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How Plants Helped Solve Crimes and Mysteries

I am a huge fan of the “Forensic Files.” It’s a TV show from the 90s. It reveals how forensic science is used to solve various crimes, accidents and disease outbreaks. The show is in a whodunit format. It is famous for popularising forensic science and inspiring the show “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” which was a massive hit. Early in the life of the show it was called “Medical Detectives.” If you haven’t seen it I recommend you watch it. It’s fascinating to learn about how criminals almost committed the perfect crime but somehow still got caught because of something seemingly insignificant as leaves, twigs and seeds.

Forensic Files is one of my favourite TV shows. I clearly remember the first ever episode I saw back when I was in 7th or 8th grade. I usually turn on the TV during lunch time at home. Forensic Files was shown at noon because cable programming repeats their prime time line up from the previous night (7PM-12MN) the following morning (7AM-12NN). I got instantly hooked from the first episode I saw. The episode was about how diatoms was used to tie the suspect to a crime scene. The foreboding tone of the narrator, Peter Thomas, gives me a slight chill every time I watch the show and makes the show even more suspenseful and engaging.

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My own copy of The Official Forensic Files Casebook

Every aspect of the forensics are explained clearly for the audience to understand. And every technique is explained. How the chemicals used take action and do what they do. There are also a myriad of different databases introduced through out the series the names of which can sometimes be amusing. The database for the soles of shoes which comes in very handy when identifying shoe impressions in crime scenes is called “Sole Mate.”

I’ve just gotten back to watching the series again and I remembered how many times plants has been the hero of the show. For example, in an episode called “Seedy Intentions”, the crime seen is a grassy area. Various plant materials clung on to the perpetrator’s clothes and vehicle. These plant materials was sent to expert for testing and they where able to tie the perpetrator to the crime scene because the plants are of the same species and of the same stage of development as the plants around the crime scene.

scientist bagging plant samples
Holcus lanatus on the suspect’s clothes is in the same stage of development as those found on the crime scene.

In another case a suspect tried to stage an accident to cover up the murder of his own wife. In the suspects recollection of events, he said they got into an accident with their truck driving into a river. He was unable to rescue his wife from drowning. Burdock seed pods where found in the hair and clothes of both the victim and suspect but there are no such plants close to the accident scene. When investigated further they found out that there are plenty of burdock plants in the couple’s property. It was then concluded that the suspect murdered his wife at home then drove all the way to the river to stage the accident. The burdock seed pods is what tied him to the crime scene.

burdock seed pods in the recreation of the murder scene
Burdock plants were present at the crime scene. Their seed pods clung the victims clothes and hair.

There are a couple of ways to watch the show online. If you have Netflix, the show is in nine collections of around forty episodes each. You can also watch the show for free on YouTube. The official “Medical Detectives Youtube channel” have the episodes collected by season via playlists. The channel has stopped uploading videos but there are plenty episodes uploaded in the channel for you to enjoy.

As always feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions. Good luck and happy growing!

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I Need This Off My Chest

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Irrational Fear of Rain

Living home alone for the past few days made me think a lot on where I’ve been, where I am and where I want to be. The past few months, a rough rainy season, made me realise that no matter how easy life is, it doesn’t take that much for you to find yourself at rock bottom or be so close to losing those you hold dear the most. If you are getting tired of reading my babble please do me a favour: remember to tell your loved ones what you truly feel about them no matter how cheesy it would turn out to be.

I’ve developed an irrational fear of rain and bad weather. It was triggered by the disaster that is typhoon Maring on the 12th of September 2017. Our area is prone to regular minor flooding during the rainy season. On the evening of the 11th of September my wife and I prepared. I took our car outside of the subdivision where it will be safe and we took all important belongings upstairs just in case. Disaster management people are already laying down ropes preparing for the worse. For most people it was just rain. Everybody is still waiting for any class suspension related news. In only a couple of hours the storm has generated a raging flash flood.

Our stuff are already upstairs and we are taking a break when get got a call from one of our in-laws. Water is starting to rise where I took my car to be safe. I immediately took off with my car keys. When I left the house the flood water is just below my waist. The flood water level falls as I go further down the street towards an intersection where I need to make a turn. As a I reach the intersection The flood water is over my ankles but it is moving so fast that I cannot take a step without loosing my footing. I took off my slippers and the fast moving water took it in an instant. My car is just a few meters away. I can hear the faint noise of people shouting in panic. I can see faint light (flash lights) cutting through the darkness but it is a total blur because of the very low visibility because of the rain.

I tried crawling but that failed spectacularly. When I got up I realised I must have broken my electronic dongle so I won’t be able to start the car anyway. After spacing out for a bit because I’m now in total darkness, I only just realised the power is gone, I realised that I am not waist deep in flood waters that moments earlier are knee high. On my way back a neighbour ask me if my car is out there and I told him yes. He asked me if I think it is lost and I told him yes. His car is out there too.

