May 31, 2010

World's Most Exotic Fruits

1. Rambutan
Native to Malay Archipelago, Southeast Asia
Coming from an evergreen tree, the Rambutan fruit resembles the Lychees, have a leathery red skin and are covered with spines. Rambutan is a popular garden fruit tree and one of the most famous in Southeast Asia. The fruit is sweet and juicy, being commonly found in jams or available canned.

2. Jackfruit
Native to southwestern India, Bangladesh, Philippines and Sri Lanka
Jackfruit is a common fruit for Asia and Australia and considered as one of the largest tree borne fruit in the world. The juicy pulp around the seeds have a taste similar to pineapple, but milder. Apart from canned jackfruit, it is also available as sweet chips. The wood of the tree is used for making various musical instruments, while the fruit is a common ingredient for many Asian dishes.

3. Passion Fruit
Native to South America, grown in India, New Zealand, Brazil, etc
The passion fruit has a soft, juicy interior full of seeds, being commonly found in juices to boost their flavors. There are two types of passion fruit: the golden one (maracuyá), similar to a grapefruit and the dark purple passion fruit (gulupa), comparable in terms of size with a lemon. However, the latter ones have been reported as being mildly poisonous.

4. Lychee
Native to southern China, found in India, Taiwan
Coming from an evergreen tree, the lychee or litchi are small white flesh fruits, covered in a red rind, rich in vitamin C and with a grape-like texture. The fruit has started making its appearance in markets worldwide, refrigerated or canned with its taste intact.

5. Star fruit
Native to Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka
The star fruit comes from the carambola, a species of tree with pink flowers grown even in the US. The golden-yellow fruit is crunchy, sweet, with a taste of pineapples, apples and kiwis combined. There are two kinds of star fruits – acidulate and sweet, both rich in vitamin C. The fruit is particularly juice, some even making wine out of it.

6. Mangosteen
Native to the Sunda Islands and the Moluccas.
The mangosteen is another evergreen tree that produces oddly shaped fruits. The fruits are purple, creamy, described as citrus with a hint of peach. It is rich in antioxidants, some scientists even suggesting it can lower risk against certain human diseases, such as cancer. There are even legends about Queen Victoria offering a reward to the one that brings her the fruit.

7. Kumquat
Native to China
The kumquats or cumquats are small edible fruits resembling oranges that grow in a tree related to the Citrus. As with most of the fruits in the Citrus family, the kumquats are eaten raw. They are often used in marmalade and jelly but also in alcoholic drinks such as liquor. The Taiwanese add it to their teas, while others boil it and use it as a remedy for sore throats.

8. Durian
Native to Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia
Also known as the “King of Fruits,” Durian has a very particular odor, a unique taste and is covered by a hard husk. Having a disagreeable smell, compared to skunk spray or sewage, the fruit is forbidden in hotels and public transportations in Southeast Asia. Still, the whole experience is worth it, considering the absolutely divine taste of the Durian.

9. Dragon Fruit
Native to Mexico and Central and South America
Dragon fruit, strawberry pear or pitaya is a fruit of several cactus species with a sweet delicate taste and creamy pulp. The most common dragon fruit is the red pitaya, but other varieties include the Costa Rica pataya and the yellow pataya. Juice or wine can be obtained from the fruit, while the flowers can be eaten or used for tea.

10. African cucumber
Native to Kalahari Desert, Africa
The African cucumber, horned melon or melano is a fruit that can be best described as melon with horns. It originated in the Kalahari Desert and is now present in California and New Zealand. The dark green pulp reminds one of bananas, limes, passion fruit and cucumber. It is often used for decorating food but also in smoothies and sundaes

May 29, 2010

World's First Tidal Powered Moon Clock

An ambitious project to create the world’s first moon clock powered by the tides is currently planned for the edge of the Thames River in London, England. Designed by UK artist Laura Williams while she was in her third year of a study in an Arts & Design course at Central Saint Martins, the completed Aluna Moon Clock, will be larger than Stonehenge and forty metres wide.

The five storey high structure is made up of three concentric translucent recycled glass rings that illuminate to provide information about the moon. With light generated from the tides, the rings show the Moon’s movement, current phase as well as the ebb and flow of the tides.

