Increase your general knowledge and impress your friends by sharing these amazing facts they’ll remember forever, and maybe even thank you for.
Older than time itself
If you’re feeling anxious about getting old, spare a thought for Jonathan. At around 188 years and counting, he’s lived through two world wars, the Russian Revolution, the coronation of Queen Victoria, and the invention of the light bulb. On his birthday, motor cars were still half a century away, and he’s witnessed the inauguration of 39 American presidents, the completion of the Eiffel Tower and Eugene Terre’Blanche’s equestrian mishap.
Born in the Seychelles, Jonathan lives these days on St. Helena Island, somewhere off Melkbosstrand. He is a giant tortoise – and the oldest known animal alive today. According to his personal vet, Jonathan’s “libido remains unflagging”, and he often mates with Emma, his equally high-spirited 80-year-old companion, and Fred. Don’t ask. Apparently tortoises swing both ways, which doubles their chances of getting a leg over – or under, depending on the chat-up line. Emma, though, never has a headache.
But enough of this smut, and on to the oldest living thing in the world. Methuselah is over 4 600 years old and lives on the slopes of the White Mountains in California. She is a Bristlecone Pine, seeded before the foundation of Rome, and around the time the Pyramids were built.
Scientists, through carbon dating, have analysed the rings of similarly aged, recently-dead trees, and by examining damaged or healthy cells and pollen trapped in the rings, they are able to pinpoint climatic conditions going back to around 6 500 BCE. These pines are in effect organic computers which record the changing conditions of life on this planet, and embedded COVID-19 spores of 2020 will be traceable for thousands of years. Charming thought.
Nickname: The early English word eke meant ‘also’ or ‘added’, so an extra name was known as an eke name, which over time became slurred into ‘a nickname’.
Silhouette: Etienne de Silhouette was France’s finance minister in the mid-18th century. His tight-fisted, penny-pinching attitude over court salaries proved so unpopular that he was soon given the boot. He continued with his miserly streak at home by using cheap black paper to make cut-out replicas of conventional decorations. This graduated into creating portraits of people using the same technique. In 1759 black ‘profile portraits’ and images became the rage at a Paris exhibition, and soon spread to England, dragging his name with it.
Robot: Czech playwright Karel Capec invented the word in his dramatic work called R.U.R (Rossum’s Universal Robots). It was all about mechanical men being created, then exploited by the authorities to perform menial duties. The Czech term for a slave was robotnic, and the English translation was shortened to ‘robot’.
Spekboom is a remarkable plant (Latin: Baconius Shrubulata). It is being cultivated mainly in the Eastern Cape and will hopefully spread throughout the country.
It has the ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and hectare for hectare, a Spekboom thicket is ten times more effective than the Amazon rain forest. One hectare of Mother Nature’s Spekboom lungs converts between 5 and 10 tonnes of carbon per year.
The plant thrives in poor soil and tolerates both drought and frost. It proliferates effortlessly. Snap off a branch, plant it, and soon it’ll take root and flourish, creating more snap-offs to plant.
Spekboom leaves are thick, juicy and vaguely citrus flavoured – a favourite among elephants, black rhinos and kudus, apparently. Fortunately, humans can eat it too, and for centuries it has been a traditional treatment for exhaustion and lethargy – like an ancient forerunner to Red Bull, or cocaine.
Anyway, the roots help consolidate and compact the earth, which prevents soil erosion after heavy downpours. This encourages healthier ground conditions, ideal for other shrubs and grasses, creating yum-yums for the local wildlife.
But most importantly, Spekboom acts as a sponge, converting CO² back into the soil as plant food, so plough up your lawn and start planting.