles a tiny spruce tree. This attractive species is distributed in the northern temperate and arctic zones of Eurasia and North America. The generic name is from the Latin equus (‘horse’), and seta, which has several meanings, including ‘rough’, ‘brush’, or ‘hair’. Seta can refer to the rough, silica-containing stems of these plants, but together with equus, the word means ’horse hair’. With a bit of imagination, a bunch of drying stems do resemble a horsetail. The specific name means ‘growing in forests’, from the Latin silva (‘forest’).
Other species of horsetail are described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
These wood horsetails, growing in a dark forest on the island of Møn, Denmark, are illuminated by a patch of sunshine. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Beautiful patterns are often created on leaves, which have been partly eaten by insects. A selection is seen below.
Leaves of beach almond (Terminalia catappa), partly eaten by insects, Taiwan. This species is presented in detail above. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) is a plant of the cabbage family (Brassicaceae), growing to 1.5 m tall. It is probably native to south-eastern Europe and western Asia, but is cultivated around the world as a vegetable, spice, and condiment. Today, it is widely used as a substitute to make the hot Japanese condiment wasabi, although genuine wasabi is made from the species Wasabia japonica, likewise of the cabbage family.
Leaf of horseradish, partly eaten by insects, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
California black oak (Quercus kelloggii) is mainly a tree of northern California and western Oregon, where it grows in foothills and lower mountains. Its occurrence in southern California and Baja California is patchy, but it is common in the Sierras. Most trees live between 100 and 200 years, but some specimens are known to be almost 500 years old.
This species is adapted to fire, protected from smaller fires by its thick bark. It is killed by larger fires, but easily sprouts again from the roots. Acorns mainly sprout, when a fire has cleared an area of leaf litter. This was known by several indigenous peoples, who purposely lit fires to renew growths of this tree, whose acorns was a staple food source to them.
A number of other American oak species are described on the page Plants: Plants of Sierra Nevada.
Feeding tunnels of a species of leaf miner moth create patterns in a leaf of California black oak, Sequoia National Forest, Sierra Nevada, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Saurauia napaulensis, in Nepali called gogon, is a tree, to 20 m tall, of the kiwifruit family (Actinidiaceae). It is distributed in the Himalaya, from Uttarakhand eastwards to Myanmar, growing at altitudes between 750 and 2,100 m. It is also found in Southeast Asia and western China. In local medicine, the bark is pounded together with Lecanthus peduncularis of the nettle family (Urticaceae), and juice from the mixture is taken for fever.
Withered leaf of Saurauia napaulensis, partly eaten by insects, Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dipterocarpus alatus is a large evergreen forest tree, which can grow to a height of 40 m, sometimes up to 55 m. It is found in tropical Asia, from Bangladesh eastwards through Southeast Asia to the Philippines. It is one of the most important timber species in this region, and wild populations are highly threatened by habitat loss. It is listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The generic name Dipterocarpus is derived from the Greek words di (‘two’), pteron (‘wing’), and karpos (‘fruit’), referring to the two-winged fruits of this genus.
This leaf of Dipterocarpus alatus has fallen among the ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia. The beautiful patterns in the leaf are created by micro-organisms, which have eaten most of it. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Redflower ragleaf (Crassocephalum crepidioides), also known as ebolo or thickhead, is a member of the daisy family (Asteraceae), which grows to 1.8 m tall. It is native to tropical Africa, but has become widely naturalized elsewhere in tropical and subtropical regions around the world.
Leaf of redflower ragleaf with feeding tunnels of a species of leaf miner moth, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Downy birch (Betula pubescens) is described on the page Autumn.
Leaf of downy birch, partly eaten by insects, Mols, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Alocasia macrorhiza is presented in depth above.
This leaf of giant taro (Alocasia macrorhiza) has been partly eaten by insects, Wufong, Taiwan. This species is presented in detail above. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Deposits of moraine often form beautiful patterns in glaciers. Two examples are shown here.
This iceberg, with deposited moraine, is stranded in a glacial lake, Jökulsárlon, beneath Vatnajökul Glacier, southern Iceland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Glacier with patterns, created by deposited moraine, Yrdyk Valley, Kyrgyzstan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The common stray dogs of Taiwan, sometimes called Takasago dogs, are a result of the indigenous Formosan hunting dogs interbreeding with imported dog types. Taiwan dogs are usually black or brown, or a mixture of the two.
