WTF Fun Fact 12707 – The Role Of Goats In Argan Oil

Maybe you’ve heard of argan oil. It’s very trendy in skin and hair products and the oil is quite expensive. It comes from the nuts of Argania trees, which are found in Morocco.

But argan oil isn’t so easily harvested from these nuts. In order to make the oil easier to harvest, you generally have to wait for the nut to pass through the digestive tract of a local mountain goat first. So, yes, what we mean here is that the nuts are eaten by goats, softened by their digestive tracts, pooped out, and THEN gathered by people for creating argan oil.

Of course, there are other ways of harvesting (humans doing the hard work of peeling them) and you’ll find many companies insisting that their argan oil comes from goat-free nuts. In those cases, the goats end up being a nuisance (and all because people are squeamish).

But frankly, it’s hard to know for sure how the nuts get into human hands. And it doesn’t really matter since the oil has no traces of goat poop in it by the time it gets to you.

The other fascinating thing about the mountain goats that helped launch the argan oil industry is that they became talented tree climbers precisely because the Argania trees bear fruit. There’s not much fruit on the ground in Morocco for goats, especially in summer. Once the goats eat all the low-hanging fruit, they have no other choice than to head upward.

While there are other goats around the world that climb trees, many of the pictures we see of multiple goats in trees are probably Moroccan mountain goats getting their fruity dinners.

And because they’re goats, they end up eating the nuts as well. Since they can’t digest those, the nuts end up on the ground later on (via poop mostly, but some goats will spit them out after trying to chew them). – WTF fun facts

Source: “Tree goats” — CBS News

WTF Fun Facts 12706 – Oxygen From The Ocean

It’s easy to think all our oxygen comes from trees on land – and a LOT of it does (especially rainforests, which there are lots of, and which need protection). But, in fact, most of it comes from the oceans.

That’s a bit harder to believe, but that doesn’t make it less true.

Plankton, specifically phytoplankton, produce most of the Earth’s oxygen. It also serves as food for sea creatures, but they don’t do much else that makes them interesting to most people. They just float around, completely at the mercy of the currents. They’re green and cruddy and you might even look at them and think “eww.”

And that’s fine since they also can’t be offended.

Here’s the deal: even though oceanic phytoplankton isn’t nearly as pretty as trees, it does similar work for us. These little organisms mostly float along the surface of the water or the upper part of the ocean where light still penetrates. They require sunlight to live and grow and produce food for other ocean creatures. They contain chlorophyll to capture the sunlight. If you remember back to grade school science, you probably see where this is going – photosynthesis.

Our oceanic phytoplankton turns the energy from sunlight, as well as carbon dioxide, and mineral salts partly into oxygen. There’s a lot of other stuff going on there too (other byproducts of photosynthesis, like the sugar they feed on), but oxygen is the byproduct we care about at the moment since we need it to breathe.

The cool thing is that even if you don’t live anywhere near an ocean, you still get the benefits because of the way the planet works. Oxygen is great because it just fills the atmosphere and doesn’t need to be shipped via trucks and planes to far-off destinations.

Scientists estimate that 50-80% of the oxygen production that takes place on Earth comes from the ocean. That’s a big range, but even if you go with the more conservative number, it’s clear that we can’t live without them. However, a lot of that oxygen also goes back into the ocean for other ocean life that needs it.

Don’t get us wrong, we love rainforests and regular trees too. But phytoplankton is doing more work than other flora when it comes to keeping breathing creatures alive.

We can do things like track plankton and get some readings off them, but it’s hard to know exact numbers of what they’re producing at any given time. The amount of oxygen they give off can change with the time of day or the time of year. It can also change depending on how healthy the oceans are.

One problem is that things like dead and decaying plants and animals in the ocean also consume oxygen when they decompose. That’s just one reason why killing off aquatic life (such as coral reefs) can be bad for us.

But if you remember one thing, it should be that these tiny, single-celled creatures do a lot of work for us by not only producing oxygen but by absorbing some of the CO2 we emit.

Some people call them “the lungs of the sea.” – WTF fun facts

Source: “How much oxygen comes from the ocean?” — National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

WTF Fun Fact 12705 – Invasive “Jumping Worms”

In a not-so-fun turn of events, people in the U.S. are concerned about an invasive species of worm that can reproduce on its own, destroy soil, and spread quickly.

