Top 10 Unusual Trees

Trees are boring. All they do is stand there, occasionally looking pretty in the winter or dropping fruit in the autumn. Except trees are fascinating organisms. They live on a timescale that is hard to relate to human life, and because they act so slowly we often do not notice what they are doing. Here are ten particularly unusual trees; unusual either because of their biology or because humans have changed them in some way.


Arborsculpture is the use of living trees to create a desired shape or structure, something like bonsai on a grand scale. Axel Erlandson is considered the greatest of all arborsculptors and his ‘Circus trees’ are still popular attractions. Through directing the growth of the tree while alive, it is also possible to create unique pieces of furniture by harvesting the wood once it takes on the desired form. While Erlandson’s work, seen here (, is the most commonly cited when arbor sculpture is discussed, there are many living practitioners.

Prison Boab Tree In 1960

Outside the town of Derby, in Western Australia, is another tree that has been put to use by mankind. The Boab Prison Tree is so named because its stout trunk, 14m in circumference, has been cut into to form a small cell used as a prison. Police who were walking their prisoners into town would use the tree as a temporary holding cell overnight before carrying on to their final destination. The Boab is approximately 1500 years old, and visitors are asked to view it from behind a fence to stop it being damaged, however few resist the temptation to go inside. The Boab of Derby is not the only Boab tree turned into a prison, there is another of comparable size outside the town of Wyndham, which is less often visited due to its isolation.

Socotra Dragon Tree

The Socotra Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Somalia, is home to the Dragon Blood tree. The Dragon Blood tree is unusual for a number of reasons. Its trunk is bare and branches only at the top, ending in sharp spiky leaves. This unusual appearance is due to the Dragon Blood tree belonging to the monocotyledons, the same group of plants as grasses, rather than dicotyledons, which are more common amongst trees. As well as an unusual exterior, the trees also reveal an unusual interior; once pierced bright red sap oozes out. The crimson sap, called Dragon Blood, is dried and then used as a medicine or a dye. While the inhabitants of Socotra still use it as a panacea, the sap is mostly used in the West as a red varnish for violins.

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Jabuticaba, Myrciaria cauliflora, is an unusual fruit tree native to Brazil. The fruit of the tree grow all over the trunk, and not just in the branches, making it look like the tree is extruding oily tears. The small black fruit are almost universally compared to grapes and are either eaten whole or crushed to make juice or wine. Almost as strange as the appearance of the black fruits are the hairy white blossoms from which the fruit grow. The tree will bloom, and fruit, several times a year if the conditions are good.


What is special about this tree? It looks just like many other trees and does not do anything particularly exciting. This tree is unusual in the literal sense of uncommon as it is, in fact, the rarest tree we know of in the wild. There is a single example of this tree in the Three Kings Islands off the north coast of New Zealand. Since the lone example of the tree is female there is no hope of breeding more. In cases of self-pollination the fruit are almost always sterile. Luckily, however, it is possible to detach shoots and culture them so the species can now be found in several places, but for true survival of the species it would be advantageous to locate a male Pennantia baylisiana.

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Everyone knows about the giant redwoods, famous for their size, but the kauri tree of northern New Zealand is one of the largest trees, by volume of wood, in the world. The trees can be up to 50m tall and 15m in circumference. This is less tall than a sequoia but the kauri does not narrow as the redwood does towards its top. Because of the strength of the wood and the amount a single tree could yield, the Kauri was heavily logged in the 19th century. Kauri Gum – semi-fossilized resin – was once a major commodity used to make varnish. People who extracted the gum from buried deposits were known as Gum-diggers. The density of the wood allows it to survive well once buried, and workable wood is dug up after being buried in bogs for over 50,000 years.

Cirio Columnaris%2C Boojum Tree

The Boojum tree of Baha California resembles a cactus more than a tree at first sight. The thin trunks of the tree can grow in sinuous shapes because the inner wood is remarkably soft and they grow up to 20m high. As a native of the desert, the leaves of the plant are small and cover the trunk to reduce water loss. When the trees flower they produce a cloud of cream blooms at the very top of the trunks. The Boojum tree derives its name from the absurd poem ‘The Hunting of the Snark’ by Lewis Carroll, which is appropriate for the unusual looking tree.

“But if ever I meet with a Boojum, that day,
In a moment (of this I am sure), 
I shall softly and suddenly vanish away —
And the notion I cannot endure!” 

Eucalyptus Deglupta-Trees

The Rainbow Eucalyptus is a tree with bark so brightly colored that it is almost hard to believe that it is not an elaborate practical joke. This tree, native to the Philippines, sheds the outer layer of its bark often to expose new, green bark underneath. As the bark ages it goes through several color changes from green, to blue, to purple, to orange, and finally to brown before being shed. Because the bark is shed in irregular patches the tree displays a collection of all these colors at once giving a kaleidoscopic effect. They can be grown in many places which will not experience frosts but in the Philippines they are mostly cultivated for use in paper manufacture and not as decorative trees.

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Root bridges are a specialized form of arboriculture practiced in the forests of northern India. The rubber trees of the Cherrapunji have been exploited for centuries by the Khasis people to grow their own bridges over streams and rivers. To grow your own bridge you need to hollow out a log, lay the log over the gap you wish to cross, and direct the roots of the tree to grow into the log. The roots will grow until they find solid earth to attach to, anchoring the bridge. Once the roots have formed a bridge, soil and stones, or other wood, are laid over them to protect them from damage as people cross.


Le Chêne Chapelle (The Oak Chapel) in Allouville-Bellefosse is an oak which has been carved out to house two chapels within its enormous trunk. The oak itself is approximately 800 years old, and the chapels were added in the 1600s. A lightning strike burned the core of the tree but the tree survived and remained standing, allowing the local priests to build their chapel within it. Today the tree is beginning to show signs of its age and the pressures of housing a religious site, and so requires supporting struts. Despite this, the chapel remains in use and a mass is celebrated twice a year at the site. To reach the upper of the two chapels there is a staircase which winds around the trunk.

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10 British Disasters From Recent Times

As this site is predominantly US- oriented, I thought I’d toss my (bowler) hat into the ring. What I have included in this list are those British disasters which go by one name; you only have to say that one word or name and people instantly know what you mean and remember what happened. I have not included military or underground colliery disasters as there were too many to choose from though all deserve remembrance. These are, in my opinion, the most memorable from recent years.

They are in chronological order, not in order of any sort of significance or loss of life. There are bound to be some which I have not included which people feel deserve more attention- these are the ones which come most readily to my own memory.

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February 1958- The popular Manchester United team, nicknamed the “Busby Babes” for their youth and their manager Matt Busby, boarded a plane in Munich to return to England. Also aboard the plane were a number of supporters and journalists. The weather was snowy and, due to a build up of slush on the runway, the plane crashed on its third attempt at takeoff. 23 people died in total; eight of the football team were killed and two were so severely injured they never played again.

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In the small Welsh village of Aberfan in October 1966, a huge coal slag heap loosened by days of rain collapsed and slid down the hillside. It buried a row of houses and the village school in millions of tons of choking liquefied coal waste, killing 144 people, 116 of whom were schoolchildren aged 7-10.
The village has never fully recovered, having had such a huge chunk of a single generation wiped out in one fell swoop.

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In March 1987 the roll- on roll- off ferry MS Herald of Free Enterprise set sail from Dover to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge. Due to a combination of catastrophic oversights, she had sailed with the bow doors to the car deck wide open. Seconds after leaving port she began to take on water and listed hard. Within a minute she had capsized onto a sandbar; it was only this shallower water which prevented further loss of life. 193 people died, most of them trapped on board in freezing water.


In July 1988 the North Sea oil production platform Piper Alpha was destroyed in a massive explosion and subsequent fire. 167 men were killed, including two crewmen of a rescue vessel. To date it is the world’s worst offshore oil disaster. Thirty bodies were never recovered.

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In December 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 left Heathrow airport heading for JFK in New York. It contained a Libyan terrorist bomb which detonated at 31,000 feet over the Scottish village of Lockerbie, raining debris and fire over the village. All 243 passengers, 16 crew members and 11 residents of Lockerbie were killed. Most of the passengers were American. The resulting fuel explosion on the ground registered 1.6 on the Richter scale.

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In April 1989, a match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough football ground had to be abandoned due to a huge crowd surge which crushed supporters against steel anti- hooligan fencing. 96 people died, mostly from asphyxia where they stood. The surge was caused by fans being directed into already overfilled pens.

