Saturday, September 28, 2013

Nature's Living Wall, Fifty Species in Coquina Stone, Castillo de San Marco

Native plants play an important role in supporting worldwide biodiversity heritage, and offer an awesome opportunity to explore history.  Weaving history into present green roof technology is one of the most exciting aspects of touring historic places like St. Augustine, Florida.

I always love exploring the Castillo de San Marcos structure on the banks of St. Augustine inlet, just north of the Bridge of Lions.

Though not what you would expect, one of the many ways to learn about native plants on the fort park property is to 'look up'.  This week I spent several hours walking in the moat of the old Spanish Fort in St. Augustine.  Plants grow all over the rough coquina shell stone wall.

In my opinion the National Park Service has it backwards - they charge for going inside the fort but allow you to walk for free in the moat and around the grounds.  The moat is where you can see many, many native and other plants species growing in the coquina walls!

Castillo de San Marco, St. Augustine

As you can see in the above photo, most plants grow underneath the downspouts on the walls. Though the downspouts provide water primarily when it rains, they also collect dew and fog from surrounding areas and funnel the water to the plants.

Interestingly, learning about green roof and living walls plants from the fort offers insight into those plants that not only do well under the hot Florida sun and with no additional irrigation, but also the plants shed light on soil media composition.

Coquina shell and the limestome mortar have a quite high pH level.  High pH is usually one of the toughest issues to work with on green roofs and living walls.

If you are looking for native plant species that thrive and survive under harsh conditions such as; relentless sun exposure, salt spray, hot desiccating winds, heavy frosts, hurricanes without irrigation other than rainfall, then plan a trip to Castillo de San Marcos, or other similar stone structure.

It is amazing just how many different species can be found growing vertically, forming amazing living walls.  Park staff have identified over fifty different plant species growing in the coquina stone walls!  What an awesome living wall created by nature!

Samolus valerandi
Pteris vittata & 2 Cuban anoles
Wildlife seeks out plants, especially those providing resource benefit such as food or nectar or shelter.  Native plants are best suited at providing the most optimum level of ecological benefit to those wildlife endemic to an area.

In otherwords, planting native plants on green roofs and living walls encourages and supports native populations of insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians and other wildlife.

Many popular landscape plants used on green roofs may not offer the same level of resource benefit.

Learning about your local native plants broadens design capabilities for both green roofs and living walls.

Limestone & Coquina Walls are Harsh Ecosystems

Friday, September 27, 2013

Fighting Hypertension and Supporting Cardiovascular Health Through Haiku

I have been working with various types of stress relief therapies to lower my blood pressure and reduce hypertension, including diet, cardio, medications and also short poetry.  If you notice, this site has a new tab entitled "One Breath Poetry".  Enjoy the nature centered haiku and other short poems, all of which are a reflection of my search for peace and health.


quiet confidence
realizing self worth comes
from within one's heart 
Bald Eagle
Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Flagler County, FL, September 2013

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Renal and Aorta Dissection in Marfan Syndrome. Color Doppler Views.

For those of you interested in color doppler photos of a dissected renal artery and aorta, these are my latest, taken a couple weeks ago.
Color doppler showing blood flow through my aorta #Marfan Syndrome #Dissected Aorta

Color on a doppler echogram represents the direction of blood flow.  As indicated by the legend bar on the upper right, red and the shades of red represent the velocity of blood moving towards the ultrasound transducer.  Oppositely, shades of blue ranging from light to dark reflect the speed of blood flowing away from the doppler unit.

In the photo above the blue represents blood flowing through the true aortic lumen ( the open, original aortic channel) while the redish orange colored section represents blood flowing back towards the ultrasound, or blood caught in the false lumen or channel and flowing back towards the doppler after being caught in the dead-end channel.

The false lumen is like a dead end street.  There is no outlet to the false lumen channel.  Blood flows into the false lumen through the tear in the inner most aortic wall layer called the intimal layer.
My aortic dissection, the torn intimal flap is easily seen crossing the inside diameter of the thoracic aorta
  The photo immediately above shows the ultrasound without doppler effects.  My aorta's false lumen is visible running directly through the middle of the channel.   This 'flap' you see is the section of my aorta torn away from the rest of the vessel.  

Blood flows through an open channel on one side.  The other side of the intimal flap though goes no where.  It is a dead end opening where blood flows in, then back out.

As long as the true lumen is open enough to provide adequate blood flow and the aorta wall does not aneuryze from loss of strength then the flow of blood to the body may still occur.

Another side view of the intimal flap inside my aorta.
Medications and diet can help control blood pressure and pulse rate.  The lower these variables are the more likely the blood flow can be managed.  My blood pressure averages 109/59 and I have a pulse rate of around 45 beats per minute.

