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My boyfriend and I watched “The Red Violin” last night, which is one of my favorite movies.  The idea is so fascinating to me: the life of an object and all its owners.

I want to do some research on The Red Mendelssohn, which is the violin that inspired the story.  Although I understand its history is not nearly as romantic as that of “The Red Violin” in the movie, I’d still like to learn a little bit about famous instruments and how they’re identified.

What caught my curiosity during this viewing of the movie is how varnishes were made in the 1690s, then what the basic components of varnish are.  In the movie, the violin maker mixes a varnish that’s made with a certain compound which I will not give away lest I be guilty of posting spoilers.  I noticed him take two jars from his work table in addition to that compound, so I assumed varnish is made of three different ingredients.  And I was actually right!

The ingredients of (classic) varnish:

1.  A drying oil:  like linseed or walnut oil.

2.  Pure Resin:  resin is considered by some scientists to be a waste product of photosynthesis in trees although no one is exactly sure of what it is or why plants produce it.  And no, it’s not the same thing as sap.  Examples would be rosin (pine resin), amber, and balsam.

3.  A solvent:  usually it’s turpentine. Although I know what it’s used for, I didn’t know exactly what turpentine is, so I looked it up.  I discovered that turpentine is essentially distilled tree resin.

(Source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varnish)

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I was getting out of the car today and realized that some manner of insect had landed on my finger.  When I looked at it closely, I discovered it to be some kind of blue gnat.  Sadly, I wasn’t able to find any information on this blue gnat, but discovered it may have actually been a fruit fly, which can apparently be blue.

Although I couldn’t confirm what the deal was with the little blue fly, it made me think of several summers ago when I started seeing fuzzy little white gnats flying around.  Nobody believed me when I described them except those who had seen them.  Why?  Because nobody had ever seen these little critters here before.

Luckily, I did find some information on these “fairy flies.”  Come to find out, they’re not flies or gnats at all, but aphids.  They’re called wooly aphids, and they live off of tree sap.  And the white fuzz isn’t actually fuzz, but a waxy substance that the aphids produce as a sort of protection.

These are not native, but have immigrated from Japan.  They can cause some trouble for your yard from what I understand, because the larvae often congregate on tree branches and do some harm to the trees in such large groups.

I haven’t seen them more than once or twice since that one year when they were so rampant (2004 was likely the year since I saw the most message board posts about wooly aphids were posted in 2004) and I suspect it’s a good thing I haven’t.  But they sure were pretty and gave a little otherworldly charm to a humid Georgia summer.

Main Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eriosomatinae

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Between the lawyer’s office where I work and the real estate business next door, there are a few skinny trees that don’t entirely fit in with the white oaks and hickories of Northwest Georgia.  They have fern-like leaves and puffy little white flowers with pink tips.  Very pretty and sweet-smelling.

This is a mimosa tree, which is another Japanese import cultivated here as a decorative tree.  (Reckon the wooly aphids hitched a ride on a mimosa tree?)

Most of the information I found online about these trees includes some lamentation about their being invasive plants.  From the Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants (at The University of Florida) website’s information, it makes sense.  The seeds spread easily, the trees produce A LOT of seeds (it’s actually a legume), and the seeds can survive for a long time and still germinate.  This makes it easy for mimosa trees to take over where there should be native hardwoods and conifers.

But they certainly are pretty, and I suspect if you keep an eye on it, it might not take over your yard.

Source:  http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/node/29

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