On Flickr there is a nice photo montage of plants and animals in the United Arab Emirates. check it out here. This was put up by Thorsten Gerald Schneiders, who has several photostreams about the UAE.

A husn or stronghold in Wadi Bayhan

The Telegraph, March 12, 2014

Nigel Groom, who has died aged 89, was an Arabist, historian, author, soldier, spy-catcher and perfume connoisseur. These pursuits saw him fend off a tribal assassination attempt in Aden, uncover a KGB spy embedded in the RAF and explain the association between frankincense and Christ’s divinity.

As a young Political Officer for the Colonial Service, Groom arrived in the British Protectorate of Aden in 1948. He was responsible for the north-eastern area, based in Bayhan, a remote emirate bordering the central Arabian Desert, and accessible only by small RAF aircraft. Two years later he took over the northern area, based in Al Dhali’, regarded at the time as a difficult, ungoverned tribal part of the Protectorate, riven by unrest fuelled by the Imam of Yemen in pursuance of his claims over the whole country.

At Christmas in 1950 the British agent for the western area of the Protectorate, Basil Seager, and his wife arrived to spend the holiday in Al Dhali’, unaware that a plot was afoot to assassinate both Seager and Groom (and their escort of Arab soldiers) at a Christmas Day lunch in a nearby village. However, while out for a walk with armed guards on Christmas Eve, Seager and his wife by chance met the chief assassin, a religious fanatic high on khat, and his party on their way to their assignment. The assassin stabbed Seager with his dagger, causing serious injury, and in the subsequent gunfight several of the escort and several assailants were killed. Groom signalled to Aden for a doctor, who arrived after a five-hour night-time journey over rough tracks, and for a substantial force of Aden Protectorate Levies, to leave early on Christmas morning to help counter a planned tribal uprising. (more…)

One of the remaining marvels off the east coast of Africa is the island archipelago of Socotra, historically associated with Yemen, the nation which it belongs to. Socotra is a preserve of biodiversity with a local population not yet catapulted into the under-development pains of the 21st century. There is a fascinating film about the need to protect Socotra’s unique environment and its people from the devastating impact of uncontrolled “development.” Among the individuals speaking is Dutch ecologist Paul Scholte, who has extensive research experience both in Yemen and Africa. Check out both parts of the film here and here. There are a number of Youtube videos on Socotra, but most are tourist oriented and do not match the information level of this film.

Mandrake (gr. ΜΑΝΔΡΑΓΟΡΑ, in capital letters). Folio 90 from the Naples Dioscurides, a 7th century manuscript of Dioscurides De Materia Medica (Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale, Cod. Gr. 1).

Ancient sportsmen took doping too, findings show

AYDIN – Anadolu Agency, Hurriyet Daily News, September 13, 2013

A large number of Turkish and international athletes recently banned for doping might have been born just 2,000 years too late, according to new archaeological findings in the Aegean province of Aydın that suggest using performance-enhancing drugs in ancient Greece was not only permitted but celebrated.

Locals living in the ancient city of Magnesia produced potions from the mood-altering plant mandrake, researchers have said, noting that their involvement with the drug gave them pride of place.

“Part of the [local] stadium was allocated for people who came from the ancient city of Ephesus. It is also observed that some political groups as well as bakers, gardeners, bird sellers had combined tickets. A tablet shows the most important part of the stadium, which has a capacity of 60 persons, was spared for a group of people called ‘Mandragoreitoi,’” said Turkish Professor Orhan Bingöl, who is leading archaeological excavations at the site, located in Aydın’s present-day district of Gemencik, noting that the Mandragoreitoi produced mandrake, the genus of which is mandragora. “That indicates that doping was not a crime back then, but rather that those who produced that substance had a special place in society and were encouraged.” (more…)

My grandmother’s aunt, Ms. Ida Hoyt, owned an 1873 geography textbook entitled An Elementary Treatise on Physical Geography by D. M. Warren (published by Cowperthwait & Co of Philadelphia). The book itself, which I recently leafed through, is falling apart, but it is worth taking a brief look at some of the lithographic images. The text itself shows how far we have come since 1873, especially for the dated views of “race” and the ethnocentric views of the time. I will start with several of the images, as shown here.


Arbuckles’ Ariosa (air-ee-o-sa) Coffee packages bore a yellow label with the name ARBUCKLES’ in large red letters across the front, beneath which flew a Flying Angel trademark over the words ARIOSA COFFEE in black letters. Shipped all over the country in sturdy wooden crates, one hundred packages to a crate, ARBUCKLES’ ARIOSA COFFEE became so dominant, particularly in the west, that many Cowboys were not aware there was any other kind. Keen marketing minds, the Arbuckle Brothers printed signature coupons on the bags of coffee redeemable for all manner of notions including handkerchiefs, razors, scissors, and wedding rings. To sweeten the deal, each package of ARBUCKLES’ contained a stick of peppermint candy. Due to the demands on chuck wagon cooks to keep a ready supply of hot ARBUCKLES’ on hand around the campfire, the peppermint stick became a means by which the steady coffee supply was ground. Upon hearing the cook’s call, “Who wants the candy?” some of the toughest Cowboys on the trail were known to vie for the opportunity of manning the coffee grinder in exchange for satisfying a sweet tooth.

While sorting through a bevy of late 19th century advertising cards and magazine illustrations collected by my great, great aunt in several yellowing albums, I came across several for the Middle East that were published for Arbuckle’s coffee. (more…)

Pasha that accompanied Rich on his trip

When the British diplomat Claudius James Rich wrote his travel account of Kurdistan, there was already a shortage of firewood from the deforestation that had been going on for centuries, if not millennia. Here he describes the situation.


Few names are more revered in the early history of botany than Linnaeus, whose taxonomic system systematized the effective ordering of plants and animals according to sexual reproduction. Although he himself did not doubt that certain genera were created by the God of Genesis, his system could easily be adapted after Darwin introduced a mechanism that challenged the previous dogma of “fixity of species” since Eden. There were numerous artists who contributed to drawing the vast amount of new plants and animals that Linnaeus began to classify. One of my favorite works is by the physician Robert John Thornton, a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, who in 1807 published his New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus.

Robert John Thornton

Thanks to, this beautiful volume can be read online. This is a delightful read, when it is not possible to visit a real garden. The volume is dedicated to the British queen, and begins with the following metaphor:

In Eastern Language high and mighty Potentates are compared to lofty Trees which afford Food and Shade to the sun-burnt Traveller. In the more temperate Regions of the Earth, Kings and Princes are contemplated as the Sun, which sheds his benign Radiance everywhere, inspiring each Object with new Life and Refreshment: by the Concurrence, therefore, of all Nations, the great Attribute of Sovereignty is Protection-, from conferring of which by Your Most Gracious Majesty, the Science of Botany in Great Britain chiefly owes its present Advancement…

The text consists of charts explaining botanical terms and a series of illustrations and basic descriptions of flowers. I present here the pages dealing with the blue Egyptian water-lily (Nymphaea coreulia), with the exquisite image of the plant.


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