Archive for January 2011

Parkour!

This is completely plant-unrelated. Just so you know.

So, those of you who follow me on Twitter may have read a few tweets about parkour, especially recently. If you have an exceedingly retentive (or stalkerish) memory, you may recall that I blogged (well, commented on a blog post) about breaking my collarbone last year at parkour bootcamp.

I didn't finish that level one bootcamp, of course--how to climb up walls or roll around with only one usable arm? So, I took some time off, broke my collarbone again, and went about the time-consuming process of healing and gaining a basic level of fitness. Taking that time and getting to a place where I can consider myself to be relatively active allowed me to complete the level one parkour bootcamp at Primal Fitness this past weekend. This time, I only skinned a few fingers; got awesome calluses on my palm; bruised up my knees, elbows, and palms; and found out what an IT band is after it got so tight it was funky to walk for a day or so, before I found out how to stretch it so it doesn't hurt so much.

I won't say I'm particularly awesome, yet, but for a guy who spent most of his adolescence and adult years at 300 pounds, even being in a gym is still mind-blowing, let alone being able to scramble up a wall without hand- or footholds or, hell, even just being able to do a full pullup!


So, uh, here's my "graduation" video. I can only hope it reaches the standards set by the parkour scene in The Office. During the last session, we strung together some of the movements we learned during bootcamp into running an obstacle course. For the run I'm doing in the video, we all did the same path and were timed. I am particularly proud of myself for springing off the angled box (most people stumbled at that point) and scrambling up the six-foot box without dropping, despite doing the cat leap onto it horribly and banging some part of myself. I don't really remember--the only bruise I have is on the inside of my elbow, but that doesn't seem like the right place to have banged into the wall. It sounded worse than it was, I guess, but I do need to practice those cat leaps.

You may also notice that the instructor and the bootcampmate videotaping me call me Tiny Dancer. There was an incident with a pole and me spinning around it at one point... Parkour really is good training for a variety of endeavours in life.


So. Parkour. It'll help with guerrilla gardening and escaping the po-po. And yeah, I signed up for the second level bootcamp that starts tomorrow.

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Cryptanthus Coitus Compulsion

Let's see how often I can reasonably use "coitus" in a blog post title, eh?

My flowering Cryptanthus cf. bromelioides isn't the only one thinking about getting it on--this pink unnamed variety I picked up at Behnke Nurseries, a local nursery that I used to love to go to as a child, is now flowering, too!

I will try to cross them, if they take a liking to one another. Otherwise, they'll have to be satisfied with being all coital with themselves.

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Orchids (And More) From Al

One of the pictures from my phone I posted yesterday was from Al's Orchid Greenhouse (it was a photo of an amazing water feature with tons of orchids, gesneriads, Tillandsia and other bromeliads, and other fun humidity-loving plants.

I took a buttload of photos at Al's, but few were very good. I am out of practice, I think--I haven't been carrying my camera around with me everywhere like I did in 2009, because 2010 saw me with a frequently effed-up left collarbone and use of only one arm (which preferentially carried coffee, not the camera). I can blame the recent decrease in blogging to the incredible lack of photography--I have only single-digit-number of blog posts without a photo or video, because I think they all need some sort of eye candy (what, my keyboard diarrhea isn't enough for you?!), so fewer photos equals fewer blog posts.

That statement is a load of bull, really. It's just a cop-out; even when I have a lot of photos, sometimes they just don't get posted. I went back through my drafts and saw stuff from as far back as July that I had uploaded into a post but hadn't written anything about. Partially because they weren't plant-related at all, but also because they would be thousands-of-words posts, and I just haven't had that amount of time. Maybe I will, at some point, blog about the beer I brewed in October or the cooking class I attended in Nova Scotia (that white chocolate risotto I learned how to make there has quickly become a standard in my culinary repertoire!).