Due to a recent public campaign for answers for the families of the dead 20 years on, police files have been released by the Government. These appear to show a widespread cover- up on behalf of the police, who failed to assist the dying believing them to be attempting a pitch invasion, and prevented ambulances from going into the stadium. This is still an extremely contentious and emotive ongoing issue.

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In August 1989, the pleasure boat Marchioness was sailing down the Thames in London, holding a private birthday party. In the early hours of the morning, it was rammed by the dredger Bowbelle. The dredger first cut through the side of the Marchioness, then pushed it underwater, in less than 30 seconds. 51 of the passengers drowned. Poor visibility was blamed, and the fact that both boats were using the centre of the river.

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In March 1996 former Scout leader Thomas Hamilton walked into the Primary school of the Scottish town of Dunblane. He carried two Browning pistols and two Smith and Wesson revolvers. Making his way to the gymnasium, he opened fire on a class of five and six year olds, killing or injuring all but one of them. Fifteen children and one teacher were killed. Hamilton then shot into other areas of the school, causing minor injuries, before fatally shooting himself in the head. No real motive has ever been discovered though Hamilton was rumoured to have been a paedophile.

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In October 1999, two high- speed passenger trains collided at Ladbroke Grove rail junction, two miles west of London’s Paddington station. The trains met almost head- on at a combined speed of 130mph. The impact, combined with subsequent diesel fires in the wreckage, resulted in a death toll of 31 people. Both drivers died. The crash was blamed on a series of system failures, including inadequate driver training, poor signal visibility and insufficient emergency procedures.


Also known as the July bombings or the London bombings, this was a series of co-ordinated suicide bomb attacks on London public transport in July 2005. Three bombs exploded within a minute of one another on three crowded Underground trains. Nearly an hour later a fourth bomb exploded on a bus. In total 56 people were killed including the four bombers. Over 700 people were injured. The bombings were carried out by British Muslims in apparent retaliation for the Iraq conflict.

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Top 10 Rarest Gems

Gems are one of nature’s ways of saying, “look how beautiful I can be”, and people know it, too. For thousands of years humans have been adorning themselves with gems and jewels to stand out and wow an audience. Be it necklaces, brooches, pendants, or bracelets, precious and rare gems have long since become one of the favored ways to express just how much wealth one has. Here are the ten rarest gems on earth.

10. Jeremejevite USD $2000/Carat


Pronounced ye-REM-ay-ev-ite, this is a colorless, sky blue or pale yellow stone, the highest quality of which comes from Namibia. In nature it occurs in small obelisk-shaped crystals and has in the past been mistaken for aquamarine. It was named after Russian mineralogist Pavel Jeremejev who discovered the mineral in 1883. As of early 2005, a clean, 2.93-carat faceted gem was selling on the Internet for $2000.00 per carat.

9. Black Opal USD $2,355/Carat


Australia is the classical Opal country and today is the worldwide most important supplier of Fine Opals. Almost 95 per cent of all Opals come from Australian mines. The remaining five per cent are mined in Mexico, and in Brazil’s north, also in the US states of Idaho and Nevada, but recently the stones have also been found in Ethiopia and in the West African country of Mali. Black Opal or Opal with a dark gray body shows the most brilliant play of colors imaginable.

8. Red Beryl Emerald USD $10,000.00/Carat

Red Beryl Emerald

Red beryl is found primarily in the Thomas Range and the Wah Wah Mountains of Utah, and has also been reportedly found in a location in Mexico (possibly near San Luis Potosi one of the very few places beryl is also found on rhyolite). Where it is found in Utah it occurs on rhyolite, where it crystallized under low pressure and high temperature, along fractures or cavities and porous areas of volcanic rhyolitic magma. Very few cut specimens exist.

7. Musgravite USD $35,000/Carat


Musgravite is one of the newest and most rare gemstones in the world. Musgravite is a silicate mineral whose main ingredients are beryllium (Be), magnesium (Mg) and aluminum (Al). It was named ‘musgravite’ after the area Musgrave in Australia from where the material was first found. The musgravite was later found also in Greenland and Madagascar, but neither of them produces gem quality material. Two pieces of faceted gem-quality musgravite from Sri Lanka were reported first in 1993. Keep in mind, this is the LEAST priceless of the ten.

6. Grandidierite USD $50,000/.5 Carat


This is a bluish green mineral found primarily in Madagascar. The first and so far only clean faceted specimen, from Sri Lanka, was originally mistaken for a serendibite and subsequently purchased in May 2000 by Prof. Gübelin from Murray Burford. The gem shown above weighs 0.29 carats. Grandidierite is trichroic, transmitting blue, green and white light. The mineral is named after French explorer and natural historian Alfred Grandidier, who among other things unearthed bones from the extinct half-ton elephant bird in Ambolisatra, Madagascar.

5. Painite USD $50-60,000/Carat

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This gem was once believed to be the rarest mineral on earth, is today still considered very rare. British mineralogist 1950s first discovered it in Myanmar. When it was confirmed as a new mineral species, it was named after him: Arthur C.D. Pain. For many years, only three small painite crystals were known to exist. Before 2005 there were less than 25 known crystals found, though more material has been unearthed recently in Myanmar.

4. Blue Garnet USD $1.5 Million/Carat


Garnets species are found in many colors including red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, black, pink and colorless. The rarest of these is the blue garnet, discovered in the late 1990s in Bekily, Madagascar. It is also found in parts of the United States, Russia and Turkey. It changes color from blue-green in the daylight to purple in incandescent light, as a result of the relatively high amounts of vanadium. The most expensive, a 4.2 carat gem sold in 2003 for $6.8 Million.

3. Serendibite USD $1.8-2 Million/Carat


This gem is a cyan colored stone that comes from Sri Lanka. It boasts an unusually complex formula consisting of calcium, magnesium, aluminum, silicon, boron and oxygen. So far there exist only three faceted (cut) specimens of 0.35 carats, 0.55 carats and 0.56 carats. The first two were discovered by rare stone specialist D. P. Gunasekera and purchased by the late Prof. E. J. Gübelin of Switzerland. The smallest was sold for about $14,300.00 per carat.

2. Red Diamonds USD $2-2.5 Million/Carat


Only a very few red diamonds are ever found, and few people have only seen even one treated red diamond. The gem is described as a purplish red, so it is not a pure red, crimson, vermilion, or scarlet. Nevertheless for its size it is one of the most expensive diamonds ever. The Argyle Mine in Australia produces a small number of red diamonds. The largest and finest of these are auctioned every year or two, and sell for millions of dollars.

1. Jadeite USD $3 + Million/Carat


Until recent years jadeite has been something of a mystery mineral, but we now know of primary sources in Guatemala as well as several California occurrences of white or grayish jadeite. Boulders in which a few small freestanding crystals have been seen occur in San Benito Co., California, with additional finds in Clear Creek, between New Idria and Hernandez. All Mexican jadeite is in artifacts, from unknown sources. The record price for a single piece of jadeite jewelry was set at the November 1997 Christie’s Hong Kong sale: Lot 1843, the “Doubly Fortunate” necklace of 27 approximately .5 mm jadeite beads sold for US$9.3 million.

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Top 10 Most Spoken Languages In The World

Language is perhaps the most important function of the human body – it allows us to get sustenance as a child, it allows us to get virtually anything we want as an adult, and it allows us many hours of entertainment through literature, radio, music, and films. This list (in order of least to most spoken) summarizes the most important languages in use today.

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Number of speakers: 129 million

Often called the most romantic language in the world, French is spoken in tons of countries, including Belgium, Canada, Rwanda, Cameroon, and Haiti. Oh, and France too. We’re actually very lucky that French is so popular, because without it, we might have been stuck with Dutch Toast, Dutch Fries, and Dutch kissing (ew!).

To say “hello” in French, say “Bonjour” (bone-JOOR).

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Number of speakers: 159 million

Malay-Indonesian is spoken – surprise – in Malaysia and Indonesia. Actually, we kinda fudged the numbers on this one because there are many dialects of Malay, the most popular of which is Indonesian. But they’re all pretty much based on the same root language, which makes it the ninth most-spoken in the world.

Indonesia is a fascinating place; a nation made up of over 13,000 islands it is the sixth most populated country in the world. Malaysia borders on two of the larger parts of Indonesia (including the island of Borneo), and is mostly known for its capital city of Kuala Lumpur.

To say “hello” in Indonesian, say “Selamat pagi” (se-LA-maht PA-gee).


