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Baneberry Garden Blog

Actea rubra

A garden of mostly native plants created by a plant addict

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Arisaema ID?

I was given this Arisaema by a friend but have no clue which species it is.  I'm fairly certain it is an Asiatic species.  The spathes as you can see are green and not mottled or striped.  The stems however do have mottling. The flowers really came on after heavy rains last night. It is a really beautiful plant and I plan on overwintering it in the basement.  If anyone can ID this for me I'd be grateful.



5:41 pm est

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Lepidoptera Update
Thanks to Randy from Randy and Megs Garden paradise Blog(  ) for pointing out that my Swallowtail photos from yesterday are actually of a Spicebush , rather than a black Swallowtail.  I tried keying it out but they look remarkably similar.  It makes sense as I also have the larval host plants for the Spicebush swallowtail in the garden; spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and American Toothache tree or Prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum)
11:43 am est

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More Lepidoptera pics


A black swallowtail also loves the Wild Bergamot, but is less easily spooked by me than were the Hummingbird moths


The Larval host plants for the black swallowtail are members of the (Apiaceae) carrot family  such as Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota), carrots (D. carota var. sativa) ,dill (Anethum graveolens) fennel (Foeniculum vulgare),  and parsley (Petroselenium crispum).  I have fennel and Queen Anne's lace in the garden and nearby,


Adults typically feed on the nectar of  purple coneflowers (Echinacea spp.), Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.),  phlox (Phlox paniculata), thistles (Cirsium spp.), and of course Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) .  All of these Genus' are present in the garden except for the thistle. Seeing incredible creatures like these in my garden is one of the the things that makes gardening so enjoyable.

4:27 pm est

Monday, July 27, 2009

They're Back-Hummingbird moths that is


The hummingbird moths (Hemaris thysbe) are back (they have been for a week or so) and I finally found some time to go out and photograph them. As I mentioned in an earlier post, they love the Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) that grows in several parts of the garden and choose it over all else when it is in bloom.  The new camera does in great job in burst mode capturing them, but even so they are fast and do not stay at one bloom for long. Enjoy the pics I had fun taking them.






6:19 pm est

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A few plants to add interest

This is a small grassy area surrounded by garden beds and a (small and somewhat weedy) gravel walk to the front door that is scheduled to be replaced with a nice bluestone walk next spring. I planted Musa zebrina, the Blood banana right in the lawn.  This was a small plant in a pot last year that overwintered in my sunny office. I divided the original plant (the one in the ground) from the offshoots.  The offshoots will overwinter indoors again and I will give the parent to a friend for their winter garden. 


 The plant in the foreground is "Tiger cub" ornamental corn.  It grows to about 3'-4' tall is has really nice variegation.  I simply spray painted a cheap plastic planter a purple color, planted the corn and placed it near the banana as an accent. Little vignettes in the garden really add interest to an otherwise boring grassy area.




10:43 am est

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Photos, Cameras and Garden Blogs

For the past 3 years or so I have been using this camera for my general photography needs.


It has been a very reliable camera and I've taken great pics with it both in the states and abroad.  I will still be using it , but made the decision a few days ago to purchase a new camera with both higher resolution and more features such as wide angle exposures. The new camera is a Pansonic Lumix DMC-LZ8.  It can be used in complete auto mode or partial manual or full manual exposures.  The following auto mode features are what sold me on it (along with the price, $99.00 including shipping) :

Mega O.I.S. Gyrosensors detect hand-shake and the lens system shifts to compensate, helping to prevent hand-shake from creating a blurry image.

Intelligent ISO Can determine if the photo subject is moving and change the ISO setting and shutter speed accordingly, thus giving a blur-free photo.

Intelligent Scene Selector Senses the ambient conditions, recognizes the shooting environment and will automatically select the appropriate scene mode from: Scenery, Portrait, Macro, Night Portrait or Night Scenery mode.

Face Detection Panasonic’s Face Detection detects up to 15 faces anywhere in the frame, even if they are moving, and automatically chooses the optimal focus and exposure settings so portraits come out clear and crisp.