The issue with my massive dissection is the fear of aneurysm or total blockage of blood flow.

Because renal artery dissection is one of the health problems I am dealing with, my hypochondria goes into high gear whenever I see blood in my urine.  Is my dissected renal artery aneurysing or bursting?

Doppler view of the flow through my left renal artery

 In fact, last month while visiting my parents in Tallahassee I started having lots of blood in my urine.  My wife, Judy took me to Tallahassee Memorial Emergency Room.  I honestly thought I was having an aneurysing renal artery because of the pain's location and the amount of blood.  Fortunately the blood was caused by a kidney stone. 

But living with constant fear, knowing one's aorta wall is compromised is a constant physical and mental challenge, one experienced by most of those struggling with Marfan Syndrome and other connective tissue disorder issues.

Doppler view of my right renal artery

Friday, September 13, 2013

Cardiac Arrhythmia and Marfan Syndrome, Socks and Gloves

Cold temperatures and I have never been fond of each other.  My heart too detests what the cold does to my circulatory system.
Touching cold objects causes my heart to beat wildly

With the Marfan Syndrome issues affecting my body, including extra height and long limbs, the heart inside has to work extra hard every moment just pump blood those extra long distances.  But when cold affects my fingers and toes my heart sometimes goes crazy trying to figure out how to handle pumping blood through now constricted blood vessels way out there in the fingers and toes.

To put it simply, when my fingers and toes become cold my heart sometimes starts racing or jumping around with crazy atrial fibrillation, also know as cardiac arrhythmia.

My simple solution for avoiding this type of heart fluttering lies in warm socks, a pair of soft comfy gloves and warm weather.

Its that easy for me to avoid certain types of cardiac arrhythmias.  Keep those toes and fingers warm.  Don't let them get cold.

Our body has certain reactions to cold.  One of the first things our body does when our peripheral temperature (temperature of toes, limbs, fingers, arms and ears) drops is to vaso-constrict blood vessels.  There is a good, brief explanation about cold and our body's cardiovascular system on the website.

An even more comprehensive and excellent brief, visually oriented website explaining the fundamentals of cardiovascular output and variables that can affect both blood pressure and heart rate is published by James Doohan and is a site I highly recommend.

As my curiosity concerning peripheral body temperature and arrhythmia grew, I wondered about my own body.

Judy says my fingers and toes are unusually cold and I agree.  I hate the cold weather or touching anything cold or jumping water.

So I measured my body temperature orally with our medicine thermometer.  The temperature in my mouth was 97.7 F, or 36.5 C.  My fingers and toes were so cool that the digital medicine thermometer could not determine the temperature.

Not to be thwarted I found the industrial infra-red digital thermometer I had in the garage, installed a new 9 volt battery and pointed the laser at my toes.  The readout told me why my feet felt like ice.  Toe temperature was a cool 74.4 F or 23.6 C.  My fingers were not much warmer at 76 F.  The house temperature was a pleasant 79 F while the outside temperature hovered in the mid 80's F.

For comparison I measured my wife's and children's peripheral body temperatures, though the teens thought I was crazy.

Judy's finger and toe temperatures were in the low 90's F.  The two marf teens, with their long limbs were more like me, with lower peripheral body temperatures.

These temperatures are no surprise to me because I know my heart has to pump blood extra long distances, all the while dealing with installed metal parts and foreign aortic components.  The old clicker is also stressed from multiple open heart surgeries, functioning well below normal output.

So when the fingers and toes get cold and the skin vessels constrict as they do naturally to conserve body heat, the heart has a harder job pumping blood.  At this point all the node chemicals and signals start to fire, diastolic pressure jumps and my heart attempts to increase output.

It is kind of like flooring the accelerator pedal in a car with an engine about to throw a rod.  Motor starts shaking, clanging, huffing and puffing and, well you get the picture.

Of course there are many causes of arrhythmia.

But because they are so frightening to me with my beat up heart and aorta, controlling one cause is important.  When  my heart  goes into erratic beat patterns I become concerned the dissected descending aorta will further aneuryze, dilate or even burst.

Fortunately warm comfortable socks, like those made for diabetic patients can moderate lower body peripheral temperatures and reduce the likelihood of signalling for increased cardiovascular output.  Gloves too address the same issue on the hands.

Avoiding cold weather is my big strategy.

But wherever you live, keeping peripheral body temperature fluctuations to a minimum might help you solve some of your afib or arrhythmia problems.  It is worth a try!

Green Roofs, Many Times the Last Defense for Water Quality!

Green and living roofs are so very important to our water quality, sometimes being the last line of defense for removing pollutants before runoff enters our ecologically sensitive and important waterways.