Number of speakers: 191 million

Think of Portuguese as the little language that could. In the 12th Century, Portugal won its independence from Spain and expanded all over the world with the help of its famous explorers like Vasco da Gama and Prince Henry the Navigator. (Good thing Henry became a navigator . . . could you imagine if a guy named “Prince Henry the Navigator” became a florist?) Because Portugal got in so early on the exploring game, the language established itself all over the world, especially in Brazil (where it’s the national language), Macau, Angola, Venezuela, and Mozambique.

To say “hello” in Portuguese, say “Bom dia” (bohn DEE-ah).


Number of speakers: 211 million

In Bangladesh, a country of 120+ million people, just about everybody speaks Bengali. And because Bangladesh is virtually surrounded by India (where the population is growing so fast, just breathing the air can get you pregnant), the number of Bengali speakers in the world is much higher than most people would expect.

To say “hello” in Bengali, say “Ei Je” (EYE-jay).


Number of speakers: 246 million

Arabic, one of the world’s oldest languages, is spoken in the Middle East, with speakers found in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt. Furthermore, because Arabic is the language of the Koran, millions of Moslems in other countries speak Arabic as well. So many people have a working knowledge of Arabic, in fact, that in 1974 it was made the sixth official language of the United Nations.

To say “hello” in Arabic, say “Al salaam a’alaykum” (Ahl sah-LAHM ah ah-LAY-koom).

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Number of speakers: 277 million

Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Yakov Smirnoff are among the millions of Russian speakers out there. Sure, we used to think of them as our Commie enemies. Now we think of them as our Commie friends. One of the six languages in the UN, Russian is spoken not only in the Mother Country, but also in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and the U.S. (to name just a few places).

To say “hello” in Russian, say “Zdravstvuite” (ZDRAST-vet-yah).


Number of speakers: 392 million

Aside from all of those kids who take it in high school, Spanish is spoken in just about every South American and Central American country, not to mention Spain, Cuba, and the U.S. There is a particular interest in Spanish in the U.S., as many English words are borrowed from the language, including: tornado, bonanza, patio, quesadilla, enchilada, and taco grande supreme.

To say “hello” in Spanish, say “Hola” (OH-la).

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Number of speakers: 497 million

Hindustani is the primary language of India’s crowded population, and it encompasses a huge number of dialects (of which the most commonly spoken is Hindi). While many predict that the population of India will soon surpass that of China, the prominence of English in India prevents Hindustani from surpassing the most popular language in the world. If you’re interested in learning a little Hindi, there’s a very easy way: rent an Indian movie. The film industry in India is the most prolific in the world, making thousands of action/romance/musicals every year.

To say “hello” in Hindustani, say “Namaste” (Nah-MAH-stay).

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Number of speakers: 508 million

While English doesn’t have the most speakers, it is the official language of more countries than any other language. Its speakers hail from all around the world, including New Zealand, the U.S., Australia, England, Zimbabwe, the Caribbean, Hong Kong, South Africa, and Canada. We’d tell you more about English, but you probably feel pretty comfortable with the language already. Let’s just move on to the most popular language in the world.

To say “hello” in English, say “What’s up, freak?” (watz-UP-freek).

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Number of speakers: 1 billion+

Surprise, surprise, the most widely spoken language on the planet is based in the most populated country on the planet. Beating second-place English by a 2 to 1 ratio, but don’t let that lull you into thinking that Mandarin is easy to learn. Speaking Mandarin can be really tough, because each word can be pronounced in four ways (or “tones”), and a beginner will invariably have trouble distinguishing one tone from another. But if over a billion people could do it, so could you. Try saying hello!

To say “hello” in Mandarin, say “Ni hao” (Nee HaOW). (“Hao” is pronounced as one syllable, but the tone requires that you let your voice drop midway, and then raise it again at the end.)

Contributor: flamiejamie

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Top 10 Incredible Funguses

Funguses have caused some of the greatest human tragedies in history – but they have also been behind some of the greatest scientific discoveries. This list looks at ten significant funguses. Some have helped man, some have hindered man, and some are just plain awesome. If you wish to add to the list, be sure to do so in the comments. Note: Funguses and fungi are both equally valid plural forms of the word “fungus”. If you wish to see the fact verified, go here.

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Incredible Because: It makes you dance, it makes your legs drop off, and is the source of LSD

Claviceps purpurea is a fungus that grows on the ears of rye and related cereal and forage plants. Consumption of grains or seeds contaminated with the fruiting structure of this fungus, the ergot sclerotium, can cause ergotism in humans and other mammals. The common name for ergotism is “St. Anthony’s Fire”, in reference to monks who cared for victims as well as symptoms, such as severe burning sensations in the limbs. These are caused by effects of ergot alkaloids on the vascular system due to constriction of blood vessels, sometimes leading to gangrene and loss of limbs due to severely restricted blood circulation. The convulsive symptoms that can be a result of consuming ergot tainted rye have also been said to be the cause of accusations of “bewitchment” that spurred the Salem witch trials.


Incredible Because: It is so tasty that you want more even though it makes you sick. Oh – and it glows.

The Jack o’Lantern mushroom (Omphalotus olearius) is an orange- to yellow-gill mushroom that to an untrained eye appears similar to some chanterelles, and is most notable for its bioluminescent properties. Previous names include Omphalotus illudens and Clitocybe illudens. Unlike the chanterelle, the Jack o’Lantern mushroom is poisonous. While not lethal, consuming this mushroom leads to very severe cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. Complicating its toxicity is the fact that it smells and looks very appealing, to the extent that there are reports of repeat poisonings from individuals who were tempted to try them a second time.

Tibetan Chinese Caterpillar Fungus Cordyceps

Incredible Because: It invades, mummifies, and grows from caterpillas

Caterpillar fungus is the result of a parasitic relationship between the fungus Cordyceps and the larva of the ghost moth. The caterpillar prone to infection by the fungus lives underground in alpine grass and shrublands on the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas at an altitude between 3000m and 5000m. Spending up to five years underground before pupating, the caterpillar is attacked while feeding on roots. The fungus invades the body of the Thitarodes caterpillars, filling its entire body cavity with mycelium and eventually killing and mummifying it. The caterpillars die near the tops of their burrows. The dark brown to black fruiting body (or mushroom) emerges from the ground in spring or early summer, always growing out of the forehead of the caterpillar. The long, usually columnar fruiting body reaches 5-15 cm above the surface and releases spores. The fungus is a medicinal mushroom which is highly prized by practitioners of Tibetan medicine, Chinese medicine and traditional herbal Folk medicines, in which it is used as an aphrodisiac and as a treatment for a variety of ailments from fatigue to cancer.

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Incredible Because: It is stunning to look at and is used in cancer therapy

Trametes versicolor, formerly known as Coriolus versicolor and Polyporus versicolor, is a common mushroom of the genus Trametes. Versicolor means ‘of several colors’ and it is true that this mushroom is found in a wide variety of different colors. It is commonly called the “Turkey Tail” in the United States because of its resemblance to the tail of the turkey bird. In Europe and Japan, polysaccharide-K (brand name Krestin), a chemical derived from Trametes versicolor, is an approved adjuvant for cancer therapy. This means that while it doesn’t specifically affect cancer cells itself, consumption of the fungus enhances and increases the potency and ability of certain cancer drugs. Recent testing has shown that it may also have anti-HIV properties.


Incredible Because: It turns a lump of curdled milk curds into one of the tastiest delights around

The major industrial use of Penicillium roqueforti is the production of blue cheeses, flavoring agents, antifungals, polysaccharides, proteases and other enzymes. The fungus has been a constituent of Roquefort, Stilton and other blue cheeses eaten by humans since about 50 AD; blue cheese is mentioned in literature as far back as AD 79, when Pliny the Elder remarked upon its rich flavor. Penicillium roqueforti is found in the soil of the caves of Mont Combalou in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. Traditionally cheesemakers extracted it by leaving bread in the caves for six to eight weeks until it was consumed by the mold. The interior of the bread was then dried to produce a powder. Nowadays the mold can be produced in a laboratory, which allows for greater consistency. The mold may either be added to the curd, or introduced as an aerosol, through holes poked in the rind.