The domestication of the dog is described on the page Animals: Animals as servants of Man.
Fur pattern on the rump of a Taiwan dog. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Brightly coloured buildings, reflected in Lake Birksø, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Spiny plants often form beautiful patterns. Three examples are shown below.
Screw palms (Pandanus) are a genus of monocots with 700-750 species. The name palm refers to their palm-like appearance, whereas the prefix screw alludes to its leaves, which are arranged in a swirly pattern, with old leaf scars encircling the stem. Another name of these plants is screwpine, alluding to the edible fruit, which resembles a pineapple.
The Chinese screw palm (Pandanus tectorius, formerly known as P. odoratissimus var. sinensis), is a small tree, to 10 m tall, distinguished by its numerous spiny leaves, which may grow to 1.8 m long. it is distributed along seashores, from eastern China and Taiwan southwards through Southeast Asia to northern Australia and many Pacific islands. It is sometimes planted as a living fence, and the leaves are used for weaving.
Chinese screw palm, Bitou Cape Trail, northern Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
If you have once stepped barefoot on the leaf rosette of a spear thistle, or bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare), you need no further introduction to it, and you will always avoid it in the future. This species, with its intensely spiny leaves, is widely distributed in the major part of Europe, North Africa, and western Asia, eastwards to the Yenisei River. It has also been accidentally introduced to many other places, including North America and Australia, where it is often regarded as an invasive weed.
Spear thistle is biennial. During the first year, it produces a leaf rosette, which overwinters and grows into a stem, up to 1.5 m tall, the following summer, displaying an abundance of beautiful red flowerheads. Despite its formidable armour of spines, this plant has been elected as the national flower of Scotland, hence another common name, Scottish thistle. Other lovers of the spear thistle include honey bees, bumble bees, and butterflies, which feed on the nectar, and various finches, including goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), linnet (Carduelis cannabina), and greenfinch (Chloris chloris), which greatly appreciate the seeds.
Rime covers an overwintering leaf rosette of spear thistle, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Agave leaf, still not fully opened, Parque Nacional Rincon de la Vieja, Cordillera de Guanacaste, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Flowers and leaves, which have been brought as an offering to the Hindu Water Temple near Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, are now floating on the surface of a pond. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Banana plants are described on the page Plants: Bananas.
Patterns on a withering banana leaf, Lugu, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Banana leaf, torn by the wind, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) is native to the Mediterranean region, eastwards to the Alborz and Zagros mountains of Iran. This large tree, growing to 35 m tall, may live for 500 or 600 years, and cultivated specimens are reputedly 1000 years old.
Sweet chestnut is widely cultivated for its edible nuts and for its wood. Raw chestnuts are covered by a tough skin, which has an unpleasant, astringent taste. They are usually roasted, which makes it easier to remove the skin. Chestnut orchards are commonly found in Spain, Portugal, France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, and elsewhere.
During my stay in the Zagros Mountains in south-western Iran (see Travel episodes – Iran 1973: In the mountains of Luristan), I was told that fruits of sweet chestnut, which is common in these mountains, were an important food item, when the wheat crop failed.
In his book Flora Danica, from 1648, Danish physician and herbalist Simon Paulli (1603-1680) says: ”Galenus [Claudius Galenus (130-210 A.D.), Greek-Roman physician and philosopher] praises the fruits of sweet chestnut above all other kinds of acorns, which are good to eat. We must point out that we do not agree with Johan Bodæo à Stapel, who, with beautiful and learned comments, has illustrated Theophrastum Eresium [a work by Greek scholar and botanist Theophrastos (c. 371 – c. 287 B.C.), called ‘The Father of Botany’]; because he claims that sweet chestnuts are a kind of nuts. However, to us it seems more appropriate to regard them as a kind of acorns, but we do not want to go into detail here. (…)
Those, who hold their health in high esteem, should take care that they do not eat too many sweet chestnuts, because the above-mentioned Galenus also says this about them: (…) Sweet chestnuts, cooked or fried or dried over a fire, are always evil, but above all when they are eaten raw.”
Fallen inflorescences of a sweet chestnut tree create patterns at a roadside, Bühlertal, Schwarzwald, southern Germany. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Large congregations of feral pigeons, which are descended from the rock pigeon (Columba livia), are found in countless cities around the world. As many people enjoy feeding them, they multiply beyond control and often become a menace through their droppings, which, incidentally, may spread diseases among people.