But, in the meantime, I have new plants! Not pictured here are various Hoya cuttings (H. curtisii, H. pubicalyx, others) that I'm trying to root in different media--one was prepotted, some are in moist vermiculite under cover for extra humidity, some are in vermiculite with no cover, some are in a mix of moist sphagnum moss and perlite, and one (a long cutting with tons of aerial roots) was stuck directly into a pot with African violet soil and perlite. Now that I'm getting more into gesneriads and succulents, I have learned the importance of excellent drainage. (I could learn the importance of watering when it's appropriate, but that's too much like work, so I modify the plants' environment to accommodate my overwatering tendencies. It has helped a great deal so far!) I also didn't take a photo of an "African bulb," the various Episcia cuttings I'm rooting, the crazy Chirita "cutting" (which was more than two feet long, because the actual plant was the size of a large dog with leaves bigger than dinner plates), and a thing that is supposed to be a fern but looks nothing like one because it has heart-shaped crazy succulent leaves and a vining habit.



This is an unnamed orchid that Al grew from his own seed, from what I remember him telling me. The label says "Rrm. Orchidom Red Love x Tolu. (Wimpy x Sniffen 'Jennifer Dauro.' I'm trying to figure out what the hell that means in real-plant speak, but orchids like this one are almost as different to real plants as, say, Chinese is to American Sign Language. This list says that Rrm. stands for Radrumnia, which is a cross between Rodriguezia and Tolumnia--which is abbreviated "Tolu.," I assume, but did not find that in this list. I don't know whether "Orchidum" is a hybrid name or some other crazy denotation. This is new waters for me!

Anyway, I'm calling him Radrumnia x Tolumnia "Charlie," because I can. I don't like the craziness with which orchid parentage is described--the names are way too long! (I don't know why "Charlie," it was just the first name that popped into my head, and hell, it seems a good enough name, right?)

In any event, the blooms are beautiful.


I killed the Ceropegia woodii cuttings that Kyoko gave me in the summer, so I nabbed this prepotted one from Al's. Hopefully it'll do better for me because it already has roots (presumably).


I also have cuttings from this Hoya curtisii, which looks exactly like the Ceropegia woodii to me (except the internode length is much shorter on the Hoya. Also, y'know, flowers.). My mom would love both plants for their leaf shape. She would also kill them (I learned well from her! Actually, she was pretty darn good with plants--as long as they weren't ours.).


I liked the look of this Sarcoglottis sceptrodes (left) because it is almost reminiscent of a well-variegated lancifoliar Chirita to me. Also, it's flowering. This picture was taken in early January, shortly after I got the plant from Al; now, the flower spike is about six inches tall.

Also visible in this photo is one of my Aloe that is being resuscitated after a mealy bug/scale double-whammy through which it lost its root system to rot (sigh) and my Bulbophyllum gracillimum that I had the bright idea to mount on sphagnum moss attached to the pieces of wood I got from my first-ever three-part prune during Master Gardener training. I'm not sure if they like this much. At the same time, they moved from next to the window to under the fluorescents, so I'm not sure what is making them more upset--the mounting or the light or the temperature difference.


This little buddy is only slightly visible in the above photo--he's Dendrobium loddigesii. And he's variegated! He brings out the Lorraine in me ("Gosh that's cute!").

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Photos From My Phone


When it's all wintry and disgusting outside, it's nice to have photos like this to look at and remember the good ol' days of... Winter? Well, not quite, but almost--this photo of the Mr. Yogato garden was taken on 29 November. The trombetta squash produced fruit right until a hard frost in mid-December. The Datura looked alright until then, too, and the grapes, and everything else! (Last year, the frost-sensitive plants had to say goodbye at the end of October, when a freeze knocked them down.) Right now, the place is a barren patch of browning twigs and fallen ivy leaves. Soon, however, the bulbs will start popping up; the strawberries, mint, and herbs will start leafing out again; and maybe the chard will flower! Maybe the grapes will also bloom this year--it will be its third year in this location, and last year, it grew a hell of a lot more than it did two years ago. I actually had to trim the grape vines back in a couple locations (although there were some I couldn't reach that I thought could stand to be trimmed--unfortunately, I am not 15 feet tall).