As I work my way back to our house only a few meters away, I’m struggling to find my way back to my home, to my family. The water is rushing opposite the direction in need to go. The ropes laid out earlier doesn’t help. It doesn’t help when you are struggling against raging waters. It’s very easy to tire, lose your grip and be swept away. I managed to get by using the walls in front of the houses along the way. The situation is getting worse really fast. A couple of houses away and I’m already screaming manically for my wife and in my kids. If I don’t make it back home and I don’t ever get to see them again I want to let them know that I tried my best and they are the that they are the most precious things to me.

I ran out of walls on the right side of the road. Another set off walls are on the left side. I need to swim across the speeding water to get to the other side. Good thing I know how to swim. I swam across and got swept away by the water. It took me back a couple of houses but I made it and started my way back using the 5 foot walls. The walls have pointy ends. Good thing I was wearing denim shorts. Neighbours are kind enough to light my way.

I eventually made my way back home. My wife is already in tears and so was I. I’m drenched and miserable I don’t even know if I was crying back then. I lost my car, almost lost my life and more importantly my family. However, mother nature is just getting started. I only had a few minutes to catch my breath when my neighbors started calling for help. I assessed the situation and decided I’m not going to risk it. Not while I can still call for help.

We frantically tried to look up contact numbers for Gumaca Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (MDRRMO). We only know them from Facebook and pictured below is how far it took us in the Facebook app.


The power is down and the internet is out, we can’t get the full picture for us to read the contact numbers. We tried of find a number from all the cached content on the phone. We found one and frantically called. They understood our concern and quickly dispatched people. We waited for what seems is an eternity. At the same time we tried to reach my brother-in-law who is with Gumaca MDRRMO. He is unreachable as well. It’s been taking too long and we called the MDRRMO number again. To our horror we were actually talking to Atimonan MDRRMO. They dispatched people to the place they thought we are in and didn’t find anything. After spending a few minutes telling them to stay put and calm down because we are calling for help and help is coming, now I have tell them help isn’t coming. My next door neighbours are three seniors, a person with disability and father and a child. They are my wife’s close relatives. I had my work cut out for me.

I just tell them that I will get the child first. The first floor is now well and truly under that I need to get people through the second floor door. I needed to get them across a wall, across the flooded side of our house (1.8m deep) and up and over to the terrace and through the second floor door. The child (let’s call her G), is calm in collected to my surprise. I asked her to wear the floaty my kids use when they swim. I asked her to grab on and we swam across. G is a very brave little girl. I ferried the rest of the family across as well. I don’t know how I managed but I’m glad I did.

a candle lit picture with a man with arms around him.
Picture of a man who just got his ass handed to him by mother nature.

It took a few days for everything to sink in. However, 2017 is not done with me. There was rain and constant flooding in closing months of 2017. Three strong typhoons moved across our part of the country? in the last quarter of the year alone. As the weeks pass by I grow more and more concerned about the weather and the rain. I get so anxious and jumpy when there is bad weather. I developed a phobia. My heart races when I hear the rain beating down upon us. I sometimes cry myself at night when it is raining hard because it brings so much bad memories. I can’t focus on anything because I’m always distracted by the possibility of a rain.

So what does this have to with SNAP and gardening?

Gardening played a big part in the success of my rescue effort. My SNAP setup happens to be on the right side of the house. I used the bench where my growing boxes previously were, flood took them away, as boosters so I can get my neighbours across the terrace.

I’ve grown so passionate about gardening through the years. And even more so this past few months. I used gardening to take my mind of things. Seeing my plants grow make me so hopeful for the future that everything is going to be OK.

I’ve also been very active in online communities specially SHG since the flood and I managed to grow it even bigger. Somehow that helped me in getting my confidence and fighting spirit back.

About My Misfortunes

I don’t blame it on anyone. I blame it on climate change. It is real. It is happening. And the Philippines has front row seats. I remember my grandmother always telling me that disasters only come to our town every decade or so. But recently the weather has gotten more and more extreme. The summers are hotter and the rainy season is wetter. In the the last few years we had Ondoy, Glenda, Maring not to mention Yolanda, one of the strongest landfalling typhoon on record. PAGASA said on their website that the weather have really gotten extreme in the past few years but commented that it is “too early to call it a trend.”

So what can we do about climate change? We can stop ourselves from contributing to it. Learn about it. Talk about it. More importantly do something about it. We are doing this not only for ourselves but for future generations. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Do some gardening. Learn about nature and how we fit in the puzzle and you’ll have a greater understanding that our actions can profoundly affect the world we all live in.

God Entrusted the Earth to Our Stewardship

Let me leave you with a quote from Pope John Paul II’s sermon delivered on the 13th of December 2000:

The Apostle Paul states that “our homeland is in heaven” (Phil 3: 20), but he does not conclude that we can passively wait for our entry into this homeland; rather he urges us to be actively involved. “Let us not grow weary in well-doing”, he writes, “for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6: 9-10).

Biblical revelation and the best philosophical wisdom agree in stressing that, on the one hand, humanity strives for the infinite and eternity but, on the other, it is firmly planted on earth, within the coordinates of time and space. There is a transcendent goal to be reached, but along a path that unfolds on earth and in history. The words of Genesis are illuminating: the human creature is tied to the dust of the earth, but at the same time he has a “breath” that unites him directly to God (cf. Gn 2: 7).

The message is clear: it is our God given duty to take care of the Earth.