Green roofs slow down stormwater, cleaning and sequestering pollutants 
Even small green roofs can provide a significant benefit to reducing peak runoff amounts and reducing loadings on creeks, rivers and ponds by removing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous.
Blue Hole, Ichetucknee Springs
Once stormwater hits a roof and flows to the street below it may only be a matter of minutes before the water and any contaminants picked up as the volume flows across streets, drives and roads enters Florida's drinking water supply. Green roofs also moderate and attenuate the volume of stormwater leaving a building footprint.

Floating wetlands, Gainesville, Florida - greenroof on a pond
Storm drain allows pollutants to enter waterways
Florida has a unique geology across many parts of the state called Karst.  Karst formations are typified by limerock with caves, tunnels and holes throughout the  formation.  Once stormwater runoff enters the limerock above drinking aquifers the flow to the pools of underground water can be very quick.

Many times storm drains are a direct connect to water supply aquifers
Green roofs, living walls, floating wetlands and other best management practices can help keep water clean by slowing the runoff and removing contaminants from the water.

Wekiwa Springs, Florida - higher in nitrogen and algae
Wekiwa Springs, located just north of Orlando, Florida and shown above is surrounded by houses, streets, roads and commercial development.  Though many good best management practices are in place to contain nutrients and runoff, the springs still suffer from high nutrient contents such as nitrogen and phosphorous.
Salt Springs, Ocala National Forest, not as impacted by development
Salt Springs in the Ocala National Forest on the other hand, though threatened by development, does not have all the septic tanks, stormwater runoff and as you can see, the water is much clearer, contains less nitrogen and other nutrients and is so much more healthy.

Installing a green roof on your commercial or residential building is just one small contribution you can make in the Urban Core to help protect clean water supplies and ensure a healthy Florida for future generations.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Morninga can be Deadly too. Plant Interactions with Medicines.

Seems lessons are always learned the hard way for me.  It is my own fault though.
Moringa oleifera, a very powerful herb that can cause bleeding
I had always read about the many benefits of the plant moringa, especially as a food and source of vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

In fact, moringa provides solutions to far more issue than just health.  The tree can remove pollution from water, grows easily where water is scarce and provides livestock with protein.

As a plant biologist, I've always munched on berries, leaves, nuts and fruit from plants in the garden and plants in the wild.  And I've never had a problem, until the other day after a week of eating a handful of moringa leaves each day.

Immediately after eating the moringa leaves I began feeling full of energy.  There is quite a bit of literature available pointing to how the phytochemicals in moringa can actually improve peripheral circulation.

But within a couple of days I began to urinate blood, lots of blood.

At first I thought I was passing another kidney stone.  It'd only been a couple weeks since I passed three very large stones and they did some serious damage on the way down, creating lots of blood flow with their razor sharp edges.

But the kidney stone damage cleared up within a couple of days.

After a week of urinating blood I began to think the problem at hand was not a kidney stone issue.

Then someone sent me a link to a website where the information suggested moringa could cause internal bleeding.  So I began to research moringa's effects on bleeding and clotting.  There are several quite complicated scientific papers on how moringa's chemical components can interfere with blood clotting.  After reading and rereading the medical terms I realized that the plant is actually a very powerful anti-coagulant and even an abortifacient.

So the morning habit of eating moringa leaves stopped.  And within a day there was no more blood in my urine.

The more I read and researched, the more I realized this plant is not a plant to be taken lightly when ingested for any reason.

Moringa was causing me to hemorrhage.  I was actually bleeding out internally.

Now before I would had scoffed if I had read this.  I would have said something to the effect of 'it was a fluke interaction with other medications', or 'actually something else and not moringa'.

But once you experience first hand the power, good or bad, of this plant, you stand in awe of it.

We have several moringa trees planted around the yard.  Now everytime I walk by one I shiver just a little.  The plant can be a blessing.  The plant can also be a monster.

Lesson learned the hard way.  Herbs, leaves and berries can be good.  They can also be deadly. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Florida Green Roofs and Allelopathy

Allelopathy is the little referenced yet extremely important green roof secondary design principle of the bio-chemical influences certain plants and trees have on other plants and in this instance - on green roof plants.  A recent Green Roof we completed had a planting area surrounded on three sides by tall trees. Some of these trees are deciduous and loose their leaves during the winter, others like the laurel oaks keep leaf cover most of the year.