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Incredible Because: It toppled the Italian lemon industry and is used in the production of high fructose corn syrup

Industrial-scale citric acid production began in 1890 based on the Italian citrus fruit industry. But a mere 27 years later (in 1917,) the American food chemist James Currie discovered that certain strains of the mold Aspergillus niger could be efficient citric acid producers, and Pfizer began industrial-level production using this technique two years later, followed by Citrique Belge in 1929. This caused the toppling of the Italian citrus industry. Aspergillus niger is also used in the production of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). In the United States, HFCS is typically used as a sugar substitute and is ubiquitous in processed foods and beverages, including soft drinks, yogurt, cookies, salad dressing and tomato soup.


Incredible Because: It led to significant advances in the study of genes and DNA

Neurospora crassa was used by Edward Tatum and George Wells Beadle in their experiments for which they won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1958. Beadle and Tatum exposed N. crassa to x-rays, causing mutations. They then observed failures in metabolic pathways caused by errors in specific enzymes. This led them to propose the “one gene, one enzyme” hypothesis that specific genes code for specific proteins. Neurospora is actively used in research around the world. It is important in the elucidation of molecular events involved in circadian rhythms, epigenetics and gene silencing, cell polarity, development, as well as many aspects of cell biology and biochemistry.


Incredible Because: It is used to make bread, wine, and beer

Saccharomyces cerevisiae is a species of budding yeast. It is perhaps the most useful yeast owing to its use since ancient times in baking and brewing. It is believed that it was originally isolated from the skins of grapes (one can see the yeast as a component of the thin white film on the skins of some dark-colored fruits such as plums.) Saccharomyces cerevisiae is the microorganism that is responsible for fermentation in beer. It metabolizes the sugars extracted from grains, which produces alcohol and carbon dioxide, and thereby turns wort into beer. In addition to fermenting the beer, it influences the character and flavor.

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Incredible Because: It changed the face of Ireland and the face of modern America

The Great Famine was a period of starvation, disease and mass emigration between 1845 and 1852 during which the population of Ireland was reduced by 20 to 25 percent. Approximately one million of the population died and a million more emigrated from Ireland’s shores. Many of those leaving fled to America and other parts of the New World. By 1850, the Irish made up a quarter of the population in Boston, Massachusetts; New York City; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Baltimore, Maryland. The famine was caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans. How and when it arrived in Europe is still uncertain; at least one of the sources of the infection suggests it may have originated in the northern Andes region of South America, Peru in particular. It was then conveyed to Europe on ships carrying guano, where it was in great demand as a fertilizer on European and British farms.


Incredible Because: Life-saving penicillin come from it

Penicillin antibiotics are historically significant because they were the first drugs that were effective against many previously serious diseases such as syphilis and Staphylococcus infections. It was discovered in 1928 when Alexander Fleming’s lab assistant left a window open overnight and had mold spores cover his Staphylococcus bacterial specimens in a Petri dish. At first he was very irritated at the contamination but as he was about to throw the specimens away, he noticed something interesting. He looked under the microscope at the bacteria surrounding the blue-green mold and noticed that many were dead or dying due to the mold preventing the bacteria from making new cell walls and reproducing. He identified the mold as Penicillium notatum (now known as Penicillium chrysogenum), which releases the antibiotic penicillin G into the medium. After this he did some testing on humans and animals and discovered that not only did it kill bacteria, but that it was suitable for use in humans and animals.

This article is licensed under the GFDL because it contains quotations from Wikipedia.

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10 Infamous Wonders of the World

There are 7 distinctly famous worldly wonders which inspire awe and demand intrigue, but mostly in the way of their unfathomable beauty. In Egypt, we have the Great Pyramids which to this day baffle even the most learned of engineers and architects, in their precision of construction and apparent lack of technological intervention (that is if you don’t buy the “ancient aliens” theories). In Arizona, we have the Grand Canyon, a profoundly gaping spectacle and standing proof of erosion’s mighty shovel. But in addition to these marvels of human and natural possibility, there also exists a darker counterpart: the creations and residuals of what less-than-admirable events have occurred during our collective human experience. These “infamous wonders of the world” must be noted, however, for we can only grow from, and build off, what hardships we endure and mistakes we make as people (the worst mistake of all is often ignorance). Here are the top ten of such infamous wonders:

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This little wonder turned up last year in Guatemala in the wake of a tropical storm and has been growing ever since, feeding on every building in its grasp; even shoveling in rocks and miscellaneous debris has failed to plug up the swelling problem. A sinkhole is said to occur when soil layers beneath the top layer become too damp to support the inundating weight above and ultimately give way. The result is a hole that resembles a bottomless pit that leads straight to Hell, or at the very least, the resting place of some giant alien pod a la H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.

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What better symbol than a looming cloud of filth to represent a careless race of environmentally-oblivious individuals who think not of the consequences of their waste. This very visible residue which can be witnessed over the city of L.A. is largely the product of vehicle emissions and industrial pollution. It goes without saying that smog is harmful to the ozone and general human health, not to mention the fact that it makes any city look like the setting of Ghostbusters 2.


Caging such notorious criminals as Al Capone and Robert Stroud (a.k.a. the “Birdman of Alcatraz), this facility, situated on its own island off San Francisco, boasted itself as the virtual Titanic of prisons. Several inmates managed to escape its confines (often unsuccessfully, as most were either recaptured, shot on sight or lost at sea). Inmates were frequently the worst of the worst: bootleggers, armed bank robbers, murderers and big name gangsters. All being much sought after guests of the Big House, they were each cordially invited to stick around for a while.

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Entirely unethical and totally getting away with it, “Gitmo” is a detention facility located outside U.S. legal jurisdiction and away from the eyes of God. Cruel and unusual torture practices from “water-boarding” (simulated drowning) to blasting terrible music at deafening volumes have been used to extract information here. Just imagining the prospect of forcefully being exposed to Justin Bieber or The Jonas Brothers on loop induces chills.


Now a designated historical site, the original “Trail of Tears” was the interstate pathway where countless Native Americans (with the assistance of the Indian Removal Act set forth by President Andrew Jackson) were rounded up and forced to evacuate their homes, being herded into concentration camps and wherever else white settlers didn’t much care to build a saloon-having ghost town. As a result, many died – if they were not killed intentionally – of disease and starvation. A dark chapter in American history, it wouldn’t be the first or last time an entire race of humans was treated like cattle.


An ancient Roman city was almost lost as it became buried under layers of volcanic ash. Once it became unearthed, a portal to the daily lives of local citizens was opened up. Also unearthed were corpses striking death-poses, revealing their last configurations before so many were killed by the devastating, two day-long eruption of Mount Vesuvius, in 79 AD. While previously it was thought that these citizens-turned-living-sculptures were asphyxiated by an avalanche of ash, recent finding have suggested that cause of death may more likely have been attributed to high heat exposure.

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A bad day in wartime history, countless innocents melted away when we dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. A name like “Little Boy” is disingenuous given the massive, immediate and long-term destruction that was wrought (many of those exposed to the radiation are still suffering the horrifying side-effects). As if deteriorating flesh and structural disarray wasn’t enough of a scar on the city, shadows are permanently fixed all about, burnt-in imprints left behind like tanning bed tattoos, taking the shape of etched flowers on telephone poles and outlined guardrails on the streets. Some memories simply don’t wash away.


Ten years and a few days later, and the United States is picking up the pieces (in a matter of speaking) of what waste was made of the World Trade Center towers. Those with any connection to the tragic event relive it every year when the 9/11 specials and documentaries spill through the floodgates of news opportunism. Recently a cemented tribute, in the way of a memorial, was constructed so as to immortalize those fallen by displaying their names in engraved text.


There is a serious consequence to not vying for safer, more environmentally-friendly forms of energy generation (windmills, water turbines, etc.) in favor of nuclear energy: risk of meltdown. Before Japan taught us the risks of constructing dangerous power plants in earthquake-and-tsunami-prone hot spots, there was Chernobyl. In 1986, the world’s worst nuclear reactor disaster occurred in Ukraine, as the power plant exploded and released an abundance of radioactive material, which is still killing and crippling people to this day. Speaking of crippling effects, the Soviet Union’s economy was rigorously torn apart, effectively setting up the impending collapse of the USSR. After a spill like that, Paul McCartney’s lyrics are given a new, cynical meaning when he sings “I’m back in the USSR, you don’t know how lucky you are, boy.”


You can visit the Auschwitz historical museum whenever you want to step back in time – back to when genocidal monsters roamed freely about the earth. The largest of all the Nazi death camps during the Holocaust, Auschwitz was personally responsible for the death of over a million Jews (many other non-Jews were killed, in addition), and made for a sort of Marriot-from-Hell, wherein shower heads gushed poison gas in mock bathrooms, and crematoriums vacuumed up any evidence of an unpleasant stay. It’s good, in spite of all the unabashed evil, that the site has been restored and turned into a museum so future generations can learn what the human race is capable of.