Every morning, devout Buddhists feed feral pigeons around the great Buddhist Bodhnath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal. This gorgeous building is dealt with in detail on the page Religion: Buddhism.
After being fed, feral pigeons are resting on the dome of the Bodhnath Stupa, contrasting sharply with the yellowish-white dome. Tibetan prayer flags can be glimpsed in the upper left corner. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In Turkish, the Column of Constantine, Istanbul, Turkey, is called Çemberlitaş Sütunu, from çemberli (‘hooped’) and taş (‘stone’). This column, also known as The Burnt Pillar, was constructed on the orders of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great in 330 A.D., commemorating the declaration of Byzantium, renamed by Constantine as Nova Roma (’New Rome’), as the new capital of the Roman Empire. Later, the name of the city was changed to Constantinople, and, following the conquest by the Ottomans in 1453, to Istanbul.
Resting feral pigeons create patterns on the base of The Column of Constantine, Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Grass, growing on this slope between Kakatahi and Upokongaro, New Zealand, creates a beautiful pattern. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Detail of a weather-beaten beam in a house, which was formerly used as storage hut for harvested flax (Linum usitatissimum), Lerkaka, Öland, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Common goat’s-beard (Tragopogon pratensis) is native to Europe and northern Asia, and has also become widely naturalized in North America. The sepal-like bracts, which surround the flowerhead, contract before noon, closing it, which has given rise to a popular name of the plant, Jack-go-to-bed-by-noon. During this contraction, the seeds protrude from the flowerhead, hereby resembling a goat’s beard.
A close view of seeds of common goat’s-beard, Denmark. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Lesser duckweed (Lemna aequinoctialis) is a tiny water plant, whose floating leaves are pale green, up to 6 mm long. This species is very widespread in tropical and subtropical regions, often covering the surface of still waters.
Flowing water, making its way through a carpet of lesser duckweed, which covers a stream in Tunghai University Park, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Palms constitute a huge family, Arecaceae, of trees (some almost stemless), shrubs, and climbers, numbering around 180 genera with altogether c. 2,600 species, most of which are restricted to tropical and subtropical areas. Their compound leaves are often very large and decorative.
The areca palm, or betel palm (Areca catechu), is the type species of the entire palm family. The generic name is derived from a local South Indian name of this palm, either from the Tamil areec, or from the Malayalam atekka. The specific name catechu is from a Malayan name of the species, caccu.
The areca palm is believed to have originated in the Philippines, but is widely cultivated elsewhere in Tropical and Subtropical Asia, New Guinea, the West Indies, and on many Pacific Ocean islands. Its nut, called betel nut, is an ingredient in betel, a mild intoxicant, consisting of a leaf from the betel bush (Piper betle), which is wrapped around bits of areca nut and, according to your taste, tobacco or spices, taken with a small amount of lime. Chewing this mixture increases your spit production, and your saliva turns brick-red. Blotches of betel spit are ubiquitous in many Asian countries – on streets, stairs, and elsewhere.
In Taiwan, where this picture was taken, areca palms are cultivated by the millions, as about every other man is chewing the intoxicant. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The place of origin of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) is unknown, and today it is found everywhere along tropical coasts, in some areas also inland. This species is utilized for countless purposes. Oil from the nuts, and also dried copra, is used in cooking and in lamps. Mats, weaved from the leaves, are used as walls and roofs in houses, and mats and rope are produced from the fibres in the husk. Charcoal is made from the shells, and the trunk is utilized as timber and firewood.
Coconut palms, standing out against a bluish mountain slope, Kotubaru, Sumatra, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Leaves of a coconut palm, waving in the wind, Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Close-up of coconut palm leaves, Siem Reap, Cambodia (top), and near Tanga, northern Tanzania. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
As early as c. 3000 B.C., the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) was cultivated in Mesopotamia, between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris, and it was sacred in Ancient Egypt. This is not very odd, its overwhelming production of dates taken into consideration. Not only the fruits are edible – the young and tender leaves are eaten as cabbage. Juice is extracted from the young shoots at the top of the trunk to produce alcohol, and when the tree dies, the trunk is utilized as excellent timber.
