Corn: Propeller of lives

Corn along with rice and maize are the basic grains used all over the world. They evolved in different parts of the world in different climates and conditions. Wheat for example is said to have originated in Middle East. Rice requires plenty of water for cultivation and thus grown where rains are heavy or other sources of water are easily available. Here we are talking about the evolution of corn.

Evolution of the parent wild varieties have taken place man’s patient, persistent by a method of selective breeding over the centuries.  The history of modern-day maize begins at the dawn of human agriculture, about 10,000 years ago. Ancient farmers in what is now Mexico took the first steps in domesticating maize when they simply chose which kernels (seeds) to plant.

These farmers noticed that not all plants were the same. Some plants may have grown larger than others, or maybe some kernels tasted better or were easier to grind. The farmers saved kernels from plants with desirable characteristics and planted them for the next season’s harvest. This process is known as selective breeding or artificial selection. Maize cobs became larger over time, with more rows of kernels, eventually taking on the form of modern maize.

Evolution is said to be gradual and slow. But in the case of corn, it evolution occurred in a burst of fairly small time. After a long search, the scientists became sure about the ancestor of maize. Its name is Teosinte. Plants are totally dissimilar but the DNA is very similar and two can be easily crossed to produce modified intermediate varieties. Samples bear an unmistakable resemblance to modern maize.

Following shows a collection of sizes and shapes of cobs beginning from the earliest.

CornProgression
Second picture shows the comparison of Maize and Teosinte plant and cobs from which Corn has evolved over thousands of year. The hybrid corn resulting from crossing the two is also shown at bottom.

MaizeTeosinteCross

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Castaway Plants?

They are not cultivated by the people like so many plants which decorate the homes, offices and other public places. They grow by themselves on the edges of the roads and other places wherever they get a chance. They are weeded out of the fields by the farmers to clear the land for useful crops. They are very sturdy and can survive the adverse conditions.

They are like the poor children who have no access to health care amenities and sanitation facilities. Some of them who survive all the diseases become very tough and become immune to every ailment.

Almost every one ignore their existence and treat them as an undesired growth. But even then they possess certain charm which a sensitive mind cannot ignore. They may have flowers of various hues and diminutive sizes. The flowers may exude fragrances.

As they say that a plant is considered a weed until its properties are not fully known. They may have medicinal properties.

Below are the pictures of some such plants growing in our area.

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Magic with Bamboo in Assam India

Assam, North-Eastern State in India is endowed with exceptional natural beauty. It is still not polluted due to industrial expansion. The state has large forests of Bamboo and teak and other trees. Tea is famous all over the world. You will see sprawling tea gardens for miles and miles.

Bamboo is used for making many utility items. Traditional bamboo baskets that evolved through centuries of cultural and functional mediation are a response to a variety of local needs that were ingeniously satisfied by the local craftsmen. These include basket forms that are used for a variety of domestic, farming and fishing activities which are sold in the weekly markets in villages, towns and cities all over Assam. Large trays made from woven mats, structurally stabilized with stiff bamboo splits to form trays, are used for fishing and winnowing, drying, sorting and threshing grains. The fish basket has a wide mouth and narrow neck to prevent the fish from jumping out. Headgear and ceremonial rain shields are a response to the inclement monsoon that brings pouring rain for several months after summer. Rainfall is celebrated by the conversion of the everyday rain shields into a votive offering. The decorative jhappi is an appliqué embosomed rain shield symbolizing the harvest festival.

Numerous other artifacts of farming communities are made from bamboo that include a bullock cart, grain storage bins, low stools, and a distinctive construction called the Assam type house found everywhere. Assamese craftsmen use simple tools such as a dao, bill hook knife, and jigs to shape their products although they are largely based on their visual judgment. The only exception to this rule is while making the jhappi, when a bamboo mould is used.

Following are pictures of some of the artifacts made in Assam.