Usually, worms are a vital part of ecosystems and help the soil provide nutrients to crops. But not the Amynthas agrestis, or Asian jumping worm. They’ve been troubling people since 2013 in the U.S., but they’ve been spotted far and wide now and farmers are concerned. They are native to east Asia, and Japan and the Korean peninsula in particular.

There are lots of ways worms can move around the world, but we’ve never seen them pose this kind of threat. More recently, they’ve been seen as far west as California’s Napa county (although to be fair, that’s actually closer to Japan).

We import a lot of beautiful plants from overseas for our gardens, so it’s no surprise the U.S. is now home to new kinds of worms. But these ones can cause long-term damage (and startle gardeners quite a bit!). They’re called “jumping worms for a reason.

According to The Guardian, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) warned in a report:

“These earthworms are extremely active, aggressive, and have voracious appetites. True to their name, they jump and thrash immediately when handled, behaving more like a threatened snake than a worm, sometimes even breaking and shedding their tail when caught.”

Yikes. Good thing they’re still small.

Normally, we’d say let nature be, but it turns out that they may cost a lot of money (and even livelihoods) down the line since this isn’t the soil they’re supposed to be in. The Guardian warned: “Jumping worms can destroy a forest ecosystem by chewing through fallen leaves, in turn destroying the top layer of forest soil upon which many plants and organisms depend.”

The CDFA report continued the dire warning: “They are destructive and cause severe damage to hardwood forests, especially those consisting of maple, basswood, red oak, poplar or birch species that rely on thick layers of leaf litter that serve as rooting medium.”

Sometimes we don’t realize how important soil is to our lives, and these are capable of completely changing the nature of soil (and therefore the crops that can be grown in it).

The Guardian also provided some advice (since, as you likely know, even chopping a worm into pieces with your garden shovel isn’t going to do the job – in fact, it can just create more worms):

“Experts have recommended several strategies to detect and eliminate the worms, including using a mustard pour – a mixture consisting of water and yellow mustard seeds – over soil to drive out any worms to the surface, and covering moistened soil with a sheet of transparent polyethylene for two to three weeks until soil temperature exceeds 104F for at least three days, destroying the worm’s cocoons.”

You can also bag the worms and bake them in the sun – anything that keeps them from thriving and spreading. And you may want to double-check your potting mixes and mulches before you spread them around your yard. Even the wind can blow around their egg sacs, spreading them easily.

It may even be the case that over the last few years, leaf pick-ups that turn our autumn leaves into compost have helped spread the worms.

Want to see a jumping worm in action? Check it out:

 WTF fun facts

Source: “‘Extremely active’ jumping worms that can leap a foot raise alarm in California” — The Guardian

WTF Fun Fact 12703 – The Ancient Art of Topiary

The art of topiary has a long history and going in and out of style. And we’re not exactly sure who made the first shaped and trained tree or shrub or why.

While the word “topiary” is a 16th-century English term, it comes from the Lain topiarius, meaning ornamental gardener. You can find that word in letters from 1st/2nd century CE author Pliny the Younger’s letters. He described the Tuscan villa of Gaius Matius Calvinus as having many animals and other figures made out of cypress. He introduced the art to his friend Julius Caesar.

When the Roman Empire collapsed, no one really had time for topiary (or for ornamental gardens at all) for a couple of hundred years, although the art was largely preserved among monks who manicured their gardens. (Even a manicured hedge is technically a topiary.)

The artistic boom of the Renaissance brought topiary back into favor among those who could afford ornamental gardens and Italian villas were home to everything from topiary animals to giant bushy obelisks and pyramids.

Of course, many of us associate topiary with the French because of the gardens of Versailles, which is still a premier place to view them to this day. But each country had its own way of doing things – some favored large cones, others liked things at smaller scales.

English gardens are also famous for topiaries, but things got a bit out of hand as people became obsessed with more elaborate shapes and sizes.

By the 18th century, topiary was primed for a take-down as being both too trendy and too ridiculous in some of its forms. So when satirist Alexander Pope wrote a widely-read essay called “Verdant Sculpture” in the newspaper in September 1713, it seemed so spot-on that people were soon embarrassed by their elaborate mazes and giant tree animals. By the 1730s, many mansions had their topiaries removed as people decided they were unstylish in light of the mocking.

