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theNatureZoneGuyana    
A Publication Of the Botany Club, University of Guyana
Vol. 1 Issue: 1 Nov, 1997  Price: G$30 (US$1= G$154)

 

Article Writer
El Niņo - what is it? Amalia Hosein
Cajanus Cajan Saudia F. Mohamed
Pink Mud on Shell Beach Calvin Bernard
Feature Plant - Ginger Anesa and Azim Hosein
Feature Animal - The goat Anesa Hosein
Disciplines in Botany John Caesar

El Niņo - What is it?

By Amalia Hosein

The El Niņo phenomenon was first observed by fishermen off the coast of South America, where an odd warm water current was noticed periodically near the beginning of the year in the Pacific Ocean. Since this was observed during Christmas time, the condition was named, El Niņo, after the baby Jesus which means The Little One in Spanish.

El Niņo/ Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is an extensive, intense, atmospheric and oceanic pheno-menon affecting the tropical Pacific Ocean. It is associated with major anomalies in atmospheric circulation and rainfall patterns. ENSO effects include the warming of the sea surface and extensive weakening of the trade winds in the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean. The events of El Niņo occur at irregular intervals of 2 to 7 years, although the average occurrence is every 3 to 4 years. These conditions usually last 12 to 18 months and are accompanied by swings of the Southern Oscillation (SO). SO is the fluc-tuation of tropical sea levels pressure between the eastern and western hemispheres occurring during the year.

During El Niņo, the trade winds relax or slow down in the central and Western Pacific giving rise to a depression of the thermocline in the Eastern Pacific and an elevation in the west. The thermocline is a layer in the water where the temperature drops rapidly from warm water above to cold water below. When the separation of the cold and warm water takes a long time (depression of the thermocline), there is a rise in sea surface temperature due to the reduced efficiency of the upwelling of cold water to cool the surface. This causes a cut off in the supply of nutrient rich thermocline water to the euphotic zone. This warm water flows eastwards, with associated flooding in Peru and drought in Indonesia and Australia. The eastward displacement of the atmospheric heat source overlaying the warmest water results in large changes in the global atmospheric circulation, which in turn affects weather changes in regions far removed from the Tropical Pacific. It is these changes that is probably causing the unstable and unpredictable weather conditions occuring in Guyana at present.

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Cajanus cajan

By Saudia F. Mohamed

Cajanus cajan, this is a sophisticated and intriguing name, but do you know what it really is? It is commonly known as pigeon pea. This plant is a short shrub of about 3.5 m high with alternating leaves made up of three silvery hairy leaflets of 9 cm long. The flowers are in stalked racemes that are yellow sometimes with brown markings. The pigeon pea bears pods that are five seeded. The pod is 7 cm long and 1.3 to 1.4 cm broad. The seeds inside are 8 mm broad, smooth and green.

Besides the fruit being an important nutritional component of the diet this plant possess various medicinal values ranging from cures for the everyday flu to the deadly diabetes. The leaves of Cajanus cajan are of major importance.

The leaf infusion (extracts) is used as a mouth wash for infected gums and toothache. It is also used as a fever bath and even relieves stressful period during a semester. The decoction (boiling and extraction) of leaves can be applied to wounds and to treat skin infections and skin ulcers, while the leaves and flowers can be boiled and taken orally for diabetes.

Those of you out there who are still wetting you bed - listen!!- your problem can be solved by drinking extracts of three to five leaves in 4 oz. of water after dinner. The leaf juice extract treats flu and antidote certain types of poison. Pigeon peas leaves can be boiled with coarse-leaves like thyme, cloves and used as a drink to cure venereal diseases. With the current shortage of water, soon some persons will have to resort to taking 1 or no baths per day and Cajanus cajan can be in demand with the macerated leaves being applied externally as a deodorant!

So, whenever you come across Cajanus cajan don't bypass it because now you know what you'll be missing.

(Caution: Use of medicinal plants must be supervised by specialists).

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Pink mud on Shell Beach.

- the trip that led to the find

by Calvin R. Bernard

 

I have been on several science oriented field trips to the interior of Guyana, but every time it is a new experience. Nothing could have prepared me for the sight that caught my eyes at Shell Beach in January, 1997.

This trip was filled with excitement. It began with travelling several miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean in a vessel originally built for rivers, the Kimbia. Boy, did that boat rock. The 20 hour trip to Kumaka, Northwest District, had about 10- 12hrs of rocking. The Kimbia tilted close to toppling as it was sideswiped by waves 8 -12 feet high. For the first time, I had motion sickness and it seem to be a common ailment for the majority on board. In contrast, the smooth, slow travel along the Winni River offered sights of several bird species, such as the Scarlet Ibis, Osprey and whistling ducks.

The following day we, that is Waldyke, Deidre, Leslyn, Ne-neeka, Farzana, and I travelled 7 miles along the coast, East of the Winni to our camp site, the James Farm on the beach. This time it was in a 20 foot speed boat with a 75 HP engine, wow! Due to our late takeoff we missed the first high tide to take us up the beach, so we ended up stalled on the mud flat for almost 1 hr before we finally decided to push the boat to the beach. It was no fun, four men pushing a boat with engine, heavy baggage and four girls, a pay load of about 1000 lbs several hundred metres. I must admit, though, that, leaping from thigh high mud every time someone said, "I think there is a sting ray here" was not exactly a highlight of the trip!! The next two weeks we spent observing various species of offshore birds found along the beach. But one day lives on in my memory, the day, Waldyke and I were heading West along the beach when in a distance we spotted four figures coming towards us, two adult females it seemed, with two children. Before we could even make out their faces as they got closer, we noticed a bright scarlet coat of lipstick smear at the level of the lips of one of the females. Closer observation as we neared the group revealed to us that this girl was also, well adorned with generous portions of make up, pink blush and blue eye shadow. Probably, she was trying to blend into her nearby environment of Scarlet Ibis and other such birds.