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10 Places You Definitely Don’t Want To Go Swimming

People generally enjoy swimming. Whether they’re splashing on the surface or diving below, most enter the water at some point in their lives, and many do so frequently. Nevertheless, there are some locations where it may be a better idea to leave the swimsuit at home.



The populous coastal city of Mumbai, India, unsurprisingly features many beaches. Unfortunately, these beaches have been declared unfit for bathing. Large amounts of untreated sewage are discharged from Mumbai into its surrounding seas, leaving its shores extremely polluted. While the city has a sewage network, much waste ends up bypassing it, traveling directly into waterways. Slum residents’ practice of throwing waste directly into storm drains is cited as a primary contributor to this problem.

The pollution is steadily worsening. Pollutant levels, particularly human and animal feces, are rising at nearly every beach in the city, placing beachgoers at risk of infection. Bathers also report itching and skin rashes after swimming. Girgaon Chaupati (also spelled “Girgaum Chowpatty”), Mumbai’s most popular beach, has four times the acceptable limit of fecal bacteria. Other beaches are worse.

Despite the pollution, Mumbai’s beaches still receive much use, particularly for the city’s annual Ganesh Chaturthi celebration. This festival commemorates the birth of the Hindu god Lord Ganesha and culminates with the immersion of Lord Ganesha idols in the sea. Girgaon Chaupati is the site of the largest immersion ceremony.

9New Smyrna Beach


New Smyrna Beach, in Volusia County, Florida, is a great place to surf . . . and to swim with sharks. The waters off New Smyrna possess large populations of fish, which in turn attract many sharks. Combine that with the beach’s aforementioned popularity with surfers, and you have a beach that is considered the “shark attack capital of the world” by the International Shark Attack File. Scientists estimate that anyone who swims at New Smyrna Beach will pass within 3 meters (10 ft) of a shark. Bull sharks, a notoriously aggressive species, have been caught in the area.

Volusia County in general, fueled primarily by New Smyrna Beach, also has a reputation for shark bites. In 2008, over one-third of all unprovoked shark attacks in the world occurred in the waters off the county coast. On top of that, the state of Florida logged more attacks between 2004–2013 than both Australia and South Africa combined.

8Bubbly Creek


A name like “Bubbly Creek” might sound harmless and inviting, but the waterway itself is not. “Bubbly Creek” is the local name for the South Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago River. In the early 20th century, the flow of the Chicago River was reversed, sending it toward the Mississippi River and away from Lake Michigan, in order to keep the river’s pollution from entering the city’s source of drinking water. This reversal has made the river all the more difficult to clean up in the years since.

Bubbly Creek is considered the worst part of the river. It gets its name from bubbles rising to the surface from the area’s chief pollutant: decomposing animal carcasses. Meatpacking waste including blood, manure, urine, and various body parts was dumped into the channel by the nearby Union Stockyard for over a century. These bubbles still appear even today, as the creek is so polluted that very little lives there, slowing decomposition. Bloodworms are said to inhabit the creek, feeding on the waste. In 2014, a study found a layer of animal remains on the creek bed that is 1 meter (3 ft) thick. The US Army Corps of Engineers is working on a project to dredge Bubbly Creek as well as improve the water’s oxygen content.

7Samaesan Hole


The Gulf of Thailand contains a deep point described as a “black silty hole of death.” Named for a nearby fishing village, the Samaesan Hole is the deepest diving site in the Gulf of Thailand, dropping down to 85 meters (280 ft). Divers braving the hole must deal with the strong currents in the region, as well as the fact that it lies in a busy traffic zone for oil tankers. Barracuda also populate the area, and visibility is very poor as one descends. To top it all off, the US Navy previously used Samaesan Hole as an ammunition dump, leaving the site littered with unexploded ordnance.

So who would want to jump into Samaesan Hole? Diving enthusiasts would. The site is for Trimix certified divers only. Trimix is a mixture of oxygen, nitrogen, and helium used for deep diving. Divers are also advised to have multiple lights, dive computers, and formal training in technical diving. Even for well-equipped divers, the dive can be dangerous. In 1998, the first pair of divers to dive the hole experienced severe equipment failures, including dive computers being damaged beyond repair and lights imploding.

6Yenisei River


Russia’s Yenisei River (also spelled “Yenisey”) divides Western and Eastern Siberia, flowing north before emptying into the Kara Sea. The world’s sixth largest river by discharge, the Yenisei is thousands of kilometers in length and passes through several major cities. It is also a major source of hydroelectric power. Many Siberian villagers depend on the river for fishing.

In addition to being an important waterway, the Yenisei is also severely radioactively contaminated. A bomb-grade plutonium factory near Bolshoi Balchug has been discharging radioactive particles into the river for decades. Radioactive isotopes have been found hundreds of kilometers downstream from the factory. Nevertheless, the management of the factory insists that there is no radiation danger.

Around 64,000 people live downstream near the factory, not to mention the many more that live along the river within range of where radioactivity has been found. Statistically detectable increases in rates of breast cancer, leukemia, and genetic defects have been found in communities downstream from the plutonium plant. Despite the radiation fears, those who live on the river still eat fish from it, hoping that they won’t get sick.

5Horseshoe Lake


Horseshoe Lake in California has everything one could ever want for an outdoor excursion: boating, swimming, sandy beaches, picnic areas, hiking trails, and over 40 hectares (100 acres) of dead trees. That last, more unique feature is the result of a series of small earthquakes in 1989 and 1990. These quakes opened pathways for carbon dioxide to rise to the surface from magma below, eventually killing the trees.

While there is little danger of a volcanic eruption, a potentially lethal risk lurks in the Horseshoe Lake area, as the gas levels fluctuate unpredictably. A family could have a picnic on the lake one year and be asphyxiated the next. Warning signs are posted around Horseshoe Lake to inform visitors of the danger. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air, making lower areas—such as depressions in the ground, or the shore and surface of the lake—more dangerous. Most of the time, Horseshoe Lake is safe. However, fatalities have occurred due to the gas. A man died on the lake in 1998, and three ski patrol members fell into a snow pit on nearby Mammoth Mountain and asphyxiated in 2006.

4Eagle’s Nest Sinkhole


Eagle’s Nest Sinkhole (also known as the “Lost Sink”) near St. Petersburg, Florida has been called the Mount Everest of diving. From ground level, it appears to be nothing more than a pond, but narrow shafts at the bottom of the pond lead into a much larger underwater cave system with over 2 kilometers (1 mi) of charted passages, rooms larger than a football field, and shafts no wider than a doorway. The cave’s deepest point is 94 meters (310 ft) below the surface.

The comparison to Mount Everest is due to its remoteness, difficulty, and spectacular beauty. It’s also an incredibly dangerous dive site. Like the Samaesan Hole, the depth of Eagle’s Nest Sinkhole is such that Trimix certification is recommended. The use of only regular air can lead to disorientation below 46 meters (150 ft). Cave diving certification, previous cave diving experience, and diving with a guide familiar with the area are also highly recommended. Guidelines are used for divers to find their way back to the surface.

Even with experience and equipment, veteran divers have died in Eagle’s Nest. Some have simply blacked out; others have become tangled in their own guidelines, eventually running out of air. The site’s remoteness also means that help is not close, and only other cave divers are qualified to attempt a rescue. In 1999, Eagle’s Nest was closed due to the deaths, but it was reopened in 2003. A day pass for diving costs $3.

3Kipu Falls


If you go swimming at Kipu Falls in Kauai, the best possible outcome is that you are only charged with trespassing. It is also possible that you will never leave the swimming hole alive. Despite being on private land, Kipu Falls has been a very popular swimming spot for decades, appearing in tourist guidebooks since the 1990s. Reachable by a short walk down a dirt path, a 6-meter (20 ft) waterfall empties from a stream above into a picturesque, serene pool below.

Unfortunately, beauty aside, Kipu Falls has been the site of many injuries and deaths, some of which have been difficult to explain. Aside from injuries obviously related to jumping from the top of the falls, people have drowned with no apparent explanation. Several were witnessed swimming normally only to suddenly become distressed and disappear beneath the surface. They were not seen again until their bodies were brought up from the very bottom of the pool. Some have claimed that a mo’o, a reptilian water spirit, is dragging people down and holding them at the bottom. Others speculate that there is a whirlpool at Kipu Falls.