Created as both a waterside landmark and public sculpture, the Aluna Project hopes to create Aluna Moon Clocks in both London and Melbourne. [via]


May 22, 2010

10 Unusual Plants - Alien-Plant

The sweet smell of hyacinth or lilac, tailored gardens – normally we associate these sensations with plants and flowers, not rotting flesh, attacks on insects or massive upside down tree trunks. There may not be real man-eating Venus fly traps, but there are certainly some wonders on earth that are rare and highly unusual. From the ranges of the rain forest to the Islands that dot the oceans, these are some of most amazing plants that Mother Nature has for us.

10. Dracunculus vulgaris

The flowers are stunning, with rich purple colour and a long black appendix which can reach a total length of 135 cm. This plant also goes by the names Dragon Arum, Voodoo Lily, Ragons, Snake Lily, Black Arum, Black Dragon, Dragonwort, & Stink Lily, and is most commonly found in an area ranging from the Balkans through Greece to Turkey. The eerie erotic beauty of this plant can be a little shocking, as the leaves continue to develop into a spiral and have been described as looking like antlers. Pretty yes, but don’t stick your nose in for a sniff of this plant. The odor is that of rotting flesh, because it needs to attract carrion-eating pollinators.

9. Amorphophallus

This rather bizarre and tall plant translates into English as, literally, “shapeless male genitalia”, with the taller species having Titan affixed to the name (from Ancient Greek amorphos, “without form, misshapen” + phallus, “penis”, and titan, “giant”). OK, not a stretch for that one. This plant grows in the subtropical zones from West Africa to the Pacific Islands, yet the larger species of the plant is indigenous to the equatorial rain forests of Sumatra, Indonesia. It is distinguished by a single, elongated center called a corm and a single large leaf that wraps around it. While this plant commonly grows well over 1.5 meters in the wild, the most titanic of the species was cultivated in Germany, gaining a height of nearly 3 meters (9 ft, 6 in). Astoundingly, the entire stalk and its crowning leafy ensemble is a single leaf (inflorescence). And much like the Dracunculus, this plant is of the similar genera that have big flowers that mimic dead, rotting, stinking gunk. They do this so that insects of the right sort will buzz in from far and wide in search of nasty, smelly things to crawl around on. Pollination occurs. The plant gets what it wants. Thus, the common English name for this plant: “corpse flower”, though “necrophilia bulb” isn’t bad either.

8. Rafflesia arnoldii

Several species of Rafflesia grow in the jungles of southeast Asia, including the Philippines. Many of them are threatened or endangered. It lives as a parasite on the Tetrastigma vine, which grows only in primary (undisturbed) rainforests. Rafflesia lacks any observable leaves, stems or even roots, yet is still considered a vascular plant. Similar to fungi, individuals grow as thread-like strands of tissue completely embedded within and in intimate contact with surrounding host cells from which nutrients and water are obtained. Perhaps the only part of Rafflesia that is identifiable as distinctly plant-like are the flowers, identified as the largest single plant flower on the planet. Rafflesia arnoldii is rare and fairly hard to locate. It is especially difficult to locate the flower in forests as the buds take many months to develop and the flower lasts for just a few days. The flowers are unisexual and thus proximity of male and female flowers is vital for successful pollination. These factors make successful pollination a rare event.
How many of these plants still survive is unknown, but as the remaining primary forests of Borneo and Sumatra disappear, it can only be assumed that their numbers are dwindling. The species are known to be nearing extinction. Some environmentalists are thinking of a way to recreate the species’ environment, in an effort to stimulate a recovery in the population of this endangered species. This has proved unsuccessful so far, but the efforts have continued. Steps are also being taken to conserve the forests of Sumatra and Borneo.

7. Wollemia nobilis

This bizarre-looking tree, long thought to be extinct, is the only species of its genus. Prior to its discovery in 1994 the Wollemia nobilis was previously known only from fossil leaves which dated as far back as 200 million years. Interestingly, the discovery came as a result of a random “walk in the forest” by an Australian park ranger named David Noble, who just happened to have a good eye and a knowledge of botany. Today fewer than one hundred exist in the wild, in three localities not far apart, though it is difficult to count the population as most trees are multi-stemmed and may have connected root systems. The trees, which can grow up to a height of 125 feet, have strange bark that looks like bubbles of chocolate, multiple trunks, and ferny-looking leaves growing in spirals.

6. Welwitschia mirabilis

Welwitschia mirabilis, consisting of only only two leaves and a stem with roots, is a bizarre species of dioecious gymnosperm native to the Namibian deserts of SW Africa. The two strap-like leaves will reach up to 6-8 feet (1.82-2.43 m) in length (and eventually longer) and up to 3 feet (0.91 m) wide. The two leaves arise from a short woody stem and continue to grow throughout the plants lifetime, which may be centuries long (its estimated lifespan is 400 to 1500 years). Leaves will split lengthwise into many segments. The stem, which typically gets thicker rather than higher, can reach up to 1.5 feet (45 cm) tall and up to 5 feet (1.52 m) across. Discovered it in 1859, it is considered a living fossil, a true relic of the past.