An alleopathic tree usually exerts negative influence on adjacent vegetation via a number of different processes including;
  • Fog & dew drip
  • Leaf litter
  • Volatilization 
  • Sap drip
  • Pollen
  • Other biological processes
Trees impacting the recent green roof include;
  • Triadica sebifera, Chinese tallow - western border of green roof
  • Quercus laurifolia, Laurel Oak - northwestern corner and eastern side of green roof
  • Platanus occidentalis, American sycamore - southeastern and southwestern corners of green roof

According to the University of Georgia, School of Forestry Resources , there are a number of significant allelopathic trees requiring attention when planting other plants nearby.  They include;

Strong Potential for Allelopathic Impacts 
Acacia spp
Acer saccharum
Ailanthus altissima
Celtis laevigata
Celtis occidentalis
Eucalyptus camaldulensis
Eucalyptus globulus
Eucalyptus spp 
Juglans cinerea
Juglans nigra
Leucaena spp
Myrica cerifera
Picea engelmannii
Platanus occidentalis 
Populus deltoides
Prosopis juliflora
Prunus cornuta
Prunus serotina leaf 
Quercus falcata leaf 
Quercus marilandica
Quercus rubra
Quercus stellata
Robinia pseudoacacia
Sassafras albidum
Ulmus americana

Moderate Potential for Allelopathic Impacts
Abies amabilis
Abies balsamea
Abies grandis
Acer circinatum
Acer negundo
Acer platanoides
Acer pseudoplatanus
Acer saccharinum
Aesculus glabra
Aesculus hippocastanum
Aesculus octandra
Arbutus menziesii
Carya illinoensis
Carya ovate
Corylus spp
Crataegus spp
Fraxinus excelsior
Ginkgo biloba
Gleditsia triacanthos
Juniperus monosperma
Juniperus scopulorum
Kalmia spp
Picea spp
Pinus banksiana
Pinus contorta
Pinus densiflora
Pinus edulis
Pinus elliotii
Pinus monophylla
Pinus ponderosa
Pinus sylvestris
Prunus pumila
Quercus alba
Quercus borealis
Quercus douglasii
Quercus gambelii
Quercus michauxii
Quercus shumardii
Rhododendron maximum
Rhus copallina 
Sorbus sitchensis
Tsuga canadensi

Slight Potential for Allelopathic Impacts
Abies concolor
Aesculus spp
Betula pendula
Carpinus spp
Casuarina spp
Cupressus macrocarpa
Fagus spp
Fraxinus spp
Larix decidua
Picea excelso
Pinus palustris
Pinus spp
Populus spp
Pseudotsuga menziesii
Quercus petraea
Quercus robur
Quercus rubra
Salix pellita
Sambucus racemosa
Sequoia sempervirens
Taxus brevifolia
Thuja plicata
Tilia americana
Tilia cordata
Tilia planifolia
Ulmus laevis
Ulmus parvifolia
Umbellularia californica

As mentioned, a recently completed Green Roof will be adjacent Chinese tallow trees, Laurel Oaks and American Sycamores.

Quercus laurifolia, Laurel oak - although literature suggests laurel oak does not possess allelopathic qualities, care should be given to potential impacts of pollen and flower litter.  The laurel oak adjacent the northwest corner of the green roof has stained the white TPO and covered the roofing material with a layer of leaf and pollen litter.  Though laurel oak may not exhibit direct allelopathic influence on the green roof plants, potential for covering the plants with litter exists.  Continued site inspection will be required to confirm any impacts on the green roof plantings.

Triadica sebifera, Chinese tallow - one medium height tree exists adjacent the western border of the BGC green roof.  Chinese tallow has been the subject of numerous allelopathic studies and research.  Interestingly, research exists to support the theory of Chinese tallow leaf litter and fog drip may actually support germination and shoot growth on adjacent plants.  In fact, Chinese tallow was shown to actually improve germination and growth rates in Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium

Importantly, the American Sycamores, Platanus occidentalis located in the southeastern and southwestern corners of the green roof have the potential to exert significant negative influence over the green roof plants.   As indicated in the above list, American sycamore produces strong allelopathic effects.  Data exists showing the active ingredients, scopoletin and chlorogenic acid found in the sycamore leaf may interfere with the ability of stomata on certain plant's leaves to malfunction,  interrupting the vital processes of photosynthesis and either stunting plant growth or killing the plant.  Close observation will be required on the effects of the American sycamore on the entire green roof planting area and in particular, the southeast and southwest corner plantings.  Pruning of sycamore limbs away from the green roof may be necessary.

Finally, good green roof design incorporates the effects of adjacent trees and other vegetation and allelopathic effect possibilities.  Recognizing and dealing with a potential allelopathic problem is much easier and more cost-effective up front.  Know the basics of adjacent tree and plant allelopathism and how your green roof design integrates into a site with pre-existing trees.

One of the related positive issues of anti-allelopathism and green roof adjacent trees is a benefit derived from leaf micro-nutrient content.