Below: A bamboo mould that is used for shaping the peak of the jhappi, palm leaf used for waterproofing and a semi-finished jhappi.

jappi mould

Below:Jhakoi, a fish trap with a basket for keeping fish, from Nalbari. The jhakoi is made by moulding a mat woven with bamboo splits.

fish trap

Below:Tray with open weave made from bamboo splits. It is used to catch fish living in the roots of the water hyacinth.

japi

Below: A basket for carrying agri-produce, made in open hexagonal weave construction, from Silchar.

tray

Below: Muddah, a low stool, made in Silchar has a fascinating structure made of thin splits, tied together with cane bindings to form a warped surface that is load bearing. The seat uses split cane weaving.

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Below: Basket for keeping fish. The basket along with the large trays forms a part of the fishing equipment and is carried tied to the waist.

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Below: Dimasa Cachari basket for storing valuable cloth. The double walled construction has an inner layer woven with coarser splits, and outer layer of smoother and finer splits. The conical lid is sturdy and hinged with braided bamboo straps.

cloth basket

Observing the Nature

How often do we leisurely watch the nature around us? General answer will be not often. Do we sit out in the evening and watch the sun going down, its glow becoming golden, and shadows lengthening and blinking through the chinks in the trees? Do we watch the groups of birds flying towards their homes after spending their day in a far off place where the food is available to forage? Why, in the first place, they don’t make their resting places near the food. May be the supply is not available at one place throughout the year and their resting places are at optimum distance from the foraging places. Why do they always fly in the groups? Is not their pressure or competition for food? Is the father of Evolution theory listening?

After reeling under the sweltering heat for many days, if there is rain, it is like a fresh breath of life. The parched land is drenched with water pushing out the air filled with earth’s aromas into the atmosphere and filling our nostrils with ecstasy. The accompanying wind rushes into the branches which sway from side to side at the top such as in the mighty silver oak trees. One wonders how the topmost leaves are receiving their requirement of water and nutrients. In optimistic hope of supply from the soil, additionally they must be conserving the water by reducing their stomata counts, As they are in the top, they have the benefit of plenty of sunlight. I also wonder if the leaves at the top are in any sort of communication with those at the lower branches.

Rain patters on the tins of roofs. Water begins to flow over the soil surface seeking places which are at lower level to become pooled there. The dust on the leaves which was choking the plants breath is washed up and translucency returns. Sometimes after the rain, sun comes out and everything shines resplendently. The weather becomes bearable.

Winter is becoming Intense

Except for a few sporadic appearance of clouds, the days begin with very bright mornings. The day breaks late. The sun comes out only at about seven o’clock although the darkness begins to melt into grey and then visible by half past six . The sky which looks black before sunlight begins to take on bluish hue.

There are groups of birds flying over against a clear sky. Cranes fly in groups to a river nearby to remain there all day and forage for food in the icy cool waters of the river. They can be seen returning in the opposite direction at the dusk. God knows what is the logic behind their daily sojourns. Can’t they make their abodes nearby? Crows make vacuous noises and sit on the branches of a skeleton tree. Occasionally big kites circle scanning the ground beneath. Crows which suppose themselves to be the rulers of the area relentlessly chase the kite. The sunlight plays with crests of mountains. There are speakers blaring bhajans from temples. The soldiers run with gusto. Morning stirs the activity. Occasionally, group of parrots dart between the trees.

Then there are monkeys descending in hordes over the colony. They lay hands on anything in the garbage bins which are of very old style silos with open trap doors. They hang on in the balconies and make a mess of everything. They pluck the flowers and uproot the plants.

You can see many people walking their morning walks. Some do exercises and running also. After the observations of many days, you can easily see the diehard morning walkers. Those who walk in the groups are given to chatting and discussing the politics.

The sun rises and everything is bathed in the golden sunlight. The sunlight first touches the crests of the lofty trees and then descends and spreads to the ground. The darkness has vanished completely. Soon it is the time for school buses and other vehicles to pick up the school children who are waiting on the road with their parents. The school is about to begin and the front area which was empty a few minutes earlier is thronged by the children and their parents who come to drop their wards to school. All of them seem to in great hurry and there is almost a frenzy on the road. Sometimes it seems that there shall be collisions.

