This title phrase well describes my favorite tree, Albizia julibrissan, a tree which, to anthropomorphize, would appear to have multiple personalities. Many people at the northern end of its range in Hardiness Zone 6 where I live may not be familiar with it, but head south and you’ll find it fairly ubiquitous, along with people who either love it or hate it. Or love the good and the beautiful, but not the bad.

Befitting a tree with multiple personalities, this tree has not only gone through multiple taxonomic classifications, it also has plenty of common names – Mimosa tree, Persian silk tree, Chinese silk tree, Silky acacia tree and others. As to me it looks good enough to drink, I’ll call it the Mimosa. In any case, it was introduced to North America from Asia in the mid 18th century, and like visitors to your home, it has left many feeling that it has overstayed its welcome.


Mimosa trees are a wildlife magnet. They are one of the few trees that flower over much of July and August. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds in particular can’t stay away. Hummingbirds are very aggressive little loners who don’t much care for each other, but because this tree draws them in aplenty, I get the benefit of being able to watch all their aggressive, defensive, and I presume, mating shenanigans all in one small tree. Just try and keep up with them. (If anyone can tell me about the behavior where a pair will suddenly spiral high into the sky, and then back, I’d appreciate it. It’s quite fantastic.)

And in case you’re suffering from insomnia, depression, or grief, the Mimosa tree can apparently help. If its stunning beauty doesn’t cheer you up, according to traditional Chinese medicine and many herbalists, the tree’s bark and flowers can be used in medicinal concoctions which you can buy or make yourself.


Mimosa trees are wonderful, but they do not understand the phrase, “too much of a good thing.” In much of the South they are considered an invasive pest plant because of their tendency to grow fast, reseed prolifically, and out-compete native plants. If there were a tree Olympics, they would be gold medalists. Fortunately this does not appear to be a problem in the North.

Because of the tree’s fast growth rate, it has rather brittle, weak wood which can be subject to winter cracking and breakage. Be aware also that there are a number of serious fungus and insect problems that can plague Mimosas and shorten their already short lives, though I have never seen any evidence in the trees I’ve had.

One final warning – the seedpods contain a neurotoxin and are extremely poisonous, so despite their looking like bean pods, DO NOT put them in your salad.


When in flower, the Mimosa tree is a spectacular sight. I think it is easily one of our most beautiful trees. It has profuse, pink, silky, and wonderfully fragrant flowers that look like little pompoms, and when the wind blows, it looks like a tree full of fairy cheerleaders. The leaves are airy and fern-like, and provide a lovely dappled shade. As an ornamental flowering tree, I think it has few equals.

In short, it’s a complicated tree.

Book Cover for Hold The Apocalypse

Very excited that the cover jacket for my new book is finished! Interior formatting is under way, and I expect that by the end of August, if not sooner, I’ll be ready to roll. If you haven’t already, check out some sample essays here.

Curious Science – The Coyote

Nowadays, coyotes seem to be everywhere.  They are often blamed for the disappearance of everything from cats and small dogs to a good night’s sleep.  But they are very interesting animals.

In Native American lore they were known in various ways, primarily as the Trickster.  Different tribes or peoples however thought of them in different ways, as a teacher, a hero, a helper, a bad omen, or as both funny and fearsome.  Just like people, they appeared to have multiple personality traits, a good reason perhaps for thinking of them as a Trickster.  (Unlike people, they will never try and trick you into making you think they are a Nigerian prince or a distant relative and ask you for money.)

Fun fact – coyotes are fast – capable of running at speeds of up to 40 mph.  Roadrunners, in case you were wondering, max out at around 20 mph.  To put this another way, in the Warner Brother’s cartoons, the roadrunner should have been Wile E. Coyote’s dinner every time out. 

Conclusion: Don’t get your science from cartoons, unless it’s from someone like Larry Gonick (, author of The Cartoon History of the Universe, among many other books.   

And don’t forget to check out my humorous essay on coyotes, “Coyotes – Get Used to Them”.  Forthcoming Book

Some Brilliant Thoughts

I discovered these books of “Brilliant Thoughts” by Ashleigh Brilliant (real name) and was wondering if anyone else is familiar with this strange and funny guy. The books (published in 1979 and 1980) are filled with his thoughts and the accompanying illustrations. Some sample thoughts, besides the cover thoughts:

“What makes the universe so hard to comprehend is that there’s nothing really to compare it with.”

“If only I could get that wonderful feeling of accomplishment without having to accomplish anything.”

Thoughts perfect for an Optimist in Dreamland like myself.

Update to “A Complete History of Mankind”

            Well, the jury’s still out, but it may be that my slightly condensed history of human evolution, the 800 word essay, “The Complete History of Mankind,” needs a qualifier.  Scientists are now reporting that recent discoveries in Israel and China suggest that there were two previously unknown types of early humans living alongside Homo sapiens. 