The base of chopped-off leaves create patterns on the trunk of this date palm in the Nefta Oasis, Tunisia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young leaf of a species of bamboo palm (Chamaedorea), in Spanish pacaya, Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal, Cordillera de Tilarán, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Leaves of Manicaria saccifera, in Spanish called palma real (‘the royal palm’), reflected in water, Tortuguero National Park, Limón, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Leaf of an unidentified palm species, Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Detail of a leaf of an unidentified palm species, Tikal National Park, Guatemala. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana), also known as edible kelp, bullwhip kelp, ribbon kelp, and bladder wrack, forms large offshore ‘forests’ along the west coast of North America . It is attached to rocks with a richly branched haptera, to 40 cm across, and has a cylindrical stipe (stem), which may grow to no less than c. 36 m long, terminating in many blades, which may be up to 10 m long, develop. These blades are able to grow 15 cm per day.
The generic name is derived from the Greek Nereus (a sea god, son of Okeanos and Gaia, and father of the Nereids, or sea nymphs), and kustis (‘bladder’).
Washed-up bull kelp creates patterns on a stony beach, Salt Point State Park, California, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Purple moor-grass (Molinia caerulea) is native to Europe, North Africa, and western Asia, growing in heathland, marshes, and moorland. It has also been introduced to North America. It is quite an aggressive species, which is often able to expel other species. For this reason, it is an unwanted species in many moorlands.
The specific name is the feminine form of caeruleus (‘dark blue’), referring to the purple inflorescence.
This tuft of purple moor grass is spreading its stems fan-like, creating a nice pattern. It grows in a marsh in central Jutland, Denmark, surrounded by a species of sedge (Carex). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Plant, clinging to a stone wall, Jiali Shan, Lion’s Head National Scenic Area, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Parque Nacional Corcovado is a protected rainforest area on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica. This interesting national park is presented on the page Travel episodes – Costa Rica 2012: Coastal hike to Corcovado. Two pictures from beaches in this park is shown below.
Small gullies on a sandy beach, created by receding water at low tide, Parque Nacional Corcovado. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tracks of numerous hermit crabs create patterns around a fallen fruit on a sandy beach, Parque Nacional Corcovado. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Honeysuckles (Lonicera) are a genus of c. 180 species of shrubs or climbers of the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae), native to the Northern Hemisphere. The generic name was given in honour of German botanist Adam Lonicer (1528-1586), whereas the name honeysuckle stems from the sweet nectar in the flowers of this genus. Some species are indeed fragrant, and several are cultivated as ornamentals.
The common honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), or woodbine, is a deciduous twining climber, which can grow to 7 m long. This species is found in woodland, hedgerows, and scrubland, avoiding calcareous soils. It is native to the major part of Europe, from southern Scandinavia southwards to the Mediterranean, and from Britain eastwards to Turkey and the Caucasus.
The creamy-white or yellowish flowers, often flushed with pink or red on the outside, emit a wonderful fragrance at night, which attracts a multitude of moths and long-tongued bees that pollinate them. They develop into bright red berries, which are much favoured by various birds. In the old days, children would suck the nectar from the base of the flowers.
In his play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) refers once or twice to the honeysuckle:
“Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine”
“So doth the woodbine the sweet honeysuckle gently entwine.”
In the second quotation, the word woodbine probably refers to the vigorous hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium), which may in those days have been known as woodbine. In fact, this may also be the species mentioned in the first quotation!
At a roadside on the island of Funen, Denmark, I came across this jumble of stems of common honeysuckle. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The shadow of a conifer creates patterns on a barn, Portland, Maine, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Spruces (Picea) are a genus of about 35 species of conifers, native to temperate areas of the northern hemisphere. Some species grow to a very large size, up to 60 m tall.
The Norway spruce (Picea abies) is native from Scandinavia and the Alps, southwards to the Balkans and eastwards to somewhere in Russia. Its eastern limit is very difficult to define, as it hybridizes freely with the Siberian spruce (P. obovata), which is distributed from western Russia and eastern Finland eastwards across Siberia. Norway spruce is widely planted elsewhere for its wood. The specific name abies is the Latin generic name of firs. This name was given in allusion to the fact that Norway spruce, at some distance, often resembles the common fir (Abies alba).
Stacked trunks of Norway spruce, Zealand, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Schrenk’s spruce (Picea schrenkiana) is restricted to the Tien Shan Mountains in Sinkiang, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, usually forming pure forests at altitudes of 1,200-3,500 m. Its name was given in honour of Baltic-German naturalist Alexander von Schrenk (1816-1876), who was known for his expeditions to Central Asia and northern Russia, author of Reise nach dem Nordosten des europäischen Rußlands, durch die Tundren der Samojeden, zum arktischen Uralgebirge.
