Hello there. Ian Wilson here. Sometime ago, I was surfing the internet, when I came across a strange creature which I had never heard tell of before. They call it a cama; it is a cross between a camel and a llama. I was instantly intrigued.
First, a bit of background. Most people associate camels with the Mid-East and North Africa, but the oldest camel fossils can be found on the American Continent. That is where we get llamas and alpacas. So camels and llamas have been separated for the past ten thousand years or so. When I heard they could be cross bred, I was shocked.
Llamas, alpacas and camels are all farmed for their high quality hair, which can then be made into yarn. Llama hair is world renowned for its softness, durability and warmth, but unfortunately, llamas have some pretty serious attitude issues. Camels are known to have a much more even temperament, so the Crowned Prince of Dubai decided to have them crossbred, hoping to produce an animal with the temperament of a camel with the hair of a llama. They named him Rama. To his Majesty’s disappointment, however, Rama has proven to be a bit temperamental. Well, wouldn’t you be, coming from a family like that?
Looking further, I found out that such hybrid beasts dot pastures all over the world. Animals such as the geep, half goat half sheep. Such an animal could be worth millions to the fiber arts industry; that is, if it could reproduce. Geeps are a genetic royal flush. I won’t go into unnecessary detail here, but it’s almost impossible to produce a successful sheep/goat hybrid. In all the world, there’s only one known. So that’s a real bummer.
Much more common are various cattle hybrids. Beefalo, dzo, zubron, and yakalo are various combinations of yak, cattle and buffalo. Yak and buffalo are often farmed for their durable, weatherproof, high quality hair. Most American buffalo, however, are not actually buffalo at all, but beefalo. Beefalo are cow/buffalo hybrids. They’re so ubiquitous that purebred buffalo are becoming a rarity. To my knowledge, the only herd of pure buffalo on the American continent live in Yellowstone National Park, and they are protected religiously. Zubron are basically the European equivalent. They are a cross between domesticated cattle and European bison, but they didn’t catch on over there, and now there aren’t many of them left.
Lastly, there are dzo and yakalo. Yakalo, as the name implies, were a cross of American buffalo and Asian yaks. The Canadians experimented with them back in the 1920’s, but the Males were infertile and they never really caught on. They would’ve made some awesome socks. Dzo, on the other hand, are a yakow hybrid, and they continue to be very popular in Asia, despite the fact that they, like the yakalo, are mostly infertile. They mostly use them as work animals, but their hair is also spun into yarn.
The world of fiber arts is a varied and fascinating place that a lot of people simply ignore. But really, it’s a fascinating tapestry of art, biology, and history. I’m just disappointed they couldn’t make a yakalo work out.
Let’s talk about gourds.
It’s getting on that time of year when there’s a slight chill in the air, folks are going apple picking and the pumpkins are ripening. In the supermarkets, you’re going to see various shapes, colors, and sizes of gourds. The term “gourd” is usually used to refer to pumpkins, squash, and decorative gourds. These as well as melons, and cucumbers are all members of the cucurbit family of plants. Gourds have been domesticated for thousands of years, and have been used for everything from food to musical instruments. Today, many gourds are grown purely for decoration.
Decorative gourds, of course, are grown to be decorative. Now, most cucurbits contain a chemical called cucurbitacin, which can give them a bitter taste. In high enough concentrations it can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Most cultivated squashes can’t produce enough cucurbitacin to hurt anyone; the ability has been bred out. However, if they happen to cross-breed with a wild gourd, those genes can resurface. So, if you grow squashes to eat, do not save the seeds. Leave it to the professionals.
Now, when preparing any kind of gourd, whether it’s a pumpkin, squash, or decorative gourd, it’s usually best to wear gloves. This is because the juices of most gourds contain a different chemical which in some people (such as myself) can cause contact dermatitis. It’s temporary, but it’s uncomfortable. And don’t worry; once the squash is cooked, it’s perfectly safe to handle and eat. The irritant is burned off in the cooking process. This is not true of cucurbitacin, unfortunately. Happy gourd-ing!
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**Opinions expressed on blogs about which I write are the opinion of the blog authors and DO NOT necessarily reflect my own opinion.