Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What Is It?

Greetings from Cape Town!

Today I offer you a quiz. Is the object in the following picture animal, vegetable or mineral? There used to be a television quiz show that asked that question but I forget the name of the show (20 questions?). Anyway, here it is:

I’ve seen similar things while on beach walks, but that doesn’t answer the question. I’ve seen similar things at our ESCONI (Earth Sciences Club of Northern Illinois) meetings, but that also begs the question. Could it be a fossil? Perhaps – a ginkgo is a living fossil.

I love the octagonal shape. Reminds me of one of my mineralogy mentors, John Ade, and his insistence that we learn to appreciate the crystal systems. Reminds me also of a sea urchin. Reminds me that God has a sense of humor.

Once you’ve answered the base question, the real question becomes “What in the world is its name?”


The Answer

It wasn’t very fair of me to not give any clues, just some confusing possibilities. Nothing as to size, provenance, flavor – nothing. There were some fun guesses that I want to share with you before we get to the answer:

a Jelly Fish
an exotic mushroom
some type of animal, most likely a sea creature of some sort
Looks like a plant to me – kind of like a spine-less cactus
Looks to me like a peyote button, but then, what would I know
an animal
a sand dollar
Martian girl turned upside down! Dated one once
Could be a sea anemone with tentacles drawn in
Could be a succulent of some kind

The two who came closest were reading me and my tendencies along with the picture. It is a plant, not a cactus, but a succulent in the genus Euphorbia. Google Euphorbia obesa or go to Wikipedia to see more photos and detailed descriptions. The genus Euphorbia is one of the successful ones with, at last count, 2160 species. It is a diverse species but they have one thing in common; their sap is toxic to one degree or another and has been used as a purgative.

Now wasn’t that fun?


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