Saturday, January 28, 2012

Creatures from Our Gardens at the 1st Annual Islamorada Fine Art Expo

Double-takes were not uncommon at the 1st Annual Islamorada Fine Art Expo on January 21-22, and many attendees were no doubt thinking they may have had too good a time the night before. Why? Because the streets were crawling with a few much-larger-than-life creatures including a lizard, praying mantis, and glow worm that escaped our Gardens:

Annie Hickman is the designer of the costumes and also the performing artist in the lizard costume. Veronika, our Grounds Manager, made a fantastic praying mantis and Ronnie Harris, VP of the Gardens, made a groovy glow worm. Our objective in showcasing these creatures was to introduce people to our relatively new Botanic Gardens here at Kona Kai and also add a unique artistic and interactive element to the Art Expo. I was the designated photographer for the weekend and worked with Tracey and Denise, who you may know from our Front Desk, to snap high-quality pictures of Expo attendees with the creatures (free of charge, which was surprising to many)  so that one person in a given group didn't have to be out of the picture to take the photo; we will be sending the pictures to them via e-mail. Watching people interact with the creatures was very interesting and entertaining - most folks warmed up quite well to them:

...but then there were also some who were a little frightened, understandably so, of such large creatures before we explained that they were actually just people in very convincing costumes:

You might wonder what these sorts of creatures have to do with botanic gardens. If we look closely at plants and their interactions with their surroundings, we find that many "creatures" are, for better or worse, integral parts of a plant's life: plants often rely on creatures for pollination and seed dispersal; plants produce flowers with beautiful colors and diverse shapes in order to attract different creatures; plants may form symbiotic relationships with insects where insects protect a plant from herbivores in exchange for food and/or housing provided by the plant; plants produce many chemical compounds, which are often useful to humans (e.g. caffeine, quinine, digitalis), in order to deter herbivorous creatures. Essentially, we have insects to thank for a significant part of plant diversity, beauty, and ethnobotanical utility.

Be sure to check out our Facebook page for a larger album of photos of the creatures at the Islamorada Fine Art Expo, which should be up in the next week or two.  Also, be sure to check in for a stay at Kona Kai sometime; you never know what you'll find in our Gardens!

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mahogany In The Making

West Indian mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni) wood is not only beautiful but also contains catechin, which is a powerful anti-oxidant useful in reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer. But before you go out and make a delectable salad of mahogany branches to reap the benefits, you might care to know that this compound can also be found in red wine and green tea, which is why you don't see many bags of mahogany wood chips tempting your taste buds in the health food store snack aisles.

That being said, the utility and beauty of the wood remains. Our mahogany trees are a regular part of my ethnobotanical tour here at Kona Kai and during one particular tour with a couple staying at the Resort, the gentleman in the pair became extremely attentive when I began talking about these trees. His eyes were those of Ralphie from A Christmas Story daydreaming of the Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, only our guest was no doubt daydreaming of mahogany logs under the Christmas tree. He explained that a big hobby of his is woodworking and that he has always been jealous to read on woodworking forums about others who were able to get their hands on pieces of West Indian mahogany, as their range is quite limited in the United States and naturally-occurring populations are protected by law from harvesting. While I knew that most of our major mahogany trimming had been done years ago, I promised to let him know if we happened to remove a piece that could be of use to a woodworker.

A few months later, we had the tree crew arrive to work on a few trees on the property, including a couple of the mahoganies. I was actually doing a tour when one of the trees was being pruned but happened to be in the right place at the right time, just as a solid log was cut and set by the base of the tree. I quickly put the tour on pause, had the log set aside near the door to the office and posted three Italian mastiffs by it to ensure it would not disappear during the remainder of my tour. Afterwards, I sent a picture of the log to our guest, who was elated and dispatched UPS to obtain and deliver the log. Here's a picture of the hand-off for delivery:

As it turned out, much like Ralphie, our guest had a wonderful Christmas surprise with the object of his dreams finding its way to a spot under the Christmas tree.  Just over a week after sending the Log (our guest bestowed upon it the honorary capitalization), I received a picture of work on the Log already being done:

It is clear to me that this log was so incredibly awesome that no log cutting machine in existence could cut through it without being utterly destroyed, hence the enormity and complexity of the pictured machine, which was no doubt custom-built for the sole purpose of cutting the Log. You can see the Log in the picture laying on its side with cuts being made lengthwise and part of the address still visible on the end. I had never mailed a log before, but learned from our guest that the way to go about it is to write the address on both ends of the log in permanent marker.  An ideal package, really, with no box or packing peanuts required! I am excited to see pictures of the next steps of the Log's transformation, which will end up chronicling a modern-day ethnobotanical journey involving both a Kona Kai plant and a Kona Kai guest - look forward to more updates to come!

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director