5. Wolffia angusta

This little plant is teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy. It is the world’s smallest flower. A dozen plants would easily fit on the head of a pin and two plants in full bloom will fit inside a small printed letter “o.” This species of plant lives on the water, floating at the surface of ponds, swamps and quiet streams. They are distributed throughout the world, particularly in warm temperate and tropical regions. In order to survive on water they are greatly reduced flowering plants, without leaves or stems, and with only the remnants of vascular tissue in some species. The plant has been nicknamed “watermeal” because they look and feel like small, mealy particles in the water. Five species of Wolffia are now known to occur in the western United States, with 11 species worldwide.

4. Hydnora africana

The Hydnora is found in Namibia and South Africa, growing on the roots of neighbouring plants. This parasite attaches itself to Euphorbia roots 5-15cm below ground, but will not harm the host, and is relatively difficult to spot (aside from the odor) as it exposes only its rather bizarre-looking dark red flower 5-8 cm above the ground.This member of the Hydnoraceae family was described by Carl Peter Thunberg in 1775, and in the theme of weird tropical plants. To attract pollinators such as carrion beetles, it emits the unpleasant rotting-flesh odour. As the plant is often hidden within the host bush, it is quite difficult to find, but is betrayed by its smell. Unperturbed, jackal and baboon eat the fruit that develops from the flowers, as do the Khoi-San people, from which it derives its local name: Bushman’s salad.

3. Pitcher Plant

Cobra lilies (Darlingtonia californica) use window-like aeriolae to lure insects into their hollow leaves.
The Pitcher Plant is a carnivorous plant, a meat eater. Insects are attracted to the cavity formed by the cupped leaf, often by visual lures such as pigments and nectar bribes. The sides of the pitcher are slippery and may be grooved in such a way so as to ensure that the insects cannot climb out. The small bodies of liquid contained within the pitcher traps drown the insect, and the body of it is gradually dissolved. This may occur by bacterial action (the bacteria being washed into the pitcher by rainfall) or by enzymes secreted by the plant itself. Furthermore, some pitcher plants contain mutualistic insect larvae, which feed on trapped prey, and whose excreta the plant absorbs. However particular type eats, the prey are converted into a solution of amino acids, peptides, phosphates, ammonium and urea, from which the plant obtains its mineral nutrition (particularly nitrogen and phosphorus). Like all carnivorous plants, they occur in locations where the soil is too poor in minerals and/or too acidic for most plants to be able to grow.

2. Venus Fly Trap

Like the pitcher plant, the Venus Fly Trap is carnivorous, but grabs its food rather than waiting for it, making it an aggressive plant versus its more passive carnivorous friend. The plant is unique in that it is one of a very small group of plants that are capable of rapid movement. Botanists still do not fully understand how the plant functions, both in its rapid reaction time and how its leaves move quickly from a resting convex shape (bent outwards) to a concave shape (trapping), making it one of the true wonders of nature and one of the truly unusual and remarkable species of the plant world. Although it has been successfully transplanted and grown in many locales around the world, it is found natively only in North and South Carolina in the United States, specifically within a 60 mile radius of Wilmington, North Carolina. Currently, there are estimated to be more than 3-6 million plants in cultivation compared to only 35,800 plants remaining in nature, however this data is over 15 years old and undoubtedly, underestimates the current situation. Several prominent plant conservationists suggest the plant be labelled as Vulnerable.

1. Baobob tree

May 18, 2010

World's Wildest Houses

These outlandish structures display architectural humor and prankishness. And some of them are darned well-designed, too.

Bubble House - Tourettes-sur-Loup, France

This bulbous structure isn't even 40 years old yet, but it's already been designated an historic monument by the French Ministry of Culture. Designed by organic architect Antti Lovag, the home features panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea and celestial views at night. A garden at the center of the home features a waterfall and stream with palm trees and exotic vegetation. Inside, space-saving furniture, cupboards, and shelving are built into the home. Believe it or not, this is not a unique property; Lovag has designed three others—including one for fashion designer Pierre Cardin—along the same coast.

