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Facts can be stranger than fiction

These mineral and nutritional facts about plants and animals are strange, but true

Facts can be stranger than fiction

If you need some very interesting reading this winter consider buying a book called, Around the World in 80 Trees by Jonathan Drori. It’s fascinating.

Drori describes trees from all around the world, including Canada. For example, rubber got its name from the original latex that the British used to cut into chunks to rub out pencil marks. The cashew nut, native to the Americas is highly toxic. It has to be roasted to drive out the poisons. Gutta-percha (I heard a lot about this tree as a child) produced a latex that could seal marine electric cables that made early trans-Atlantic connections possible. The Sève Bleue tree growing in the South Pacific Island of New Caledonia grows in soils with high toxic levels of nickel. The sap of these 50-foot trees is 11 per cent nickel by weight; a mature tree can have 35 kilos of the metal in its trunk.

Get the book, it will take weeks to read.

You may have heard of leghemoglobin, the red pigment in the alfalfa and pea nitrogen-fixing nodules. Leghemoglobin is related to hemoglobin, which gives blood its colour. One company making legume protein into “hamburgers” has added artificially produced leghemoglobin to the mix to make the “hamburger” blood-like. They use a GMO process to inject the leghaemoglobin gene into bacteria, so you have vegetarians chewing on a GMO product.

Insulin is made artificially by injecting the appropriate DNA into a strain of Escherichia coli bacteria (E. coli bacteria). Insulin is a classic GMO product. Think how many diabetics inject themselves with a GMO product, without which they could die?

Soils and minerals

Did you know that high pH soils of pH 8 to 8.5 will tie up iron and manganese in soil, even though they are abundantly present? Such soils occur in southern Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In dry years, barley growing on high pH soils under dry conditions frequently turns yellow due to manganese deficiency. A foliar application of manganese sulphate or half an inch or more rain will see the new leaves turn a normal green. In soybean areas, the very dry spring soil condition in early June will cause yellowing of the seedling foliage due to both iron and manganese deficiency. High pH soils also restrict the availability of copper and zinc that are especially important in flax and wheat crops.

Low pH soils, especially below a pH of 5, will cause molybdenum to become unavailable, causing stunting and slow growth of canola seedlings. When crushed limestone is drilled alongside canola seed on low pH soils there is a miraculous surge in canola growth. This is because the alkali effect of the crushed limestone releases the minute levels of molybdenum essential for crop nitrogen metabolism.

Some soils are deficient in molybdenum. This was discovered in northern Idaho when alfalfa, peas, lentils and clovers turned yellowish instead of the normal green. Molybdenum is essential for nitrogen fixation in all legumes as well as nitrogen metabolism in all crops.

I suspect there are molybdenum-deficient areas on the Canadian Prairies. Correcting the problem only needs a few ounces of molybdenum per acre. Ontario rutabaga growers always added a few ounces of molybdenum per acre for this crop, a first cousin of canola.

Some Prairie soils, such as in southern Manitoba, have excessive amounts of molybdenum. High levels of molybdenum uptake in forage and hay crops results in a copper deficiency in both beef and dairy cattle.

Selenium is a trace mineral required by animals that is very important in muscle function and fertility. Prairie soils can be deficient in this mineral or, as in southern Alberta, contain high levels. High selenium soils can be toxic to grazing animals, particularly horses, causing debilitation and even death. The indigenous leader, Crazy Horse, is purported to have been so for the high selenium levels in the pastures where he was born causing the horses to become “crazy.”

Remember, it’s the dose that counts.

About the author


Dr. Ieuan Evans is a forensic plant pathologist based in Edmonton, Alta. He can be reached at [email protected]

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