Quick AF The Quick AF (auto focus) system starts focus on the subject by just pointing the camera to the subject, thus minimizing the AF time.


 The above picture of the new camera is taken with the old and you can see the quality difference between the two photos.  I have been out all afternoon taking photos and am so far very impressed.  The Auto features allow me to take pictures of plants moving in the wind or insects flying without the blurriness associated with digital cameras. I took the following pictures of the Echinacea this afternoon and the wind was blowing the stems back and forth. 

P1000021copy.JPG Now that I seem to be garden blogging on a fairly regular basis, I felt it was important to take better quality photos.

5:26 pm est

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What's Blooming today?

Nodding wild onion (Allium cernuum).  It is believed that the City of Chicago gets it name from this plant: Chicagou which in French means funny or bad smell.


Monarda "Raspberry Wine"  a fantastic plant and color! makes my day


8:41 am est

Monday, July 20, 2009

Insects in the garden
Lots of stuff blooming now that midsummer is here. The black cohosh or American bugbane (Cimicifuga racemosa) is blooming and has a really nice citrus fragrance. Cohosh was used to treat a variety of problems by the native peoples including rheumatism and women's issues. It is still used today by modern herbalists. It also attracts bees, butterflies,moths, hoverflies, etc.

Hairy Wood Mint
A native plant that I added to the garden last year was Hairy Wood Mint (Blephilia hirsuta). It is a clumping mint and not a runner like European mints.  It also has a great fragrance, again not overpowering in fragrance or taste like European mints. you can smell the mint fragrance emanating from the blooms. Ethnobotany side note: Cherokee peoples used the leaves as a poultice for headaches, but I like to use it to flavor drinks. The plants are easily approaching 4' in height.
I planted it because in addition to attracting pollinating insects, it attracts other insects that feed on the leaves. If this sounds crazy remember that a songbird's diet in the spring and summer is 70%-90% insects, so I planted it to be eaten.  The only damage are a few small holes in the leaves.  If you want to understand more about interactions of insects in the garden I suggest Douglas Tallamy's book Bringing Nature Home.  Tallamy explains that without native plants to eat, insects starve and in turn this affects bird populations. All to often we are conditioned to think everything should look perfect all of the time and this plays right into the marketing of companies like ortho that advertise that their products "Kills bugs dead".  Aside from the obvious redundancy that something killed is dead, what they don't tell you is that these products kill ALL bugs dead: earthworms, butterflies, etc.  So next time you see a chewed leaf remember that insects need to eat too (so that birds can eat) and also that most plants have potent chemistry and can often repel a repeat attack by making new leaves filled with bitter tannins and toxic substances.  Often if you let bugs eat, they will not eat for long as they will either be eaten themselves or cause the plant to raise it's level of defenses.
4:40 pm est

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Common Milkweed

The common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is extraordinary this year.  The above average rainfall has made for lush growth and gorgeous flowers.  I think of this milkweed species as my personal substitute for jasmine which can only be grown as a houseplant here.  In the daytime you can smell it mildly in the garden, but at night it perfumes the whole garden.  I'm sure many moths visit it by night.  During the day it is visited by butterflies and a multitude of pollinators such as honeybees. I was in the central Adirondacks yesterday and saw amazing fields full of milkweed!


Several of the neighborhood ladies ,who walk by daily ,stopped to see the garden the other day and commented on how incredible the milkweed is everywhere this year.  They told me that another  neighbor had a large patch of it and they had seen her pulling the milkweed out.  They stopped and explained to her that it was the larval host plant for the Monarchs.  The other neighbor simply didn't know this and having been given the information was appalled at what she had been doing and left the rest of the milkweed for the butterflies-knowledge is indeed power and education can make a world of difference. Hat tip to the the ladies in the neighborhood walking group!


3:07 pm est

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ruminations on Sumac

I have always liked Sumacs, although many regard them as a "weed trees". Rhus typhina and Rhus glabra are two of the few northern temperate zone plants that have a "tropical" look to them. They are also fairly salt tolerant, a useful attribute near heavily salted Upstate NY roads in winter. Both of these species can be kept in check by mowing around them or simply pulling up suckers from the roots. Most of the North American Sumac species are found from New England west to the Great Lakes  and South to the Gulf Coast. As I walked my garden this morning I realized that I had quite a few Sumacs there.  Aside from the Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) growing wild on the edges of our property

I have Rhus typhina "Tiger Eyes" A golden form that only reaches a height of about 6' at maturity. The beautiful golden foliage turns bright red in the fall just like the species.