Schrenk’s spruce is a large tree, growing to 50 m tall, and with a trunk diameter up to 2 m. It comes in two subspecies, the type ssp. schrenkiana, found in Kazakhstan and Sinkiang, and the Tien Shan spruce, ssp. tianshanica, found in Kyrgyzstan.
Early morning light on tall and slender Tien Shan spruces, Arashan Valley, Kyrgyzstan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Feather clouds above a growth of Tien Shan spruces, Arashan Valley, Kyrgyzstan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Common reed (Phragmites australis) is almost cosmopolitan. This large grass species, which occasionally can grow to almost 10 m tall, is often spreading by its creeping rhizomes, and stands can cover many square kilometres.
This plant has been utilized by Man for thousands of years, especially for thatching, house-making, and production of mats and baskets. A recent usage is for so-called phytoremediation water treatment. Sewage water trickles through an artificial reed bed, where bacteria on the rhizomes remove most of the nutrients.
Young stems and rhizomes can be dried and ground into flour, and the rhizomes are also utilized in traditional Chinese medicine for ailments like cough, phlegm, etc.
In the former marshland between rivers Euphrates and Tigris, southern Iraq, reed was extensively used for house construction and mat-making. You may read about this interesting wetland on the pages Travel episodes – Iraq 1973: The hospitable mudir, and Iraq 1973: Dust storm and sheep’s head.
Winter stems of reed, Brassø, central Jutland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Planted trees create an intricate pattern, Huoyan Mountains (’99 Peaks’), Pinglin, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Like the North American harlequin duck (Histrionicus histrionicus), the South American torrent duck (Merganetta armata), and the blue duck (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos) of New Zealand, the habitat of the African black duck (Anas sparsa) is fast-flowing rivers. This species is distributed in the major part of Africa, from the Sahel zone and Ethiopia southwards to South Africa.
Patterns in the overflow from the Mare Dam, Nyanga National Park, Zimbabwe. A pair of African black duck are feeding above the dam. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In Caumsett State Park, Long Island, United States, one liana is constricting another liana, hereby creating a beautiful pattern. They bring a Scottish proverb to mind: “Friends agree best at a distance.” (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The grey-headed kingfisher (Halcyon leucocephala) is widely distributed in Africa, from Mauritania eastwards to Ethiopia and Somalia, and thence southwards to South Africa. It is also found on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. This species belongs to a group of kingfishers, which are not closely connected with water, mainly feeding on larger insects, lizards etc.
Patterns on the underside of a wing of a grey-headed kingfisher, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Pipal (Ficus religiosa) belongs to a group of fig trees, called strangler figs. Most pipals begin their life as an epiphyte in another tree, the seed often sprouting in a pile of bird dung, delivered by the bird that ate the fig fruit. Over the years, aerial roots of the pipal wrap around the host tree, growing down to the ground, where they take root. Eventually, the host tree is strangled to death, and as its trunk decays, it leaves the pipal tree, standing as a hollow cylinder of aerial roots. Pipal also often grows in cracks on buildings, and, if allowed, its aerial roots will envelop the building and, over time, destroy it. This species may be identified by the broad, heart-shaped leaves, ending in a long, tapering point.
Pipal is described in detail on the page Plants: Pipal and banyan – two sacred fig trees, and pictures depicting other fig species may be seen on the page Plants: Ancient and huge trees.
Morning light is reddening this row of pipal trees in the city of Taichung, Taiwan. This species is widely planted on the island. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
As the trunk of the host tree has decayed, this unidentified strangler fig has been left as a hollow cylinder of aerial roots, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Lobelia telekii is a very tall member of the bellflower family (Campanulaceae), which is restricted to mountains in Kenya (Mount Kenya, Mount Elgon, and the Aberdares), growing at altitudes between 3,000 and 5,000 m. Its flowers are hidden among long, hairy bracts, giving the plant an extremely hairy appearance. They are pollinated by birds, especially the scarlet-tufted sunbird (Nectarinia johnstoni).
This species was named in honour of Count Samuel Teleki de Szék (1845-1916), a Hungarian explorer, who led the first expedition to the northern parts of Kenya in 1887-1888.