Sometimes, however, winter offers you a view of plants that you may not otherwise be able to encounter--this, for example, is a type of bushy landscaping plant that I see occasionally (very occasionally. In fact, rarely, I should say.). I noticed this one of a matching set outside of a shop in Georgetown when I was there last week to get my DC license (after three and a half years in DC, I finally had to get the license in order to file a Home Occupation Permit for DC State Fair so we can get a basic business license and a license to solicit funds--in case you were just dying to know why I gave up my Maryland license with the cute little crab on it). Sometimes, plants sans leaves have more interesting architecture than they could even with flowers. I'm a fan of this plant--I'd grow it just to kill it and keep it in a pot by itself! (No, I wouldn't--I don't like to intentionally kill plants. I'd "accidentally" kill it, then.)


I visited Al's Orchid Greenhouse the other week with Kyoko of the local chapter of the Gesneriad Society. We helped "clean up" some of the plants (although it felt more like "cleaning out" Al's stock), and I spent more than an hour just wandering through looking at everything. I can't say this is the "most impressive" display, because there were a lot of impressive features at the greenhouse, but it is certainly the largest and most intricate piece there. Now I want to install a rainforesty water feature in my apartment! (You know I got plants from here, too. I'll be sure to, at some point, blog about them.)


This lawn made me tilt my head like a confused yet curious six-week-old puppy with long, floppy ears. I was excited by the exposed soil just waiting to be planted--and then I realized that the raised beds were made of broken-down bookshelves. That made me chuckle at the ingenuity and resourcefulness, but then I worried about the glue from the compressed wood and the coatings on the "wood-grain" covering getting into any edibles grown there and thus into the gardener's body. Then I saw the snow, and I was almost depressed, knowing that nothing would be growing in that soil for weeks if not months. All thoughts of others' potential health issues were wiped with that sobering thought.


Speaking of confusing plants, this is the beau's attempts at houseplants. He keeps his Epiprenmum aureum and Chlorophytum outside during the warmer months, but at no part of the year do these plants get watered regularly. Nor have they been repotted in years. I know I should be helping take care of them, but, y'know, they aren't my plants. And, well, they aren't quite dead, so...


I am jealous of my new local hydroponics store, Urban Sustainable--man, if I had crazy-expensive grow lights, I'd have eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes growing this hardy in the dead of winter as well!

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Mementos

While in New York City for a few days over the holidays, of course I had to buy at least one plant! Y'know. "To help remember the trip." I chose this Tillandsia bulbosa (I think--the cashier seemed quite pleased with himself for struggling "Tillandsia" from his memory when I asked what it was, so I'm only going on the basis of Google searches for the species. Seems an appropriate identification to me, anyway.) from what I was told was called "Gea's Garden Jewels," the gemstone/jewelry/succulent houseplant store recommended to me by a friend of a friend. The address was spot-on, but the shop didn't have a sign with that name on it, so I'm not sure whether it has changed hands or was never really called "Gea's Garden Jewels" anyway.

I am kicking myself a little for not photographing the 200-square-foot wonder that was that shop, with the cactuses and Lithops in tiny pots lined up in cases along the walls next to the loose gemstones, earings, and necklaces. As you peruse the shop, surprised to find that the stone you're looking at is actually a live plant, you brush up against the towering leaves from ferns and tropical houseplants tightly clumped in the center of the store, leaving barely enough room to shimmy past in some spots. Add to the mix a girl looking at stones to buy for a friend, my man milling about, and a cashier who is still learning about the diverse stock, and it made for an interesting visit.

I bought the T. bulbosa for several reasons--I had visited a few other plant shops and had seen a lot of awesome plants, but none interested me that weren't overly pricey or too bulky to carry back to DC on the bus. T. bulbosa didn't complain too much about traveling, and it was easy enough to care for while still on vacation. When I go back to New York City, I'd love to visit this shop again--it's very close to an awesome Mediterranean-ish cafe with amazing-looking pastries and tasty vegan/vegetarian fare.

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Cogitating Cryptanthus Coitus

That alliterative post title took a lot of searching on Thesaurus.com, so I do hope that it's appreciated over the less lyrical "Planning On Sexing Up My Cryptanthus."

Regardless of the title, if the topic makes you uncomfortable, blame the plants--they're the ones with all of their reproductive desires being put on display for any passer-by to behold!