Toilet-Shaped House - Suwon, South Korea

The late mayor of Suwon, South Korea, Sim Jae-Duck, built his loo-shaped, two-story home to mark the 2007 inaugural meeting of the World Toilet Association. Jae-Duck—reportedly born in a restroom—made it his life's work to advocate for clean, efficient, and working sanitation for more than 2 billion people living without toilets worldwide. The 4,520-square-foot steel, concrete, and glass structure set "Mayor Toilet" back a cool $1.1 million. It features a showcase, glass-walled bathroom at it's center. Those concerned with privacy can turn the walls opaque at the touch of a button. The home also features a roof-top balcony that's accessible by a "toilet drain" staircase and equipped with rainwater harvesting technology.

Tsui House - Berkeley, California

This home may look familiar to you if you know anything about Tardigrades—microscopic animals said to be the world's most indestructible living creatures. The 2000-square-foot Tardigrade-shaped residence was designed by Eugene Tsui to be "the world's safest house." Its aerodynamic shape and Ener-grid Block construction, which utilizes recycled Styrofoam and cement blocks reinforced with steel and concrete, is meant to improve the home's fire and wind resistance. Shelving and cabinetry are built into the structure to lessen the likelihood of falling or breaking pieces in the event of an earthquake. According to the designer's site, walls are angled inward at 4 degrees to "create a compressive structure with a low center of gravity further aiding in resistance to lateral turnover forces produced by strong earthquakes."

Pickle-Barrel House -Grand Marais, Michigan

This larger-than-life pickle barrel, which recently underwent a $50,000 restoration, was originally built in 1926 by the Pioneer Cooperage Company as a summer home for cartoonist William Donahey. Donahey, the creator of the Chicago Tribune's popular "Teenie Weenie" cartoon strip, also drew advertisements for pickle-peddlers Reid-Murdock & Co., who sold their product in a much smaller version of the barrel you see here. The Grand Marais Historical Society acquired the property in December 2003, and it was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places shortly thereafter. It's currently open to the public.

Upside-Down House -Szymbark, Poland

This structure was built by Polish philanthropist and designer Daniel Czapiewski to serve as a constant reminder of "wrong-doings against humanity" and the backwardness of the world. Poland's former Communist rule inspired the project, as Czapiewski thought all decisions being made at the time were detached from reality. Tourists have waited for as many as 6 hours to get into the two-story crooked and upside-down house, which features furniture hanging from above. The workmen finished building it in 114 days, despite taking constant breaks to quell nausea and dizziness. The bizarre design regularly leaves visitors feeling seasick as well.

Cave House -Festus, Missouri

This space was a limestone and sandstone mining site in the 1800s. In 1960, the cave was converted into a roller rink, where Ted Nugent and Bob Seger performed. Curt Sleeper bought the cave and its surrounding three acres in 2004 for about $160,000. He spent another $150,000 to make the cave into his family's hardwood floored, three-bedroom home. When they ran into mortgage trouble, the Sleeper family put their home up for sale on eBay with a starting bid of $300,000. Luckily, the Sleepers were eventually able to refinance and keep their cave.

Solaleya Domespace Homes - Anywhere

Solaleya's futuristic Domespace homes have been around for more than 20 years, but they're still ahead of the curve. These custom builds can be ordered in four varieties, including the Harmonique famous rotative house. The entire structure rotates, allowing homeowners to make the most of the sun's warmth for lower utility bills. It's a biconvex structure that’s raised from the ground, providing a shield from moisture and ground radioactivity. All windows in the unit face the sky, allowing for optimal natural luminosity. Safe home qualities include resistance to high-magnitude earthquakes and high winds. The homes are available in sizes ranging from 656 square feet to 6,307 square feet.

UFO House - Chattanooga, Tennessee

This home was built by the late Curtis W. King in 1970, around the time the original Star Trek series ended. It sits on a road leading to Chattanooga's Signal Mountain and features a retractable staircase, like any good UFO should. The three-bedroom, two-bath house was sold in 2008 for $130,900, after Cleveland, Tennessee's Crye-Leike Auctions posted it for sale on eBay.

Dune House - Atlantic Beach, Florida

This $1.85 million duplex, circa 1975, was built into a dune created by 1964's Hurricane Dora. Seeking sites to build rental properties, Harvard-trained architect William Morgan decided to build inside of the dune instead of on top of it. Now Morgan is looking to sell the property—consisting of twin 750-square-foot units and built-in furnishings—to a buyer that will value its green features, including energy-saving natural climate control. This winter when the outside temperature was freezing, the interior of the Dune House was a pleasant 72 degrees

Cookie Jar House Glendora, New Jersey

John Dobbins' cozy three-story home was built in 1947 and meant to be the first in a series of similar houses. The other cookie jar houses were never built, but this one still stands, with a spiral staircase at the center of the house. The jar's "lid" functions as a widow's walk. The unique house is said to be the only cookie jar house in the U.S., and perhaps that's no wonder: Dobbins has admitted to having difficulty furnishing the cornerless house.