This picture from Makinder Valley, Mount Kenya, shows the hairy bracts of Lobelia telekii. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Morning light on a leaf rosette of Lobelia telekii, Makinder Valley. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dead stems of a vine create patterns on a wall, Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bamboo is a term applied to various types of grasses, mostly found in warmer regions of the world. This group, comprising about 1,400 species in 115 genera, is divided into three tribes, tropical woody bamboos (Bambuseae), temperate woody bamboos (Arundinarieae), and herbaceous bamboos (Olyreae). They vary enormously in size, from less than 1 m to over 30 m tall.
Most bamboo species rarely blossom, some only flowering at intervals of 65 to 120 years. Mass-flowering is common in many species, and once flowering has taken place, the plants spread the seeds, wither, and die.
Numerous pictures, depicting various bamboo species, are presented in the gallery at Plants: Bamboo.
These bamboo plants, which have just flowered, are now dying, stretching their withering stems towards the sky, Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary, Karnataka, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
As a close acolyte of Man for thousands of years, the horse, which in the wild state once roamed grass steppes of Europe and Asia, is today found in most parts of the globe. Its domestication is described on the page Animals: Animals as servants of Man.
Horse riders in a snow-covered landscape, Arashan Valley, Kyrgyzstan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Horses on a snow-covered field, Manang, Upper Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Fungi on a withered leaf, creating a beautiful design, Basianshan National Forest, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Pines (Pinus) are a huge genus of conifers, comprising around 125 species. They are distributed in arctic, temperate and subtropical areas of almost the entire Northern Hemisphere.
One day, towards the end of April 1992, I was hiking up a slope in Inyo National Forest, White Mountains, eastern California. In front of me were the most remarkable trees I have ever seen. At a distance, they appeared completely dead, with twisted, naked branches, stretching from a yellowish trunk towards the blue sky. But then – at closer quarters I noticed a narrow strip of bark on the side of the trunk, which pointed away from the direction of the prevailing wind. This strip of bark was leading up to one or two branches, densely covered in green needles, and from the tip of these branches, small cones were hanging down, their scales equipped with bristle-like appendages.
These peculiar trees were Great Basin bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva), which is restricted to high-altitude areas in eastern California, Nevada, and Utah. Apart from certain clones, including a creosote (Larrea tridentata) in the Mohave Desert, whose age is estimated at c. 9,400 years, this pine is the oldest living organism on Earth, a few of them being around 5,000 years old.
More photos of these remarkable trees are found on the pages Plants: Ancient and huge trees, and Plants: Plants of the Sierra Nevada.
Twisted trunk of an ancient Great Basin bristlecone pine, White Mountains, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Taiwan red pine (Pinus taiwanensis) is endemic to Taiwan, common in the mountains at altitudes between 750 and 3,000 m. It is closely related to Pinus luchuensis of Japan, and some authorities regard it as a subspecies of that species. Taiwan red pine can grow to about 35 m tall, with a trunk diameter of up to 80 cm.
Branches and needles of Taiwan red pine, Shei-pa National Park, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Pine pollen create patterns on the surface of a rainwater puddle, Pine Barrens, New Jersey, United States. This area was named after its extensive pine forests. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The spotted genet (Genetta genetta) is a small viverrid, native to most of Africa and along the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. At an early stage, it was introduced to Spain, where it quickly formed a wild population. It has since spread north and east through France, into Switzerland, Belgium, and southern Germany.
Pattern on the coat of a spotted genet, Kenya. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Artocarpus, popularly called breadfruit, is a genus of c. 60 trees and shrubs of the fig family (Moraceae). Most species are indigenous to Southeast Asia, a few to the Pacific. The numerous flowers grow into a so-called syncarpous fruit, i.e. a fruit with numerous carpels, packed closely together. In many species, the fruit can grow to a very large size.
The generic name is derived from the Greek artos (‘bread’) and karpos (‘fruit’), a name given by Scottish-German botanist Johann Reinhold Forster (1729-1798) and his son Johann Georg Forster (1754-1794), who participated as botanists during the second voyage of James Cook (1728-1779), which took place 1772-1775.
The native area of the jackfruit tree (Artocarpus heterophyllus) is unknown, but is thought to be somewhere in Tropical Asia. Today, it is only known as a cultivated species. Its fruit, comprising hundreds, or even thousands, of individual flowers, may reach a length of 90 cm and weigh as much as 50 kilos. It grows directly on the trunk, and a mature tree can produce 100 to 200 fruits a year. Below the knobbly outer layer of the fruit is a whitish mass, surrounding the nut-like seeds. Both are delicious when boiled. A slightly acid layer around the nuts can be eaten raw.