Of course, people who didn’t care about the trendiest way to garden still had them, but aristocrats didn’t push the art forward for another century and a half.

By the 1870s, the style became popular in England again and remains popular today.

The U.S. caught up to the gardening trend in the 1950s and 60s when Walt Disney decided to introduce topiaries to Disney World in the shape of his cartoon characters. Now topiary was portable as well and could be brought indoors, which coincided with the rise in popularity of the U.S. houseplant.

(And let’s not forget that many of us aged 40 and up remember Edward Scissorhands as the ultimate topiarist!)

Now you can find topiary around the world in all shapes and sizes, and it shows no sign of going out of style any time soon. – WTF fun facts

Source: “Topiary Tango” — Center for Architecture

WTF Fun Fact 12702 – A North American Hydrangea

There are nearly 75 species of hydrangea (depending on who you ask) and most hydrangeas are native to Asia. In fact, we once thought all hydrangeas were Asian natives until 1910.

As the story goes, Harriet Kirkpatrick, a wealthy woman from Illinois, was out on horseback one day when she discovered a wild hydrangea along a wooded trail. Known to indigenous Americans, no one else had been aware of it. It’s the variety we know refer to as the “Annabelle” hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), also called a “smooth” hydrangea.

As far as we know, Kirkpatrick is responsible for the propagation of the flower since she came back later, dug it up, planted it on her property, and began to share it with her friends.

According to Fairfax Master Gardener Ray Novitske, Kirkpatrick was an artist:

Kirkpatrick’s ceramics were known for utilitarian and ceremonial presentation pottery
(mostly ceramic pigs) throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Pottery manufacturing at this time was usually located where the clay and the railroads met, and geologists reported that some of the finest clay for pottery was found in and around Anna. This became a natural
place for pottery. Today the Kirkpatrick’s Anna Pottery pieces have found their way to museums and collectors. With its successful business, the family was wealthy so it could participate in leisure activities such as horseback riding.”

The rest of the Annabelle hydrangea’s story, including its name, comes fifty years later when it was “brought to the attention of J.C. McDaniel, famous plantsman and professor of horticulture. He loved it and set the wheels in motion for it to become a commercial success. Two years later, after some nursery propagation and further investigation, it was introduced to the world. McDaniel first wanted to register the hydrangea as “Ballerina”…but a name was selected to honor the belles of Anna who discovered it.” WTF fun facts

Source: “Story of the Annabelle Hydrangea” — Fairfax Gardening

WTF Fun Fact 12701 – Like A Fish Out Of Water

We may not all love bees, but we can’t live without them since they pollinate the crops that make the food we eat (among other integral ecological roles). That makes protecting them integral to our future.

In California, that means considering them “fish” for conservation purposes.

The law is a weird thing sometimes. In this case, it required some creative thinking in order to make sure bees got protected status under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).

Others had argued that the Act protects only “birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and plants” – in other words, not insects like bees. They won the original court case, but it was just overturned by a Sacramento Court of Appeal.

According to Reuters:

“While ‘fish’ is ‘commonly understood to refer to aquatic species, the term of art employed by the Legislature … is not so limited,’ Associate Justice Ronald Robie wrote for the appeals court.
CESA itself does not define “fish,” but the law is part of the California Fish and Game Code. The code’s definition includes any ‘mollusk, crustacean, invertebrate (or) amphibian,’ Robie wrote. All those categories ‘encompass terrestrial and aquatic species,’ and the state legislature has already approved the listing of at least one land-based mollusk, the opinion said.
‘Accordingly, a terrestrial invertebrate, like each of the four bumblebee species, may be listed as an endangered or threatened species,’ Robie wrote, joined by Acting Presiding Justice Cole Blease and Associate Justice Andrea Lynn Hoch.'”

The case is Almond Alliance of California et al. v. Fish and Game Commission et al, Xerces Society For Invertebrate Conservation et al, intervenors; California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, No. C093542.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Bees are ‘fish’ under Calif. Endangered Species Act – state court” — Reuters

WTF Fun Fact 12697 – Sharks Are Older Than Trees

Everything on Earth has evolved over millions of years to take its current form. So, in some sense, it can be hard to look back and make a firm division between a day when trees and sharks did and didn’t exist.