That very day we returned to camp at low tide in the cool afternoon, when the magnificent sun was just setting behind the thick black mangrove swamp, a spectacular view often encountered at the beach. The full spectrum of colours must have been shown as the sun slowly dropped and disappeared behind the horizon. I turned to take a look at the enormous mud flat and be held for the first time an entire flat of pink mud!!! Waldyke noticed it too. I now know that some Caribbean islands have pink shells that would give a similar effect, but it was not the same. When we got to camp we asked the girls to go and collect some of the mud to bring back to Georgetown as evidence. They doubted us, for some reason I can not imagined, and then embarked in giving some scientific ex-planation for the phenomenon. But I know what I saw, and if you don't believe it either you can go check for yourselves, same time, same place and you'll see. There's 'pink mud' on Shell Beach!!!

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Feature Plant....

Ginger

(Zingiber Officinale Roscoe)

By Azim and Anesa Hosein

Phylum: Spermatophyta

Class: Angiospermae

Order: Zingiberales

Family: Zingiberaceae

Sub-Family: Zingiberoideae

Genus: Zingiber

Specie: Officinale

Ginger is a rhizome, an under-ground stem, that is used as a spice. It is the oldest spice known and the earliest article of trade. It is believed to have originated in Tropical Asia. It has been documented being used in India and China before Confucius (551 to 479 BC). There has been no record of ginger being found in the wild. The fleshy rhizome of ginger, which are sometimes called 'roots' or 'hands' have a sweet, spicy pungent flavour and are used mainly in flavouring wines, candies and as a seasoning. It is also an important ingredient in curry powder. Ginger is also useful as an antidote for stomach ailments and aids in digestion.

The ginger plant is a Tropical perennial that is vegetatively propagated. The rhizomes are divided into pieces called setts that are either planted in furrows or beds. These setts are usually 30 to 50 g. The rhizome tends to grow towards the surface of the soil. The plant is usually about 60 to 90 cm in height with stalkless leaves, 20 cm long and 2 cm wide. The flowers are pale green with yellow margins. They are clustered in spikes sometimes having yellow or purple spots. Harvesting usually occurs after 7 to 9 months after planting, when maturity sets in. This is evident when the leaves begin to dry and senescence starts.

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Feature animal.....
The goat
(Capra hircus)

By Anesa Hosein

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Artiodactyla

Family: Bovidae

Genus: Capra

Specie: hircus

The goat differs from the other mammals by being an ungulate and a herbivore. There are two types of goat wild and do-mesticated. Goats were do-mesticated almost 9000 years ago in Southwestern Asia. They are believed to be descendants from the wild goats, bezoar (parang), C. hircus aegagrus and the Sind wild goat, C.hircus blythi.

Goats are approximately 375 mil-lion goats worldwide (1978 figures). The largest goat could be up to one metre in height and weigh 113 kg (250 pounds). Goat herds are usually 5 to 20 in number. The male goats (buck, billy or ram) live apart from the females (doe or nanny) except during the mating season. Their gestation period lasts between 143 to 159 days.

There are several varieties of goats, the most noted are the angora, whose fleece is used as the source of mohair; nubian which are the heaviest milk producers; and the kashmiri-type whose undercoat is used in cashmere.

Goats are mainly reared for their meat, (called chevon), milk and pelts (their skins). Goat's milk is sometimes called 'prescription' milk and is given to infants and persons with allergies or digestive problems. The goat's skin may be used for making gloves, shoes or binding books.

There is also, a common problem of differentiating a sheep from a goat. Male goats usually have beards and give off an odour during mating season. An easy way, however, to distinguish them is - goats usually have their tails up in the air while sheep have theirs pointing downwards.

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Disciplines in Botany

By John Caesar

There are various subfields or subdisciplines of Botany which may be pure or applied Botany. Some of the pure botany subfields are plant anatomy (study of plant structure at macro- and micro- levels), plant morphology (study of plant form), plant ecology (study of plants in relation to the environment and how they react with each other or other organ-isms in the environment), plant physiology, plant biochemistry, botanical physics, environmental botany, plant geography (phyto-geography), plant taxonomy or systematics, molecular botany, palaeontology (study of fossil plants), genetics etc.

Subfields, covered in applied botany include agronomy, eco-nomic botany, plant pathology, medical botany (phytopharma-cognosy), plant breeding, food science, plant biotechnology (phytotechnology), aboriculture, floriculture and forestry and conservation botany.

By studying the biology of specific groups of plants, specialized disciplines at the organismic level can be identified - these include: bryology (the study of mosses), lichenology (the study of lichens), mycology (study of fungi), pteridology (study of ferns) and orchidology (the study of orchids).

Other exciting branches of applied botany include: plant genetic engineering, botanical illustration (botany art), forensic botany (the use of plants and plant fragments in criminal cases), phytochemistry, pharmaceutical botany (mainly medical botany) and ethnobotany.

Indeed botany is an exciting field that offer a range of professional and career opportunities several of these specializations are needed in Guyana to enhance the nations use and management of its rich bio- ogical diversity. Get interested and learn more about plants - WE CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT THEM!

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