The word jackfruit is from the Portuguese jaca, which is thought to be derived from a South Indian Malayalam term, chakka pazham, which is again derived from the ancient Dravidian root ka or kay (‘fruit’ or ‘vegetable’). (Source: Franklin Southworth 2005. Linguistic Archaeology of South Asia. Routledge-Curzon)
Pattern of the knobbly outer layer of a jackfruit, Bali, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Driftwood with numerous holes, made by shipworms, Tortuguero National Park, Limón, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) has a very wide distribution, found from south-central and south-eastern United States, south through Mexico and Central America to coastal areas of South America, southwards to Peru and southern Brazil. The generic name is from the French word aigrette, meaning ‘little heron’.
Another picture, depicting this species, may be seen on the page In praise of the colour blue.
This little blue heron is resting on aerial roots of red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), J. N. Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The common daisy (Bellis perennis) is also known as lawn daisy, English daisy, or bruisewort, the latter referring to its medicinal usage to treat wounds. This species is native to the major part of Europe, and has also become naturalized in many other temperate areas, including the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand.
The name daisy is probably a corruption of day’s eye, referring to the fact that flowerheads of this species close at night and open in the morning. Daisy is used as a nickname for girls named Margaret, after the French name marguerite, used for a species with similar, but larger, flowerheads, the oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare).
Shadows from trees are cast on a large growth of common daisy, mixed with a few dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), Bornholm, Denmark. The dandelion is dealt with elsewhere on this page. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cracked mud in a dried-out wadi (desert wash), Metlaoui, Tunisia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is native to western North America, with two varieties, one coastal, growing from British Columbia southwards to central California, and one montane, found in the Rocky Mountains from British Columbia southwards to Mexico. Today, however, it is cultivated almost worldwide for its excellent timber.
The specific name was given in honour of Scottish naturalist Archibald Menzies (1754-1842), who participated, as surgeon and botanist, in an expedition around the world on board HMS Discovery, under the leadership of Captain George Vancouver (1757-1798). The English name honours Scottish botanist and plant collector David Douglas (1799-1834), who first reported this species. You may read more about Douglas on the page Plants: Ancient and huge trees.
Unripe cone of Douglas-fir, showing the characteristic three-pronged bracts of this species, Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
All but one of the 21 extant armadillo species live in Central and South America, and only one, the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus), reaches North America. Since its arrival in Texas in the 1880s and in Florida in the 1920s, this species has spread northwards to North Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, and Missouri. Climate change is the likely explanation to its occurrence in southern states like Georgia, South Carolina, and Oklahoma. However, biologists never thought that the winters of North Carolina, Indiana, or Missouri were mild enough to support an armadillo population, and a harsh winter or two would undoubtedly knock them back. (Source: scientificamerican.com/article/armadillo-moves-north-across-warmer-north-america)
In Spanish, armadillo means ‘the little armoured one’, referring to the ‘armour’ of these animals, consisting of overlapping scales, called scutes, which are composed of bone with a covering of horn.
These pictures of nine-banded armadillo are from Louisiana, the lower one showing details of its armour plates. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The common elm (Ulmus glabra), also called wych elm or Scots elm, is a large tree, sometimes growing to 40 m tall. It is found in the major part of Europe, eastwards to the Ural Mountains, the Caucasus, and the Alborz (Elburz) Mountains of northern Iran. The name wych is from an Old English word, wice, meaning ‘pliable’. The specific name, glabra, means ’smooth’ in Latin, referring to the smooth branches on younger trees.
In Europe, the populations of this elm have been drastically reduced by Dutch elm disease, caused by sac fungi, belonging to the genus Ophiostoma (formerly called Ceratocystis). These fungi are natives of Asia, where local elm species are resistant to the disease. However, this is not the case in Europe and North America, where the disease is epidemic.
Dutch elm disease is dealt with in detail on the page Nature Reserve Vorsø: Dutch elm disease on Vorsø.
This common elm, growing in nature reserve Vorsø, Denmark, was killed by Dutch elm disease. A dried-out polypore fungus is seen on the trunk. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Slender grass stems, Shei-pa National Park, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
(Uploaded June 2017)
(Latest update August 2020)