Personally, I'm excited when plants decide to strut their stuff, because I usually choose to believe I'm doing something right for them--I view it as my reward for treating my plants right. Lately, I need a little bit of positive reinforcement, what with all the mealy bugs (which I mentioned), spider mites (which I didn't mention recently, but I've had for years), and aphids (which I also didn't yet mention, but really? In winter? How the heck did they get in?) I've had to deal with in the past few weeks.

So, thank you, Cryptanthus cf. bromelioides, for deciding to grace me with your sex organs! I have had this plant for only three months--I'm not even sure whether it has roots. But, it's flowering, and maybe I'll pollinate it somehow? A Google search yielded a few discussions of cross-pollinating Cryptanthus and bromeliads in general, but I can't find good detail in any one location, which is something I've come across often--it seems that growers either don't publicly distribute such information or they keep it in difficult-to-find websites or (gasp!) in books! I just think I don't know where to search for this, because I'm certain someone out there has written a tour de force on sexual propagation of Cryptanthus for the slightly eccentric, experimental, plant-torturing home gardener. The information I have found so far indicates that Cryptanthus are likely self-fertile, so I won't need a second flowering plant in order to pollinate this one; flowering can last a few weeks, although individual flowers may last only a few hours, if that (probably open for business in the morning); probably a paint brush is fine for pollination; the flowers in the center, which will bloom first, are likely all male, but the flowers on the bottom of the inflorescence are likely mostly perfect (so, both male and female), so I might be able to self-pollinate those ones (but the all-male flowers may have "better" pollen than the pollen in that of the male/female flowers--not sure on what this claim is based); stamens from the male flowers might be able to be preserved in a glass container in the refrigerator for a time without losing viability of the pollen (but for how long? In order for that to be a boon, it would have to be greater than one day, at least, unless you were intending on crossing different species that bloom at different times of day--so, save the stamens for just a few hours to pollinate a second plant that blooms later that same day); fruit/seed maturation can take from one to six months depending on whom you believe and which species you have, but seeds should be planted within one week (my personal jury is out on that one--I have doubts that seed that takes such a long time to develop could lose viability so quickly. But, then, I guess it depends on the environment--in nature, wouldn't these plants be in higher humidity settings than the dry environment we usually tend to store seed in? They probably sprout while the fruit is rotting and attached to the mother plant. Or, as written somewhere that I read, ants [which purportedly enjoy the sweet, rotting flesh of Cryptanthus fruit] might carry the fruit [and its seeds] away to their lairs, helping spread the particular Cryptanthus species in question.); and once sown, seeds take just a few days to weeks to sprout, a few months to get to respectable size, and one to three years to reach flowering size again.

...And after all that, I clicked through a couple of links elsewhere and ended up on GardenWeb, where all my questions were pretty much answered, both with pictures and words. Most of the assumptions I gathered from various sources were pretty much confirmed, and getting these things to reproduce sexually doesn't seem to be all that difficult (no vibratory foreplay required, at least).

In anywhere from two to seven months, I'll post about whether I harvested any fruit!

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Wicked Plants; Or Plants That May Or May Not Be Harmful/Destructive/Mildly Annoying In Some Situations To Some People Or Animals Or Maybe Not

I've had Amy Stewart's "Wicked Plants" for a while now (since at least July 2009). It's a book about plants, common and uncommon, from all regions of the world, that are dangerous, destructive, murderous beasts of plants that you wouldn't want your neighbour to own for fear of your own life. Or ones that might possibly put your cat in a coma if you smoke too much of it.

I read "Wicked Plants" in 2009, and have since (in April 2010) reread it in preparation for this post. One reason I delayed writing about this book is that I was totally being all nice and waiting for Mr. Subjunctive of Plants Are The Strangest People to review it--I wanted to read his, partly because I enjoy his wit, partly because he was the one who made me aware of the book, and partly because I wanted to see whether certain things that irritated/pleased me also irritated/pleased him.

But, I'm sorry, dude took too long. He mentioned maybe reviewing it back in May 2009, so I think it's up for grabs now, and I feel no shame. The extra push I had to finally write about this book was when Washington Gardener (a local gardening magazine) put out its e-newsletter in October 2010, which included a review of "Wicked Plants." I enjoyed the reviewer's balanced take on the book, which does sensationalize the plants it discusses, a point the reviewer sort of mentions.