Whatever the cause of the deaths, the Kauai Visitors Bureau has asked tourist guide publishers to no longer mention Kipu Falls. The area is now fenced off to further deter swimmers, who will be prosecuted if caught trying to enter the falls.

2The Strid


The River Wharfe in Yorkshire, England, contains a section known as “the Strid.” The word “strid” is a local word based on “stride,” which is fitting as the Strid is much narrower than the rest of the River Wharfe, merely a long stride (or short jump) in width. It’s the sort of babbling brook that a hiker might not think twice about jumping over or stepping into.

The Strid’s appearance, however, is extremely deceptive. The Wharfe’s current is much stronger in the Strid due to its narrowness and has cut deeply into the area’s limestone, much deeper than any other part of the river. The current has also undercut the banks of the Strid, meaning that its edges are in fact ledges overhanging a wider and deeper waterway than is apparent. The Strid’s attributes spell disaster for those unlucky enough to fall in. Many people have been pulled under and drowned over the years. No one has ever fallen into the Strid and come out alive.

1Hanakapiai Beach


The islands of Hawaii are well known for their beaches, but some of those beaches weren’t meant for swimming. Hanakapiai Beach on Kauai’s Na Pali coast is one of them. Yet another beautiful but potentially deadly location, the beach lies at the end of a steep, rocky 3.2-kilometer (2 mi) trail.

Hanakapiai’s remoteness means that there are no lifeguards and no hope of immediate rescue. This only adds to the beach’s primary danger: powerful rip currents capable of pulling even strong, experienced swimmers out to sea. These rip currents are almost always present, as there is no reef to protect the beach’s shores. Also, the geography of the region is such that the nearest safe beach is 10 kilometers (6 mi) away. There is simply nowhere to go.

More people have drowned at Hanakapiai than at any other beach in Kauai. The bodies of 15 drowning victims have never been recovered. A sign stands on the beach with a tally mark for each drowning. There are over 80 marks. Visitors are advised to stay out of the water entirely.

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Top 10 Spectacular Natural Phenomena

Sometimes the modern world can lead to a feeling of disconnection between us and the natural world. As a remedy to this First-World fatigue here are ten of the most spectacular shows the Earth can provide.

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The Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) provides one of the most beautiful of all animal displays. Individually they are a pretty orange and black, but when they mass for migration they fill the air with color. The migration path of the butterflies covers a large part of North America. The migration is prompted by the fragility of the butterflies to cold and so, as winter approaches, they head south. In these warmer areas the butterflies overwinter in large groups that may cover whole trees. No one individual will survive the whole migratory route due to the butterflies’ ephemeral nature. Their descendants will, however, continue to put on this beautiful migratory display.


Geysers are a spectacular demonstration of the power of the Earth under our feet. Geysers are hot springs which, by a build up of pressure, erupt periodically and shoot water into the air. Geysers occur worldwide but over half of the world’s geysers occur in Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone hosts the world’s tallest geyser, Steamboat, which shoots water up to 90m into the air. Geysers can, like most natural phenomena, be somewhat unpredictable and this has proved deadly when people wishing to see an eruption get too close in a fit of impatience. For a guaranteed geyser eruption Old Faithful in Yellowstone probably offers the best bet for tourists in America. Strokkur on Iceland erupts far more often than Old Faithful and can rival that geyser for height in major eruptions though.

An algal bloom does not sound very spectacular, though red tides of toxic algae can be huge, but in the case of Noctiluca scintillans it is one of the wonders of the sea. When there is a population explosion of these dinoflagellates it can look like the sea is on fire with blue flames. When disturbed they give off a burst of blue light. This can lead to a very spooky experience for night swimmers. They are found worldwide but for those unwilling to get wet, the video above shows some loud people throwing a rock into a Noctiluca scintillans bloom.


Tornadoes are terrifying events, but add fire and they become spectacularly terrifying. Fire whirls occur when the heat from a fire drive the air above it in such a way as to form a vortex with the cooler air outside. If this vortex acquires a vertical spin then a fire whirl, a vortex sucking flames upwards, will form. Fire whirls can be incredibly dangerous as they may pick up burning debris and so spread the flames. When Tokyo was struck by an earthquake in 1923 an enormous fire whirl was created by the massive numbers of burning wooden buildings. The whirl was a major factor in the burning to death of 38,000 people. Smaller whirls are commonly seen at the front of fires in grasslands.

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In very cold weather, when ice crystals are suspended in the atmosphere, light pillars may form in the sky. The light pillars form around natural light sources, like the setting sun or moon, but can also be created by man-made light. The ice crystals serve to reflect light back at us and, as we cannot see the crystals, trick us into believing there is a pillar of light in the sky. The higher the ice crystals, the taller the light pillar will appear.

Saupload Maelstrom

Maelstroms, hugely powerful whirlpools, have a long history in fiction as being terrible dangers to sailors. In real life there have never been any cases of large ships being sunk by maelstroms. The swirling masses of water in maelstroms, usually driven by unusually strong tides, are impressive. The Corryvreckan on the west coast of Scotland can be heard miles away as huge waves up to fifteen feet high crash back into the sea. Huge whirlpools have always attracted adventurous souls and the Corryvreckan was first swum by George Orwell’s one-legged brother-in-law. Maelstroms can be found world wide and chartering boats to them has become a popular tourist activity.

Lava, molten rock, is usually only visible during violent volcanic eruptions. However there are five points on the Earth where lava meets the surface in relatively peaceful pools. These lava lakes are a valuable scientific resource as the offer the chance to collect lava samples which have not been contaminated in the violence of a volcanic eruption. These pools offer direct access to the molten center of the Earth. At night, the lakes glow with the fierce heat they radiate. The video above shows that although the lava pools are relatively peaceful they are still dangerous.


Sand storms are spectacular to look at but devastating to be in. Dust or sand storms have always bedeviled desert travelers who may become lost in them or even smothered by the sand they deposit. Sand storms occur when a strong wind whips up soil and sand particles into the atmosphere and carry them away. Sand storms can be so large that they are visible from space. Each year forty million tons of dust are carried from the Sahara to the Amazon basin. The carrying away of top soil can destroy agriculture or deposit necessary minerals. A wall of dust billowing out of the desert is one of the great images of the power of nature.


The Earth is special in that we have a moon which, at times of eclipse, will perfectly cover the disc of the Sun. This happens because the Sun’s diameter is approximately 400 times larger than that of the Moon, but the Sun is also 400 times further away from it. During a total solar eclipse the corona, a plasma layer around the Sun, becomes visible. Eclipses have fascinated mankind since the dawn of time, but have been understood and predicted for thousands of years. Now, with the ability to travel the globe, there are tourists who will travel to wherever the next total eclipse will occur.

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In my opinion there is no greater natural spectacle than the Aurorae. I first saw them while standing on a frozen lake in the north of Finland. We had left our little fire hut on the shore because a very faint green glow could be seen over the treetops. As we watched, a wall of green swept silently across the sky, flecked with pink lines. When you see a picture of the aurorae you do not get the sense of motion or scale. The aurorae occur when particles, ejected on the solar wind, are channeled by the Earth’s electromagnetic field into the atmosphere. As the particles strike the atmosphere they ionize atoms which then release light. Some people report hearing a crackling sound when aurorae are particularly intense, but this has never been confirmed.

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10 Cases of Incredibly Small Spaces

In the developed world, when it comes to our homes, conventional wisdom dictates bigger is better. But why? So we can spend years slaving away to pay off a mortgage for a house that may not appreciate in value? And then go further into debt furnishing and maintaining it, all the while saddling the planet with an environmental impact grossly out of proportion to our needs?

And that’s if we can afford, or even find, the room. For much of the developing world, living space is at such a premium people spend ridiculous sums of money to live in quarters smaller than some prison cells. And they, too, slave away to keep even that. Submitted for your approval are 10 cases of living in small spaces, some ingenious and enlightened, others not.


Smaller living may be coming into fashion, but it’s definitely not a new idea. Sandwiched between two normal-sized neighbors, the Little House is the smallest home in Toronto, Canada. The land on which the house sits was originally designed as an alley for one of the neighboring homes. City officials never approved the curb cut, so in 1912, contractor Arthur Weeden decided to make use of the land and built a house on it (in which he and his wife lived for 20 years).