Also in the garden is cutleaf sumac Rhus typhina "Laciniata" , a wonderful variation of the wild form. The deeply incised leaves look like some exotic tropical.  It too is magnificent in its red fall color.


Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica) is a shrubby sumac with fragrant foliage and twigs when bruised.  This makes it fairly deer resistant and the plants in my garden have never been browsed. It reaches a height of 6'-8' at maturity and the flowers are small yellow catkins. I have this right next to the road and it seems fairly indestructible.  Plants are dioecious and both sexes are needed for production of the small furry red fruits that appear in late summer.


A dwarf from of Fragrant Sumac is Gro lo (Rhus aromatica "Gro Lo") It has all of the same attributes of the parent species except that it only grows to about 2' in height. Both forms are great for erosion control and are quite attractive with their foliage, which resembles their cousin poison ivy and turns shades of yellow and orange in the fall.  Unlike poison ivy, they DO NOT cause skin irritation and can be handled safely.


Also related to Fragrant sumac  is its western cousin: Skunkbush sumac (Rhus trilobata). Skunkbush sumac is perfectly hardy here and in height is a happy medium between Gro lo and regular fragrant sumac: about 4'-5' at maturity.  It too has wonderful fall color of reds and oranges. It is probably my favorite sumac for reasons I have not yet ascertained.  I just know that I love growing it.


Finally is a another native Sumac: The Flameleaf or Shining sumac (Rhus copallina) is fairly small here topping out at 5'-6' in my garden.  About a half an hour south of here I have seen it attain at height of 15'-20' and in the southern part of its range (Texas, Gulf coast) it has been known to reach almost 50' high.  No worry of that ever happening in my Zone 4 garden.  The foliage is very glossy and shines intensely, hence its one common name.  Flameleaf refers to its incredible fall foliage, which just glows in the garden. 


I love having these plants in my garden for many reasons: 

  • The fruit attracts birds and other wildlife
  • The foliage is wonderful in both the growing season and the fall
  • It looks exotic here where most people plant non native yews and spireas in their yards 
  • It's salt tolerant and seems to be deer resistant.  It's also very drought and cold tolerant.
A great group of native plants for the garden!
12:57 pm est

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Weather A+

What a great day to be outside!  I worked at the public garden (at Hovey Pond) today renovating the "white" garden -more on this name in a later post. The weather is gorgeous today about 80F after yesterday which was about 65F and kind of chilly. The Hovey Pond gardens are on a pocket of heavy clay , much different from the surrounding area which is all sand like my garden. When the soil is wet you weed with ether a shovel or with one of these: A


The one on the top of the picture with the tines. They come from Lee Valley tools about $26.00 and well worth  it.  In sand it uproots weeds with almost no effort and in clay gets under the roots so that you can pull the plants right up. Besides weeding and transplanting there was time to walk through the garden and take pictures and watch the birds: Grey catbirds and Robins today hunting in the garden.

A portion of the garden in bloom:



The garden was so beautiful today, despite the lack of seasonal temperatures and overabundance of rainfall.  After working all morning in the garden there I am working (on the computer) all afternoon in my own garden knowing that another batch of thunderstorms will arrive tomorrow. I will be out on the patio until hunger or biting insects arrive with sunset.  It is a great day to be alive!

