7 Up Cake
1 cup butter
½ cup vegetable oil
2 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup 7Up
3 cups all-purpose flour
Heat oven to 350. Cream together butter, oil and sugar at medium speed. Add eggs one at a time, then blend in the lemon rind, lemon, vanilla and almond extracts. 

Add half the 7Up, blending until combined, then half the flour; repeat with the remaining 7Up, then the remaining flour until evenly blended. 

Grease a 10-inch Bundt pan, add cake batter. Bake 1 hour 15 minutes. Let cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert onto serving platter.

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The Ant Tree
As a general rule, organisms don't line up to be consumed. They defend themselves. While most animals can choose their environments, seek shelter in a storm, search for food and a mate, or migrate with the changing seasons, plants must be able to withstand and adapt to, encroaching neighbors and invading pests, without being able to move to a better environment.

In the Amazon there lives a Cecropia tree that has developed a symbiotic relationship with ants to defend them from pests, grazers, even vines. The ants will viciously defend the trees against everything that comes near them, including animals, plants and fungi. They have even been known to snip off the foliage of any other plants that get too close to the tree.

Cecropias are lazy. Why should they manufacture complex, expensive poisons to repel or kill browsing insects, when they can use the services of stinging ants to do the job? In return the tree provides the ants with shelter in their hollow stems and cheap but satisfying sugars and oils. This all makes perfect economy for the Cecropias. By investing little in defense, woodiness and strength, they can grow at a phenomenal rate. This is a carpetbagger tree that exploits the momentary light by not making a long term commitment.

It looks like an equitable relationship until you realize that the tree laces its food with an enzyme that stops the ants from digesting other sources of sugar. The ants are indentured servants! In experiments where researchers removed the ant colonies, the trees have died.

This type of partnership is symbiosis from the Greek word for 'together' and 'living'. Both partners have benefits and opportunities. But it can also be a trap, where the partners become increasingly vulnerable in their dependency; an evolutionary rabbit hole. Once both partners tumble down the rabbit hole, it can be hard for them to escape. And at the bottom there is no wonderland, only extinction.

The fast growing stems are hollow, providing a spacious, temperature-controlled refuge for Azteca colonies to nest within the tree.

Cecropia tree unrivaled success is due to a number of specialized adaptations - most notably its intimate symbiosis with Azteca ants.

For more information on Ant Trees
Pick Your Poison
For thousands of years, executioners and assassins have turned to the Plant Kingdom in search of ways to do in their victims. One of the most potent plant poisons of all comes from the seeds of the castor bean plant (Ricinus communis), a shrubby African perennial.

It's something the Castrol Oil Corporation inadvertently hit on the head with their motto: "It's More Than Just Oil." Castrol got its start, and its name, by formulating engine oils from the seeds of the castor bean plant. Castor beans store most of their energy as a thick oil that boasts a rare ability to maintain viscosity at extreme temperatures. But the beans contain something more; a peculiar storage protein called ricin.

Ricin's structure is unusual only when it is inside an animal (or human). There it has the ability to penetrate and destroy living cells. Dispersed through the bloodstream, ricin sets off a wave of cell death so unstoppable that even scientific journals describe it with something like awe: "one of the most lethal substances known," or simply "exquisitely toxic." Just four seeds can lead to an excruciating death from vomiting, diarrhea and in only a few days, multiple organ failure.

In a famous case, the Bulgarian playwright Georgi Markov, who had defected to the West in 1968, was assassinated in Waterloo, London, by a member of the Bulgarian secret police who used a modified umbrella to fire a tiny pellet laced with ricin into his leg.

Castor beans are legal and readily available. I commonly see castor bean in people's gardens as an ornamental, and it's become a roadside weed throughout the tropics.  Deliberate poisoning might be rare in the modern age, but the potential is all around us.

The spiny, protective capsules bursts upon drying, hurling individual beans as far as thirty-five feet from the mother plant.

Leaves of the castor bean plant

For more information on the poisonous castor bean plant and what to do in an emergency if ricin is ingested.

Thanks for reading.  
Happy Planting!    


Faith Appelquist

President & Founder


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