With only 312 sq. ft. of space, the Little House is a neighborhood favorite, and stops traffic from time to time. American celebrity Ellen Degeneres was so won over by its charms, she expressed interest in one day owning it. An engaging and detailed history of the home can be found at The Little House Website.


Located in the heart of Seattle, WA, Videré is a rooming house that’s getting big by going small. The rooms in the complex range from 90 to 168 sq. ft. The smaller units are only slightly larger than a parking spot.

Each apartment consists of a single room and a small attached bathroom. The units are furnished and cable-ready, but without a private kitchen—each of the complex’s six units share a communal kitchen on the first floor. Rent is between $500 and $700 per month, with all utilities and Internet service included. Jim Potter, a partner in Videre says the target clientele is “young people, who don’t do much more than sleep in their apartments. (They) have a living room somewhere else.”


In 2009, developers converted New York’s 535 W. 110th Street building to a co-op. They gutted the top floor and carved out three decently sized one- and two-bedroom apartments, but ended up with 175 sq.ft. left over. They didn’t know what to do with the unused space, so they decided to make the “best smallest apartment ever”.

The resulting “micro-studio” is 10 x 14 feet, with modern conveniences and a private bathroom. A queen-size bed would take up 20 percent of the entire living space. The flat is not without its quirks, either—to reach the front door, the tenant must exit the elevator one floor below and ascend a separate flight of stairs. The current owner paid $150,000 and uses the apartment as a premium pied-à-terre while in New York (thus saving a fortune in hotel costs).


With no formal architectural training, Brazilian Heneita Minho designed, and still lives in, what many recognize as the narrowest house in the world. Her three-story home is a svelte 1 meter wide by 10 meters tall. It’s so thin she cannot fully extend her arms when she walks in the front door.

Despite its radical appearance, the building is a fully functioning home with 2 living rooms, a kitchen, 3 bedrooms with washrooms, and a verandah. At first, city officials sought to block construction, but relented when the original plans were revised to a more conservative design. The house has since become a minor tourist attraction.


Felice Cohen is a professional organizer, and she’d better be. That’s because she’s living in what many say is America’s smallest apartment. Her whole life must fit into a 90 sq. ft. flat, with no kitchen and a loft bed in which the ceiling is less than 2 feet from her face. The bathroom is so small she sits on the toilet sideways, and she had a panic attack the first night she slept in the apartment.

So why does she suffer these indignities? The appeal is a mix of economy and location. The former Bronx resident pays just $700 a month to live in New York’s tony Upper West Side—Central Park and Lincoln Center are just blocks away. Her neighbors pay $3,000 a month for the same location. Cohen attributes her extreme frugality to her father, whom she remembered in ‘What Papa Told Me’.


Jay Shafer is the creator and resident of what he claims is the smallest house in the world, affectionately named ‘Tumbleweed’. His decision to live in just 96 sq. ft. arose from his concerns about the environmental impact of a single person living in a larger house.

Shafer’s entire home is smaller than a typical bathroom, but is still wired for electricity powered either by an AC plug or via a solar electric system with an inverter. It has a two-burner stove, an under-counter refrigerator, a bar sink, on-demand hot water heater, and a propane room heater.

Tumbleweed is very well insulated, making it a dream to heat and cool. In fact, Shafer spent less than $170 to heat his tiny house during the brutal Iowa winter. He now sells plans for, and builds, tiny homes from 50 to 500 sq. ft., all available for purchase from his website, Tumbleweed Houses.


Life in Hong Kong can be cramped and hostile, and nobody knows that better than architect Gary Chang. So he transformed his tiny one-room apartment (which once housed his whole family and a renter) into an innovative, eco-friendly space that can transform into 24 different configurations. Spatial flexibility is achieved through the multiple operations of clever partitions.

Mr. Chang hopes his home’s innovations can improve domestic life in Hong Kong, where the population grew by 500,000 in the last 10 years. Reports of child, spousal and elder abuse have doubled recently, and social workers attribute this rise, in part, due to social pressures caused by the city’s ongoing space shortage.

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In Beijing, affordable housing is hard to find, if you weren’t already born in it. Dai Haifei, 24, learned this after landing a job at a Beijing architectural firm after college. Unable to afford rent, he built a tiny egg-shaped mobile house and parked it on the sidewalk outside his office.

The 2 meter tall egg cost 6400 Yuan ($960 US) to build, and was made of bamboo strips, waterproof materials and sacks stuffed with processed wood shavings. Grass seeds covered the exterior walls and roof. It even had a window for natural light and solar panels to generate electricity. Inside were a single bed, a bookcase and a pressurized water tank for hygiene and sanitation.

Living in the egg was easy, since Dai built it to perfectly suit his needs: he worked until midnight each day and returned to the egg only to sleep or relax. A nearby gym provided shower facilities, and he ate at nearby restaurants. Neighbors were impressed with the young man’s ingenuity, diligence, and green construction methods.

Sadly, on December 1, 2010 the Haidian District Urban Management Division decreed that any roadside building without a permit is considered an “unauthorized construction” and must be removed. Two days later, nearby restaurant employees noticed office personnel moving the egg at 8 p.m (while Dai was working). Dai wouldn’t comment except to say that he would sleep at a friend’s house that night.

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Originally built for the urban poor, “capsule apartments” are a new alternative for Chinese singles desperate for affordable urban housing. The first versions (top: that’s TWO units, not one) were barely larger than a closet, had a chain-link ceiling, offered 2 square meters of space, and cost 230 Yuan a month. For that the tenant got a single twin-size bed and a wall shelf. Pictures of the apartments hit the Internet, and embarrassed officials destroyed the flats for violating a hastily drafted regulation for a minimum 10 square meters for personal living space.

Original architect Huang Rixin (retired) has now returned with Capsule Apartment 3.0 (bottom), which meets the new code and costs only 200 Yuan a month, easily within reach of people with monthly incomes of only 1,500 – 2,000 Yuan. The new apartments cost only 3,000 Yuan to build, with costs dropping substantially when mass produced. Mr. Huang has repeatedly stated he has no commercial interest in the capsule apartments, and only wants to provide affordable housing for the next generation.


The recognized smallest apartment in the Western world is a former porter’s closet in the heart of Rome, offering a mere 55 sq. ft of living space. The flat consists of a ground floor bathroom, shower and sink. A ladder grants access to a sleeping platform just large enough for a single twin-size bed. The tenant must climb over the bed to see out a small window.

The apartment is generously described as a “compact bedsit”, and the leasing agent claims several serious inquiries. The appeal is location: the flat is very near the Piazza di Sant’ Ignazio, a gorgeous city square overlooked by a Renaissance cathedral. Just a block away is the Palazzo Grazioli, the current mansion/private residence of Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister.

And it can all be yours for 50,000 Euros. It helps if you don’t think of how many capsule apartments that could buy.

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Top 20 Fruits You Probably Don’t Know

I was playing a game the other day, in which you have to come up with fruit that starts with every letter of the alphabet. Apple, banana, cherry…. and that is about where I hit a blank. My epic failure at this game made me do some research and what I discovered was a whole world of delicious looking fruit that I had never even known about! I was completely shocked to find that there are actually hundreds of different types of fruit (no need to include them all as omissions in the comments), most of which I had never even heard of. This list is not to rank the fruit, but rather just to inform you about them. The only fruit on this list I consider ranked is No: 1, as it deserves the spot, in clearly being the coolest fruit on the planet. How many of these exotically delicious fruit have you tried?

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Sugar Apples or Sweetsop, is native to the tropical Americas, but is also widely grown in Pakistan, India and the Philippines. The fruit looks a bit like a pine cone, and are about 10 cm in diameter. Under the hard, lumpy skin is the fragrant, whitish flesh of the fruit, which covers several seeds inside, and has a slight taste of custard.

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Mammee Apple, Mamey Apple or Santo Domingo Apricot is an evergreen tree, native to South America, which was introduced to various other regions of the world including West Africa and South East Asia. They can also be found in Florida and Hawaii. The Mammee apple is actually a berry and gets up to 20 cm in diameter. It has a thick outer rind, with soft orange to yellow pulp on the inside. It usually had one seed in the centre, but larger fruit have been known to carry up to 4. The pulp is sweet and fragrant.