2:50 pm est

Monday, July 13, 2009

Planting for Butterflies
Many of us who garden plant things intentionally to attract butterflies to the garden.  I often plant Lantana in containers and leave common milkweed (Asclepias syriacus) growing in patches throughout the garden. For late summer plants such as Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) and Asters provide important late season nectar. We seldom however think of food for the caterpillars, without which there would be no butterflies later in the season for the cycle to continue. Because much of the general public has become educated about Monarch butterflies, more and more gardeners are leaving or intentionally planting milkweed species.  There are many other species whose larval host plants are simply eradicated by homeowners and gardeners alike beacuse they are "weedy".  Violets (Viola spp.)are one of these species.  I have heard well intentioned gardeners regard violets with contempt because they spread in garden beds and lawn junkies rail against violets in their grass.  Fritillary caterpillars eat ONLY violets of various species.  No Violets=No Fritillaries.  Each spring I mow around the patches of violets in the lawn and leave those growing in the margins of cultivated areas. They are beautiful when they bloom and by midsummer they go dormant. I never see the Fritillary caterpillars, but in summer I see the adults

A fritillary in the garden yesterday feeding on Monarda "Marshall's Delight"
To see this is definitely worth tolerating a few violets which I happen to like anyway
5:54 pm est

Sunday, July 12, 2009

More of the Pileated Woodpeckers

After torrential rains last night, the sun is shining today and it feels like summer. I was out taking pictures in the garden and noticed one of the Pileated woodpeckers was at the suet feeder.  I came over to the patio and sat on the steps to take a picture.  A young pileated showed up and came to beg its parent for food, then another.


A squirrel showed up and wanted to gather some immature walnuts from the tree which upset the parent


Then things calmed down and all three birds continued feeding.  This is one of the reasons I garden to create habitat.


2:51 pm est

More of the Pileated Woodpeckers

After torrential rains last night, the sun is shining today and it feels like summer. I was out taking pictures in the garden and noticed one of the Pileated woodpeckers was at the suet feeder.  I came over to the patio and sat on the steps to take a picture.  A young pileated showed up and came to beg its parent for food, then another.


A squirrel showed up and wanted to gather some immature walnuts from the tree which upset the parent


Then things calmed down and all three birds continued feeding.  This is one of the reasons I garden to create habitat.


2:43 pm est

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bee Balm


This is one of the best times of the garden season for me because the bee balm (Monarda didyma) is in bloom.  This is one of my all time favorite perennials! The Genus is named after Nicolas Monardes (1493-1588).  Monarda was "discovered" by European plant hunter John Tradescant in the 1600s and samples were shipped back to England. It is also called Oswego tea in homage to the region where it was first noticed by American botanist John Bartram. Wild bergamot is Bee balm's close relative and is about a week behind its cousin in blooming this year (more pics when that happens) Wild begamot gets its name from the scent of its foliage which does resemble the smell of Bergamot oranges which come from the Bergamo region of Italy. 


Didyma the species name of Bee balm is descriptive of the leaf arrangement with opposite leaves in pairs. Both species have long been used as a teas for colds, fevers, and stomach upsets. It is a mint and can spread like one , particularly in rich soil (not a problem in my garden). Bee balms area of distribution in the U.S. is from the Great lakes south to the gulf coast and eastward to the Atlantic coast. It seems pretty resistant to deer , but once at a Historic house museum where I worked on the gardens, a woodchuck ate all of it to the ground. Tea made from the leaves is actually pretty tasty, but the best reason to grow it is to see the Ruby throated hummingbirds that visit the plant constantly while it is in bloom

11:33 am est

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Butterfly Weed

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is one of those rare temperate plants with orange flowers-one of the reasons I love it. It is the only temperate milkweed species with orange flowers and unlike other milkweeds, clear sap.  I have grown tropical milkweed (Asclepias curvassica) which is similar in color , but is alas not winter hardy here. This past weekend the butterfly weed blossoms began to open in one garden bed. Vivid colors are nature's way of saying look at me for several reasons: either to attract attention for pollination or to say I'm dangerous.  In the case of milkweeds its both.  The bright color attracts pollinators and the chemicals ingested by Monarch caterpillars ,who use the milkweed species as their larval host plant,contain toxic steroids, known as cardenolides. The caterpillars store these toxins which make them taste awful to predators and probably make predators sick. The striping on the Monarch caterpillar are themselves a warning sign.