Hovercraft House Albuquerque, New Mexico

This Bart Prince design was built in 1984 as the Albuquerque native architect's residence and studio. Its top-level sleeping quarters feature curved, south-facing glazing for passive solar benefits. The lower-level studio and workspace were built into the ground, behind an earth berm, for noise reduction and privacy. The 1990 addition of a masonry tower provided added space for a library and storage

Shoe House -Hellam, Pennsylvania

We'll spare you the "old woman who lived in a shoe" jokes. This three-bedroom, two-bath house was built in 1948 as an advertisement ploy for Mahlon N. Haines' shoe business. It was originally used as a guesthouse where "elderly couples were invited to stay for a weekend and live like kings and queens at Haines' expense." It is now owned by Haines' granddaughter Ruth Miller and is open to the public

Chair House -West Creek, New Jersey

This beautiful 1873 Second Empire has a chair on its roof, and no one's certain why. According to Roadside America the chair was placed there as a gag by a previous owner. Weird NJ speculates the chair was a sign to passing sailors that indicated they could stop to rest at the house. Another urban legend states the chair was placed there to calm a spirit that violently haunted the property.

Sliding House Suffolk, England

Built as a residence for one of its dRMM architects, this house is composed of three glass-paneled buildings beneath a sliding engineered timber shell. The outer layer is constructed atop recessed tracks and can shift to respond to climate and the position of the sun, or human preference. Imagine the pranks this owner can play on first-time visitors.

Volcano Houses Cappadocia, Turkey

This multistory home really is organic architecture. It's one of many homes carved out of rocks created by the volcanic ash of now-extinct Mt. Erciyes and Mt. Hasan in Turkey. The hollowed rocks initially served as homes and chapels for early Christians around the 7th century. More recently, Turkish farmers inhabited the structures, which can have as many as 10 floors.

Pyramid House Wadsworth, Illinois

Guess what contractor Jim Onan was into when he started building this 24-karat-gold-plated, 17,000-square-foot house in 1977? His interest in Egyptology spiked in the 1960s. Onan, who lived in the pyramid house with his family for a time, eventually added enormous statues to the pyramid’s lot (including a 50-foot likeness of King Tut) and lined his driveway with 80 stone sphinxes. The place was opened to paying visitors from 1978 to 1981, but it's now a private residence that sits behind closed iron gates and a moat.

Crooked House Windsor, United Kingdom

The Crooked House of Windsor, also known as the Market Cross House, was built in 1592. It features a now-blocked secret passageway that leads to Windsor Castle and is said to have been used for trysts between King Charles II and his mistress. The house didn't start to tilt until 1718 after it was restructured with unseasoned green oak. The building now functions as a tea house for patrons who don't mind sitting at a bit of an angle; the crooked floors were never leveled.

Mushroom House Cincinnati, Ohio

This house was built by the late Terry Brown, professor of architecture and interior design at the University of Cincinnati. The one-bedroom house sits in the otherwise traditional Hyde Park section of Cincinnati. Named for its siding that resembles the underside of a mushroom, the house was originally a run-of-the-mill bungalow. The additions and enhancements—made with wood, colored glass, seashells, and other such materials—comprised an ongoing project in organic design that lasted from 1992 to 2006. Shortly after, it was listed for sale at $525,000.

May 11, 2010

The Eerie Beauty of Iceland's Volcano

Aurora Borealis
Just days before its second eruption in April 2010, lava poured out of two fissures near Eyjafjallajokull.

On April 15, the volcano began to spew ash into the sky, disrupting travel across northern Europe. The next day, the smoke, above, continued to emerge.

Sky Blue
A cloud of volcanic ash moves over a family farm in Fimmvorduhals, Iceland.

The eruption destroyed this road over the Markarfljot River to the west of the glacier.

Highway to Hell
Cars drive along a road covered in ash.

Scientists collect samples of the ash to send to labs for analysis.

On the Run
Horses are herded to safety away from the volcanic cloud.

The View From Above
The crater at the summit of a volcano in southern Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier spews ash on April 17.

A farmer hunts for cattle lost in the ash clouds.