There are milkmen and milkmaids coming to deliver the milk on the bikes. One women comes on bicycle for selling the breads, eggs and other breakfast items. She continuously rings the cycle bell to announce her presence to the customers. The house maids also arrive on the scene and can be seen entering the houses.

 

Frustration Principle

When we observe the trees and plants around us, we find that even the plants of the same species bear different sizes and shapes. In fact no two trees are alike even if they are growing near one another. This is the result of the intense competition and many traits that trees have to face and acquire.

Every tree tries to reproduce to propagate its lineage. For this it produces seeds. But this is not the end of the story. The seeds have to be broadcast away from the tree preferably to a place where the parent tree does not have its influence over the resources required for growth. To scatter the seeds the tree shall in ideal case try to grow very tall and branches at the top.

Now take its another trait. Every tree has to harvest the sun energy. For optimal absorption of the energy the tree shall desire to have the design in which branches shall be horizontal and non-overlapping. This way every leaf will act as a energy cell.

Third trait is mechanical stability. For this the tree shall want minimum horizontal branches because the branches shall try to destabilize it.

Now as the saying goes no one gets the complete world. The foremost truth about the life is compromise. So when all the traits compete simultaneously there is compromise. The mixing ratios of the traits is the result of the helplessness of the tree. This behavior has been called “Frustration Principle” by biologist Karl Niklas. Niklas used computer models in which he kept the two traits constant and varied the third one. The results were as expected but when he mixed the traits in different ratios the final shape of the tree was like we see in reality around us.

This can be compared to smart cellphones which have a camera also. Although camera does good work but it cannot replace the stand alone camera. Similarly we have gadgets which can do many jobs but they are good for picnics where it is not the refinement but collection of many tools which come as handy but are not as perfect in quality as the individual tool shall be. But then who wants to take a lots of tools for picnic?

Flowers Parade

As soon as the winter went away and yielded its place to Spring season, the nature which has been lying  dormant, has put up the best show in the form of flowers of all colors. In fact, there is a riot of colors. Plants, shrubs and trees, none of them wants to be left behind in bearing beautiful flowers and contribute to the show. Flowers of contrasting colors, shapes and sizes. The trees flower slowly and till late when here in India till the sweltering Summer sets in.

One thing, I noticed about the pattern of blooming was that trees tried to put up the Show not simultaneously but with time gaps. This is akin to fashion show in which the models occupy the ramp one after the other to show their assets. The reason may be that they wanted to keep us in pleasant mood for longer time by keeping the aesthetics of the surroundings. Another reason may be that they might be avoiding competition to avoid comparisons beholders draw because they (trees) may be aware of the adage “comparisons are odious!”.

So, first of all came beautiful golden yellow Amaltas flowers with the scientific name Cassia Fistula. Before the trees burst into flower bunches, most of them saw to it that they were completely devoid of leaves and their branches looked like skeletons. Bunches of flowers began hanging from the branches like garlands. Only after some days the leaves also come along.

Along with the Amaltas also blossomed the Peltophorum pterocarpum (‘Copperpod, Golden Flamboyant, Yellow Flamboyant, Yellow Flame Tree, Yellow Poinciana) with yellow small flowers. They are not as showy as Amaltas. The foliage of trees is very thick and flowers look like stars in the green colored sky. By this time the Amaltas flowers have lost their sheen.  All day these flowers fall to the ground and heaps of them collect or are swept here and there by the wind.

After this began the show by Pride of India, Queen Crape Myrtle, Hindi: Jarul जरुल , Manipuri: Jarol and botanical name is Lagerstroemia speciosa. The flowers are purple colored bunches peeking from the thick branches. The path turns purple with the fallen flowers as if some naughty child had spilled the blue inkpot.  These are very big trees and flowers are partially covered behind the leaves.

Now the April has begun. The heat is terrible. The flowers are withering away. Amaltas flowers have been bleached white by the Sun. Others are also fading. But the Last challenge is not over. Only a few days earlier, Gulmohur trees have begun blooming. And everyone knows how showy they are. The trees become like flames and seem to mocking the Sun. These trees are also very high. The flowers are all over the tree which have thin leave density.