Butterfly weed has a very deep taproot ranging anywhere from 4'-6' deep and is incredibly difficult to transplant.  In New York State it is a protected plant because picking and attempted transplanting at one time made it rare.  When someone attempts to transplant it they usually only get a small portion of the root system: The result is the plant dies  and the piece of root left in the ground dies because it is unable to photosynthesize. This is a shame as the seeds are easy to collect and germinate. Most butterfly genotypes prefer sharply drained soil such as sand.  There are however some cultivars that will reputedly grow in heavy clay. If it is possible for you to grow it, I highly recommend it.


6:30 pm est

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Value of Gardens and Beauty

Somewhere deep inside our genetic makeup we have a need for beauty in our lives.  Think of the world our ancestors lived in filled with natural beauty and a lot less human influence.  I think the need for beauty is hardwired into our psyches. Yet much of our world is the antithesis of beauty. Almost everything built in the last 60 years or so was built not for beauty (or even humans), but only for profit. Developers don't care about the character of a building site or the natural beauty that may surround it-only how much cash they will walk away with.  Much of this architecture is known as throw away buildings-designed for obsolescence. Worse still is that they are surrounded by pavement or poor facsimiles of plantings that remind us more of a gas station than a garden. Compare this to buildings from the 19th century. Those still standing have a beauty that makes those of us that appreciate them want to preserve them.  They are built well, built to last and show the pride and artistry of those who designed and built them.Often they are surrounded by the mature plantings installed by those who would never see them at maturity.

 Typical commercial building in the U.S.-a very fugly scene:


Gardens also represent our need to experience beauty.  They have an intrinsic value not linked to profit.  Visitors to gardens are there to experience something that is lacking in the world surrounding them. One of my neighbors tells me she feels like she is at a spa or exotic getaway when she visits my garden-something I take as a great complement.  There is a public garden here in town that myself and several friends volunteer at.  It is in fact completely volunteer based.  We meet each Wednesday and work on the gardens.  The greatest satisfaction comes from the visitors to the park in which the garden is located.  Almost invariably they stop to thank us for our work there and to tell us how much they enjoy visiting the gardens, may of them on a daily basis.  As gardeners, we are all artists.  I recently was introduced to an artist at an exhibit opening who told me what medium he worked with (paint) and asked me what I did for a living.  I told him I was an artist as well but that I worked with a living medium: Plants. Gardening is an artistry that requires not only a good eye, but knowledge of living things and how they interact with each other and the gardener.The payoff is that the beauty of gardens changes constantly with seasons, weather, time, growth and death. Unlike the canvas, a garden is never finished, but always a work in progress and one of the oldest and greatest forms of art. Look at the 2 pictures in this post and think about what feelings each evokes.

A view of part of the public garden where I volunteer

9:55 am est

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sandy as the Beach

In earlier posts I mentioned that my garden is on sand-lots of it, formerly a lakebed in ancient times.  The soil in this area tends to be predominately sandy, although some areas are glacial till: sand and gravel, while others have sand and cobbles.  I am fortunate that I have not encountered rock on this site.  As deeply as I have dug about 4' or so, I find nothing but sand.  Things tend to take longer to get established in sand due to its low moisture and very low level of mycorrhizal activity. This also means that turfgrasses (which are native to Europe)  are not suited for hot dry summers being cool season grasses that look their best when soil moisture is high and temperature ranges are in the 40-60F range.  Grass does poorly here and I am not a fan of lawns anyway.  Rather than waste my time and water I have opted to replace as much of the lawn as possible with gardens that attract wildlife and give me personal enjoyment. It also means that I am not poisoning my water supply (a well) with fertilizers and pesticides to make something grow here that isn't native and is not suited to the site.

a section of "lawn" in one of the driest parts of the garden


The lawn has become the pathways through my garden and I am content if it is green ,albeit filled with plantains and dandelions as the turfgrass no more belongs here in North America than the plantains and dandelions do.  As difficult as the sand can be, I would not trade my garden soil ( if you can call it that) for clay, which I have worked in before.  It is after all much easier to dig compost into sand than into clay and sand is always workable wet or dry. The key to gardening in sand or anywhere is to select plants that suit your site rather than trying to modify your site for species that will have a struggle. I use native and drought tolerant plants here.  Even so the first year requires regular watering and copious doses of compost in the planting holes. This year particularly the last 3 weeks has been wet with rain almost every day. Even after all of this precipitation, one sunny day such as today means that I will be watering containers tonight and anything I planted this year tomorrow-things are already dry again.