Cherymoya, or custard apple, is a deciduous plant found in the high lying mountainous areas of South America. The fruit is vaguely round and is found with 3 types of skin – Impressa (indented), Tuberculate (covered in nodules) or intermediate (a combination of the first two). The flesh inside the skin is very fragrant, white, juicy and has a custard like consistency. It is said that the fruit tastes like a combination of banana, passion fruit, papaya and pineapple. Mark Twain said in 1866 “ the most delicious fruit known to men, cherimoya”

Bacuri, ''Platonia Insignis''

Platonia or Bacuri is a large tree (reaching 40m) found in the rain forests of Brazil and Paraguay. The fruit become the size of a orange, and have a thick yellow peel which oozes a yellow latex when pressed. Inside there is a sticky white pulp, wrapped around several black seeds, which tastes pleasant and has a sweet and sour flavor.

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Cocona fruit is another tropical fruit found in the mountainous regions of South America. It grows on a small shrub, and can miraculously grow from seed to fruit in less than 9 months, after which the fruit will take another 2 months to ripen. The fruit is a berry and comes in red, orange or yellow. It has a similar appearance to tomatoes, and is said to taste like a mixture between tomatoes and lemons.

Artocarpus Altilis

Breadfruit is a large tree, in the mulberry family, found native to the Philippines and all the islands in Southeast Asia. The fruit is similar to bananas, as they can be eaten raw when ripe, and cooked when unripe. The ripe fruit is soft and sweet, while the unripe fruit is harder and starchy, which is where it got the name breadfruit from, as it tastes similar to freshly baked bread when cooked.

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Duku or lungsat are two very similar fruits found throughout Asia. They come from the same family, look and taste identical, with one difference. The skin of the lungsat contains a latex substance, which is not poisonous, but causes the skin to stick slightly to the fruit, whereas the duku has no latex and the peel is removed with more ease. Inside, the fruit has 5 segments, some of which has bitter seeds inside. It is a very sweet fruit and can be prepared in a number of different ways, including being canned in syrup or being dried like raisins.


Safou is an evergreen tree found in the humid tropical forests of Africa, as far south as Angola, and as far north as Nigeria. The fruits are also known as African pears and are oblong dark blue to violet fruits up to 14cm in length, with pale green flesh inside. These fatty fruits have been said to have the ability to put an end to starvation in Africa, as 48% of the fruit is made up of essential fatty acids, amino acids, Vitamins and triglycerides. The have estimated that a one hectare plantation would be able to produce 7-8 tons of oil, and all parts of the plant can be used.


Jabuticaba, or the Brazilian grape tree, is a very strange plant native to the South Eastern parts of Brazil. What makes this plant so strange is that it fruits from its trunk. No, I did not make that up, and no the picture has not been photo shopped. Initially, yellowish white flowers will appear all over the trunk and main branches, these flowers will then turn into fruit, about 3 – 4cm in diameter. Inside the thick purple skin is the soft gelatinous flesh of the fruit, along with 1 – 4 black seeds. The fruit is sweet and can be eaten as is or made into a wine or liqueur. Unfortunately, the fruit does not keep long when off the tree and will start to ferment after about 3 or 4 days.


Rambutan is an odd fruit that looks like a furry strawberry from the outside, and much like a lychee on the inside. It is native to South East Asia, but has been spread and a smaller “wild” version can be found in Costa Rica, where it is called a Chinese sucker. The fruit is an oval shape and about 3-6 cm in diameter. Inside the slightly hard, but easily peal able skin, you can find a soft fruit that tastes slightly sweet, with a possible sour tinge.

File:Noni Fruit (Morinda Citrifolia)

Noni, otherwise known by many different names around the world, including the great moringa, Indian mulberry, dog dumpling and pace, is related to the coffee bean plant and is native throughout South East Asia and Australasia, but is cultivated throughout the tropics. The tree carries fruit throughout the year and the fruit tend to have a very pungent odour when ripening (also known as the cheese fruit or vomit fruit). Despite the smell, the fruit is high in fibre, vitamin A, protein, Iron and calcium, and is the staple diet on many Pacific Islands. The fruit can either be cooked into a stew or eaten raw with salt.

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The Marula is a deciduous tree native to Southern and Eastern Africa. The distribution of the tree throughout Africa, follow the migratory patterns of the Bantu people, as it was an important source of food, and they planted more trees along their way. The green fruit ripens and turns yellow, the white flesh inside is succulent and has a very distinct flavor. After falling off the tree, the fruit will start to ferment and these draw in animals, like elephants and baboons, for a slightly alcoholic treat. The fruit is also used to make a popular liqueur called Amarula, which can be found at any duty-free liquor store at airports.

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Salmonberrys are native to the west coast of North America, stretching from midway through Alaska, all the way down to California. They are found in moist forests and create dense thickets. The fruit looks similar to raspberries, but are more orange in color. They are sweet when eaten raw, but are often processed into juice, wine, candies and jams.


Salak fruit, also known as the snake fruit, comes from a species of palm native to Indonesia. These fruit grow at the base of the palm, and gained the name snake fruit from their red brown, scaly skin. The skin is easily removed, and inside are 3 white, sweet segments that each contain a large black inedible seed. When eaten, the fruit have a slightly acidic but sweet flavor, and the consistency of apples.

Aegle Marmelos

Bael, wood apple or stone apple is a species native to India, but found throughout Southeast Asia. Bael is a smooth fruit with a woody peel that is colored yellow, green or grey. The hard, woody, outer peel is so hard that it has to be cracked with a hammer. Inside is an aromatic yellow pulp with several hairy seeds. The flesh can be eaten either dried or fresh. From the fresh fruit, a juice called sharbat can be made, adding water, sugar and lime juice to the pulp. It takes just one large fruit to make 6 liters of sharbat.


The Star apple is a fruit native to the low-lying areas of Central America and the West Indies. The underside of the evergreen leaves shine with a golden color from a distance, and the tree carries small white to purple flowers with a sweet fragrance. The fruit is round, purple and has a thick, latex filled skin. If the fruit is cut horizontally, a clear star pattern can be seen in the white purple pulp. The fruit is delicious fresh, with a intense sweet taste.

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Star fruit or carambola is a fruit tree native to the Philippines, but can be found throughout Southeast Asia, East Asia, South America, Florida and Hawaii. This fruit has five ridges running down its length, which when cut sideways, makes the star pattern after which it is named. The fruit is rich in Vitamin C, and Antioxidants. The fruit turns a bright yellow when ripe, has a waxy skin and the entire fruit is edible, juicy and crunchy.


The horned melon, also known as African cucumber or jelly melon, is an annual vine native to Africa, but can now be found grown in California, Australia, New Zealand and Chile as well. When ripe, the melon has a thick spiky yellow outer skin, with bright green, jelly like flesh. The flesh is often compared to the taste of a banana, with the texture of the seedy part of a cucumber or tomato. The thick skin can be eaten and is a good source of vitamin C and fibre.

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Pitaya, or dragon fruit, is a cactus fruit that can be found throughout Asia, Australasia, North America and South America, even though they are believed to be native to Mexico originally. There are two main types of pitaya, the sour types, typically eaten in the Americas, and sweet types found across Asia. The fruit comes in 3 different color varieties, Labelled as red, yellow and Costa Rican pitayas. The “red” fruits are generally a bright magenta color on the outside, with yellow flesh. The Yellow Pitaya is yellow inside and out, and the Costa Rican pitayas are magenta on the outside and the inside. They smell deliciously fragrant and most have a sweet flavor similar to a kiwi fruit.


The miracle fruit, or sweet berries, is a very strange berry native to West Africa. What makes the fruit strange and miraculous, is miraculin (a sugar substitute), which is found in large quantities in the fruit, combined with a glycoprotein. The fruit itself does not contain a lot of sugar, and tastes only mildly sweet but when eaten, the glycoprotein binds to the tongues taste buds, which, for about an hour after eating the fruit, distorts any other taste into sweetness. With that effect you could technically eat a lemon, and it would taste like a ball of syrup. Although the definite reason for this occurrence is not fully understood, it would seem as if the miraculin distorts the shape of the sweetness receptors in the tongue so that they pick up on acid instead of sweetness. The sweetness receptors on your tongue then transmit to the brain to taste sweetness when they come in contact with any acidity. In the 70s attempts were made to commercialize and sell the fruit as a diet aid, as it has the potential to turn any meal sweet, without affecting your calorie intake. These attempts were shattered when the FDA declared it a food additive, due to pressure from sugar companies who could foresee big losses in profits. In the last two years the berries have been making a comeback, by being the guest star of many tasting parties in the states. The berries are dried and exported, and the party guests each have one and then taste all kinds of common foods to experience a new taste sensation with every bite.

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