Still, there’s just really no comparison when you look at ever the more conservative numbers. Even if we go back to the species Archaeopteris, commonly considered the first species of “tree,” whose remains have been found in the Sahara desert, the now-extinct species “only” goes back 350 million years.

The numbers get kind of mind-blowing when you’re talking about evolution.

Sharks, on the other hand? Well, they go back 400 million years. And while that may seem like only a slight difference in number, 50 million years is A LOT of time (more than humans are really capable of conceiving).

We’re not sure which we would have guessed had come first – trees just seem older for some reason, but all evidence points to life starting in the oceans and not on the planet’s surface.

Sharks and trees aren’t something we compare very often, but both species have survived mass extinction events and hold secrets to the past that we can only dream of discovering.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Respect: Sharks are Older than Trees” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 12689 – The World’s First Gardens

While the practice of growing plants and flowers for aesthetic pleasure hasn’t been a characteristic of all times and places, gardening goes back thousands of years. There is evidence of Egyptian palace gardens in the second millennium BCE! And they were so large it was said that oarsmen could row their boats through their water features.

Of course, agriculture existed long before that, but gardening (or ornamental horticulture), was designed purely for pleasure (not for medicinal purposes alone) once people settled down.

While some trace the oldest gardens to China, those acted more as hunting lands. Other ancient references to “gardens” (such as in the Epic of Gilgamesh) were likely patches of trees and not purely ornamental agriculture.

In the 6th century BCE, gardening was in full bloom. The Babylonians had the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which the Hellenistic Greeks referred to as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

There were gardens at the schools of ancient Greece (Aristotle kept one) and all over Rome. In fact, the Romans were obsessed with gardening. The architectural author Vitruvius wrote the first book on landscaping.

After the decline of Rome, the Moors kept the tradition alive in the West (along with much of Western intellectual tradition) while a separate culture of gardening developed in China and spread to Japan. Monks also copied Roman gardening manuscripts and kept gardens of their own, penning some original gardening manuals as well.

Purely ornamental gardening fell out of fashion (or, well, people didn’t quite have time for it) in the middle ages. But it was revived again in France in the 13th century to some extent and boomed again in the Renaissance period.

In the 16th century, the Spanish were the first to build public parks. – WTF fun facts

Source: “Where was the world’s first garden made?” — Garden Visit

WTF Fun Fact 12688 – The Dubai Miracle Garden

If you’ve paid much attention to what Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, has to offer, you’d know a giant garden is one of the less miraculous things. Nevertheless, the Dubai Miracle Garden is 72,000 square meters large and contains an amazing 150 million flowers. That makes it the world’s largest natural flower garden.

Just a few years ago, it contained a mere 65 million flowers, so it’s growing all the time. And there are over 2 miles of walkways for you to travel down to view them all. And since the flowers change every year, visitors can see a different set of attractions each time they visit.

The Dubai Miracle Garden was named the “Largest Vertical Garden in the World” by the Guinness World Records in 2013. Throughout the property, you’ll also find giant peacocks, teddy bears, and faces made out of flowers, along with (at least at one point, a life-size replica of the Emirates Airbus A380 which the Guinness Book called the “Largest Floral Installation” in 2016).

The garden, which opened in 2013, typically attracts over 1.5 million people each year. And while things may be different now because of the pandemic, in 2017, the garden reported that creating the attraction each year requires 60 days and 400 people.

One impressive feature is the way it’s watered. After all, it’s in a desert! Well, it turns out the flowers are kept alive via drip irrigation that reuses wastewater.

Interestingly, there are 60 different kinds of flowers (which is a lot, but still less than expected). That’s no doubt due to just how many (or few) can survive the weather – petunias, geraniums, and marigolds are quite common. The garden is closed in summer but remains open from November through May of each year.

It also doubles as a theme park with food stands, which we imagine serve lots of cold treats since the temperature in winter is still in the high 70s Fahrenheit. – WTF fun facts

Source: “Dubai Miracle Garden: world’s largest natural flower garden” — CNN Travel