In my opinion, one of the most wonderful things about "Wicked Plants" is that so many of the plants within are common and readily available, and the text is presented in such a way--easily accessible to a broad audience.

But, here's my beef with the broad-audience accessibility: It's not consistent. Because of my science-type background, and the semiscientific presentation of information within the book, when I read that "some studies suggest," "a pair of researchers writing for a British medical journal," or "advocates point out," I want references to follow up on and determine for myself what these studies, British researchers, or advocates were saying. One could write a book about literally anything citing "some studies," "British medical researchers," and "advocates"--or even actually citing them directly! There are always groups with dissenting viewpoints and research papers that seemingly contradict one another. This was not much addressed in "Wicked Plants," the fact that one or two studies that look at a couple of instances of potential deleterious effects of plant compounds might not actually mean that the compounds in question are in any way dangerous to the average person at levels they would regularly encounter. Without cited references to follow up on, I can't be sure this is the case, however, so it throws a lot of these uncited claims into doubt for me. Because of the vagueness in this sort-of-scientific approach, I also feel as if Stewart was being a little more sensational than she needed to be--the history she presents and the truth about the plants could have held her book up without the semiscientific scare tactics with faceless men in white coats!

Now, I must say, Stewart did give something like a reference in relation to Lewis and Clark's nigh-fatal expedition west--but this only somewhat strengthens my yearning for citation. And there is a bibliography in the back, which I approve of, but without linking those sources to references within the text, it's mighty unhelpful. (And they might be secondary or tertiary sources of the information Stewart included--I don't think primary information is listed back there.)

Along the lines of inconsistent scientific representation, in the first section, on monkshood (Aconitum napellus), alkaloids are defined, which I found to be helpful not only because they're mentioned throughout the book, but also because not every reader would know what they are. But in many other sections, words, concepts, or scientific techniques that I thought would have been helpful to explain were left up to the reader to decipher as best they could. For example, in the piece about habanero peppers, she talks about measuring a pepper's heat levels using "a new technology, high-pressure liquid chromatography." Now, wait--we explain "alkaloids," which are maybe not widely known but not unknown, but only call HPLC "a new technology"? What does it do? (And I guess it shows my background when I say I would have chosen the product-marketing term "high-performance liquid chromatography.") And why does she write that it's a new technique? It has been around for decades and decades--probably since before Stewart was born! A quick rewrite of the sentence in question to either further detail HPLC or delete it altogether would have appeased me as a reader with more than a modicum of scientific knowledge--as it is, this example, and the book, has a lot of loose ends that I would like tightened for science-presentation purposes.

You may think I am being nitpicky, and to be honest, I eventually got to that point, which is why I'm going to stop talking specifics now--I did really enjoy the book. But as an editor with a science background, these are things I think about on a daily basis--who will read this sentence/story/what-have-you? Will they know the term/technology/phrase? Is more explanation needed, or would more explanation seem inappropriate to the audience? The inconsistent way in which those questions were answered in "Wicked Plants" caused me a bit of confusion, I must admit, and made it more challenging to enjoy it.

But, this book was, in my opinion, well worth the money, despite all the bothers I had (especially the ones I chose not to mention--those are particularly nitpicky, such as how English ivy is included in the section on houseplants, and although she mentions dermal irritation as a potential problem, a big chunk of the brief write-up is about ingestion of berries. English ivy berries? Indoors? Is she serious? Also, because I can't help it, I have a comment about henbane pertaining to another part of my professional past: Pliny the Elder would never have written "braine." Both Plinys were Roman--they wrote in Latin. Because Stewart never cited the translator, she could alter the text however she saw fit and removed the erroneous "e" in the quote the included. I don't think that's nitpicky at all, I just think it's good form to either present information in a common tongue when not crediting any translator or credit the translator, so we can search the dude/dudette up and figure out whether we believe they translated the passage in question accurately. You know all those olde-thyme translators softened things up for a delicate population--Pliny the Elder could have been talking about a completely different part of the body!). The case histories presented within the book liven up the "learning" going on--while I wouldn't call this an excellent educational resource by any stretch, it is definitely informative and a good starting point for those who want to explore some of the world's more deadly/irritating/interesting plants.