Photo by Kai Geng

            The Israeli fossils belong to an umbrella species that scientists are calling the Nesher Ramla people, who may be the direct ancestors of the Neanderthals.  The Chinese find has been preliminarily classified as a new species, dubbed Homo longi, (Dragon Man), and is believed by some to be a closer relative to modern  humans than even the Neanderthals.  Modern Neanderthals are disappointed, but are managing to look on the bright side by grunting, “Now you won’t have Neanderthal to kick around anymore.” 

Book Preview: Cat Research for Dummies

Here’s another sample from my forthcoming book, Hold The Apocalypse – Pass Me A Scientist Please (and other humorous essays from an optimist in dreamland), due in August.

I hope you like cats.

Cat Research For Dummies

The hardest working animal researchers in the business have to be the cat researchers.  If you don’t believe me, try getting a grant to study cats.  The grant people will gladly give you all you need to study the mating behavior of the semipalmated sandpiper, or the social life of coral gobies, but give them a whiff of a study you’re proposing to find out whether humans domesticated cats or cats domesticated humans, and they’ll stare at you like you’ve got cat scratch fever.  Such proposals are destined to end up in the litter box more often than a cat with parasites.

            One of the earliest attempts to find out what, if anything, is in a cat’s head didn’t occur until 2005, when a naïve cognitive researcher conducted the pointing test on cats.  This test, for those who might need it pointed out to them, was conceived to determine if a cat could understand where a person is pointing.  The first sign the researcher was naïve was when he called it the pointing test, instead of something like the Directional Focus and Awareness Assessment as any seasoned researcher would have done.

            The second sign occurred when most cats promptly walked away from the test, thereby pointing more than anything to the need for more testing of cat researchers.  It was ten years before anyone sufficiently clueless was found to try again.  Cats, in the meantime, continued their research on humans.  No grants were needed, as there was no shortage of eager participants willing to work for an occasional purr. 

            It’s no secret that cat researchers have always been envious of dog researchers, mainly because dogs evolved from a social and cooperative animal, the gray wolf.  After 30,000 years of habitation with humans, and 9,000 years of selective breeding, dogs have learned to recognize emotion in humans, understand some human speech, and perform socially complex tasks. 

            By contrast, cats evolved from the Near Eastern wildcat, an antisocial loner who needs 19 square miles of territory for itself or it starts to feel like the world’s becoming too crowded.  Still, after only 10,000 years of living with humans and 1,000 years of selective breeding, cats have learned how to get humans to feed them, clean their litter box, pet them at times of their choosing, and, if 19 square miles aren’t available, to otherwise leave them the hell alone.  They likely look at dogs as needy, bootlicking fools, and are quite prepared to wait 20,000 years if necessary before evolving any further.

            In later cognitive testing attempts, cats scratched, bit, hid under furniture, leapt out of mazes, and if the researchers weren’t already up them, climbed trees.  “If you want results on one cat,” said one frustrated researcher, “you have to test three.”  I suspect any cooperative cats were summarily shunned by the others, and stripped of their cat independence rights.

              Instead of waiting for University researchers to make any headway on cat cognition, there are simple tests you can try with your own cat at home.  All you need is patience, tranquilizers, and a pillow to scream into, as cats are sensitive to loud noises.  The first test explores whether or not your cat actually likes you, by placing treats and toys near to where you are sitting to see where your cat lingers.  If the cat chooses you, it likely means that you didn’t follow directions and gave the tranquilizer to the cat instead of yourself.

            To test whether your cat is tuned in to your emotions, sit near a frightening new object and talk calmly to it.  If your cat remains agitated, it likely means that you have no influence over your cat.  Now there’s a stretch.  If your cat calms down, it likely means that your cat is in fact influenced by your emotions.  To punish you for conducting this cruel experiment however, it will then test YOUR emotions by clawing the leather couch, peeing on the new rug, or ignoring you for the rest of the day.

            To test whether your cat knows its name, say several random words of similar lengths and accents, pausing between each.  Then say your cat’s name.  If your cat reacts in the slightest to any of the words, you could be on your way to a new career as a cat researcher.

            Some final notes: The results of these tests can actually mean anything you want them to mean, as your cat is liable to change its responses the next time you try to understand it.  And if you still don’t think that cats are smart and manipulate us, then why is the internet awash in cat videos?  As smart and social as dogs are, they haven’t begun to figure out the value of social media. 

Book Update

My new book is coming soon! Its titled Hold the Apocalypse – Pass me a Scientist, Please.  I just finished the book description, (you can find it here) which will give you an idea of what its about and the cover artwork is underway. You can read a couple excerpts here on my page.  Stay tuned for further details.