"Grass" in the shade




3:21 pm est

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Having Fun with Containers

When I was younger I grew many different types of tropical plants as houseplants because Zone 4 winters are not kind to tender plants.  I also gardened outdoors as well with woody plants and hardy perennials, but never the twain had met in my gardens over the years other than a few well placed annuals in a few beds. When I began gardening here at this site the addition of the small gravel terrace gave me a spot to group pots of plants in close proximity to the house. The addition of the front patio this year has expanded the area for containers. I view these areas as outdoor living rooms thus they need plants to complete them.  I credit my friend Greg, who has a passion for tropicals and tender perennials in outdoor spaces. In the winter his small greenhouse and basement overflow with plants he saves to use again the next season.In the growing season he has containers all through his garden.  I am having great fun with containers this year and counted almost 40 plants I have in pots throughout the garden.  A trip to Logees in the dark winter months provided me with some of these, while others I picked up at local garden centers, still others are ones I have kept as houseplants.

A grouping on the front steps includes Hebe "Amy", Bulbine frutescens, Geranium"purple Mystery , Plectranthus "Hilliard's red" and Jewels of Opar (Talinum)


I love the splashes of color these plants provide in between the blooms of perennials in the garden.  Many of my close friends are gardeners.  One of these friends had disdain for container plantings much as I used to and admonished me not to "clutter up the garden with too many pots" I disagree and think that these pots of color and texture add a welcoming feel to the garden and house.

A cheap plastic container spray painted with rustoleum looks like red laquerware and the color matches the Cannas, the cast iron urn with Mandevilla is a reproduction


I don't overwinter all of these plants and many will succumb to the frost this fall, but the ones I really like will go to my office for the winter to return to the garden next season.

Cuphea "totally tempted" and  Begonia "sutherlandii" on a table


Hat tip to Greg for the inspiration to do this! I'm loving my garden this year!

1:56 pm est

Friday, July 3, 2009

Species vs. Cultivars

As gardeners we are often attracted to new forms of a familiar plant. Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) is a good example of this. When I first began working in the Nursery trade in 1981, only the species and one cultivar "Luteus" a golden form were available.  Now there are numerous golden forms as well as red forms such as the popular Diabolo. When plant breeders select for a particular trait it is often at the expense of another trait.  A great example of this are many of the newer everblooming rose cultivars most of which bloom for an exceptionally long time, but lack fragrance or in many cases are sterile. Why is this bad?  Check some the flowers on these cultivars and you will find many provide no attraction for pollinators or in the case of some, no hips for birds and other wildlife to feed on. This leads to gardens that are filled with flowers, but are essentially lifeless. We already have enough lifeless areas in the strip malls and soulless subdivisions that suround us.  We are creating sterile landscapes that lead to loss of habitat and diversity. I feel that Gardeners bear a special responsibility as stewards of the land.  If you have cultivars that have some exceptional trait, observe them to see if they are valuable to wildlife.  Last summer I was in the garden looking at my Smooth hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens.  I had the straight species and two cultivars "Annabelle" and "Radiata".  The species Hydrangea was covered with pollinating insects, but the other two being sterile clones had absolutely no activity going on.

Hydrangea arborescens wild form


At that point I made a decision to remove the the sterile forms and replace them with wild forms. In looking closely at the flower forms I also realized just how beautiful the wild form was with its small florets around the edges and the flat tops of the flowers.  It also has the advantage of not bending or breaking when drenched with water (something we have had a lot of the last 3 weeks).  By replacing 2 sterile cultivars with 2 wild forms I was feeding twice as many pollinators and in turn the birds.  As for the ninebark I have observed insects using all 3 forms green leaved, red and yellow making them all useful to wildlife.My garden is a wonderful place to be not only because of the flowers, but because they bring other life forms into the place I live and I would gladly sacrifice showy hybrids for birds and insects.

Hydrangea arborescens "Radiata" (sterile form)


1:16 pm est

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