And no, I didn't forget the amazing artistry in the book--the two artists did wonderful jobs illustrating "Wicked Plants." I quite enjoyed the layout, as well--it's quite a visually pleasing read! The above photo is of one of my favourite drawings, the aforementinoed henbane, but there are many other nice ones, such as the drawings for oleander and stinging nettle.

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New York Botanical Garden

I ended up traveling to New York City for a few days over the holidays--and, of course, I fell off the blogging wagon during that time, except for a brief post I wrote on my phone the night I got off the bus there.

On my visit, I stopped by the Horticultural Society of New York to see the Hudson Valley Seed Library seed packet art on display there; I also stopped by a couple pretty awesome plant shops in Manhattan. My favourite one was a combination succulent plant and gemstone/jewelry store--I noticed a lot of combination shops like this in New York, but nothing as outlandish as the wood stove and bicycle shop near where I went to university in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Although, Lithops and malachite in the same store make an interesting choice, too. But they seem more obvious to me--they both add beauty to a space, be it a garden, a windowsill, or the region between a woman's breasts. But... Wood stoves and bicycles? Please, find a common thread for me!

I also ended up going to the New York Botanical Garden on Christmas Eve. At first, I was appalled--I had to pay to enter. Luckily, my man is a graduate student, so he was $3 cheaper than me with his student ID. We only ended up spending $47 for the two of us to gain entry into the gardens. Coming from DC, it's a shock to pay anything at all--our United States Botanic Garden is free for all visitors, as are many other museums and such sites.

Anyway, after trekking from midtown Manhattan to the Bronx for the sole purpose of seeing the New York Botanical Garden, I wasn't about to turn around and waste another hour getting back downtown without seeing the plants. So, I paid, and we went in amid a throng of children and their parents, grandparents, cousins, next-door neighbours' children, and fourth cousins twice removed on their mother's step-father's side.

No, seriously. Okay, not seriously. But there were more people than I would assume would be there on Christmas Eve, and all of them seemingly had more children and strollers than could be explained by individual reproduction rates--they must have borrowed at least some of the kids from someone else to explain their plentitude. They were all there for the holiday train exhibit in one wing of the conservatory. Going in the opposite direction, it was possible to avoid the throng of youths for most of the visit, but leaving required wading--literally wading--through children and their adult guardians to get to the exit. Either that or backtrack through the entire conservatory again, and the exit was so close, I figured it wouldn't be that bad... But it took almost as much time as it might have just to turn around and revisit the beautiful plants in relative peace. (I really don't have that huge of a problem with children... But in such number... During a stressful time of year...? No, thank you!)

But children aren't what this post is about (I say after hundreds of words complaining about them)--it's about the pretty pictures of plants I saw at NYBG! I have IDs for most of them, but some I don't, and I would appreciate any insight anyone might have in identifying them! (And I named the files, so they're alphabetical by genus.)



Aloe parvula


Cochliostema NOID (The species was on the tag, but the plant was blocking it and I didn't realize I never got a full shot of the name. Also, the sun was very bright in this shot, but I thought it made the photograph even more interesting than the plant would have done on its own, even with those cute flowers!)


Coffea arabica, of course! I'm such an addict.


Costus barbatus. I enjoy the curvature of the stem--it grows like a corkscrew! It's also in the ginger family, of which I am discovering I'm a fan.


Cyperus papyrus--yes, that papyrus! I posted about this on DigTheDirt today. I fully intend on growing such a specimen in my apartment!


Cyphomandra betaceae, or Tree Tomato. Looks delicious!


Cyrtostachys renda


Encephalartos arenarius


Gasteria croucheri


Gasteria pulchra


Gloxinia sylvatica for the gesneriophiles out there!


Iochroma cyanea


Neolauchea pulchella, a cute little orchid!


Passiflora NOID. I didn't notice a tag on this one, but I'm sure there was one.


Pereskia bleo fruit


Rhipsalis clavata


Solandra maxima

And now, the NOIDs!


This was growing in the fountain near the Cyperus papyrus. Seems like it should have a "-wort" name.


This is the flower of the full plant below. It's a dramatic plant, and a pretty, if hidden, flower!








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