Drive on back roads this time of year — especially this year, after all the rain — and you'll see an unbelievable profusion of Spanish needle blooms. Full sun, partial shade, sandy or clay-based soil — none of that seems to matter.
In fact, I was so amazed by the banks of spindly white flowers growing along every unmowed stretch of road that I stopped Sunday morning south of Brooksville and took a picture and posted it on Twitter (tinyurl.com/8clokzu) along with the question: "Weed or wildflower?"
It's a weed in one respect, certainly, partly because of its star-shaped seed pods with tiny hooks. These were supposedly the inspiration for Velcro and, whether this is true or not, they are tremendously efficient in sticking to socks, shoelaces and cat fur. The result is that the seeds are sure to spread where you don't want them, in vegetable and flower beds. And if you have a yard in Florida, you've no doubt spent time uprooting Spanish needle.
But its daisy-like flowers are good-looking enough if you aren't absolutely overwhelmed by them, and, I learned from this blog post, tinyurl.com/9543lz9, that Spanish needle nectar feeds a wide range of butterflies and moths. With a few dozen vividly colored, orange-and-black Gulf fritillary butterflies swarming over them, a patch of plain white flowers doesn't look plain at all.
One other use for Spanish needle I learned from Spring Lake naturalist Chris Cock: Chickens love the leaves.
If you can't move your coop to give chickens fresh forage, toss in every handful of Spanish needle you pull and hens will do to them what starving piranhas do to wading cows, and the bright, marigold-yellow color will return to your eggs' yolks.
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Last week I was foolish enough to take pleasure in the relatively vigorous display of offense from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not surprisingly, it turned out to be a one-time deal, and after spending well over three hours watching Josh Freeman make like Trent Dilfer, I was thinking how I could have spent all that time on more diverting activities such as pressure washing the deck or helping my son with geometry homework.
But even the Bucs offense wasn't as bad as the officiating. It was so Keystone Kops-awful that when one of the refs threw his hat to mark a spot where a receiver had stepped out of bounds, and caused that player to slip and take a dangerous fall, it was, as one of the announcers pointed out, almost like the old banana-peel routine.
I tweeted about the strike during the game, blaming team owners for cheapness. But columnist Sally Jenkins in the Washington Post points out (tinyurl.com/9phj2fe) that in professional sports, where entitled crybabies are the norm, refs are no different.
Remember how Chicago teachers were considered evil for striking when their average salaries were a more-than-comfortable $76,000?
Well, NFL refs make almost twice that much, with a generous, old-fashioned pension, and are crying that they might have to make do with just a 401(k) like everybody else.
Of course, this is all for a part-year, once-a-week job that, for almost every ref, is a second job. One official Jenkins wrote about also owns a Washington lobbying firm.
Poor guy. How will he ever get by?
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There is one magic day in Florida that beats every other holiday, payday, Saturday or game day. That is the day you wake up, open the door to get the paper and realize it's cooler and less humid outside than in.
Well, my cubicle-neighbor, Times staff writer Logan Neill, informed me that the thermometer recorded an overnight low of 65 degrees.
So, enjoy it my friends. Get out to see a sunset; open the windows, air out a blanket or two, because today is the day!