This Green Slime Like Thing is a 3000 Year Old Plant

By Anupum Pant

It looks like moss, but it isn’t. Nor is it slimy.

This gooey or slimy looking thing is actually a plant which grows in Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Peru, up in the Andes at altitudes between ten to fifteen thousand feet. Believe it or not, some of these plants are more than 3000 years old. Yes, they are one of the oldest living organisms on the planet earth – older than the golden age of Greece.

Even though the plant looks slimy goo-like from a distance, when you go closer, it is actually solid and dry to the touch. The surface of the plant consists of densely packed tens of thousands of tiny buds and flowers which make the surface feel like a pillow. That is the reason it is also  known as the Andes Pillow. In fact the surface is so stiff that a person can lie on it and the plant won’t get crushed.

It is sort of a cousin to parsley and carrots. And it is interesting to note that the plant smells like mint. Locals often boil it in water and use it to cure muscle pain.

Llareta grows extremely slowly. It grows about 1.5 cm every year. The ones which are about 2.5 to 3 meters in size can be said to have grown for hundreds of years to reach that size.

Since Llareta is dense and dry, it burns like wood, and has been known to be used by the climbers/hikers to make fire. Some say that it was also used in steam engines instead of coal. This careless burning of the extremely slow-growing living museum has endangered their long-term survival.

via [RadioLab]

Hallucinogenic Honey From The Himalayan Bees

By Anupum Pant

With over 3.5 Million Gurungs living in Nepal, the Gurung people are found all over the country and beyond. However, near the peaks of Himalayas, beyond which no human settlements are found, lives a secretive Gurung tribe called the honey hunters, in the secret villages that are surrounded by thick forests.

In these high forests live a certain kind of bee, the world’s largest honey bee – The Giant Bee of Himalayas (up to 3 cm length) – are found in huge nests built on the overhanging rocks of cliff faces. These nests can reach up to 5 feet in diameter and each of these nests can contain about 60 kg of honey! But that is not even the most interesting part about them yet…

The honey made by these bees is a product that comes from the nectar of kinds of poisonous flowers. That is probably what makes this honey – Red Honey – medicinal, intoxicating and hallucinogenic. Since it is difficult to harvest and has special properties, this kind of honey is expensive and sells for about 4 times the price of normal honey in the foreign market. So, the honey hunters take absurd risks to get the honey from overhanging nests up in the cliffs.

Also, besides the mad hallucinogenic honey, another awesome thing I did not know was that bees create a Mexican wave to warn the attackers approaching their nest. Seen at 14:40 of the documentary below.

I stumbled upon this amazingly beautiful 25-minute documentary by Raphael Treza which takes you through the ways of this tribe and their mad honey hunting ritual.

Also, you can’t miss this detailed Photo-documentary which beautifully captures, in still images, the Gurung tribe’s ways. [Here]

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Gamburtsev Mountain Range – The Unexplored

By Anupum Pant


First, think of something that is 1,200 km in length, 3000 m in height and yet it is complete buried under the Antarctic ice. A whole mountain range called the Gamburtsev Mountain Range in Antarctica has remained unexplored, buried for centuries under a 2 to 4 kilometer thick sheet of ice. The range is named after Grigoriy A. Gamburtsev – a Russian geophysicist.

It amazes me how something of the size of European Alps, right here on earth, has remained unexplored for decades. Scientists estimate that these mountains are several millions of years old. But, till date they have no concrete idea on how they were actually formed.

In the words of Robin Bell, a geophysicist at Columbia University:

Amazingly, we have samples of the moon but none of the Gamburtsevs’.

Discovery: year 1958

In the year 1958, these mountains were discovered by a Soviet expedition. For exploration, this expedition investigated the surface using seismic sounding at around 10 points. During this time, not much detail was known.

Year 2000: It was only in the year 2000 that a project by British Antarctic Survey was able to produce a fairly detailed 3D map of Antarctica to date. As a result, some more information about these mountains was gathered. Still, it wasn’t enough for finding out their origins.

To solve the mystery of their origins, in the year 2011, aircrafts equipped with radars, lasers and various other meters were sent out by researchers to image the last unexplored mountain range on earth. They flew a distance of around 3 times the earth’s circumference over Antarctica – about 120,000 kilometers.
In the end, this flying around returned good results.

This Image gives you a rough idea about how deep these mountains are buried. [PDF]

I hope that in the coming years, scientists will be able to drill through the ice that has accumulated there for millions of years. And then, probably they’ll be able to retrieve real Gamburtsev rock samples for detailed investigation.

Note: Pardon me if I’ve been writing too much in the “Earth” category for the past few days. Trust me it is just a coincidence. In my defense, It is completely possible that a truly random die roll can land 6 consecutive 6s.

The Feynman point is one such example. It is a sequence of 6 nines somewhere in the decimal digits of pi. In short, you cursing me for writing under the same category for the past few days is not justified, logically.

Feynman point