THE AI'LE BUSH ("BONE BUSH")

APPEARANCE - TERRITORY - USAGES - REPRODUCTION - MYTH/LORE

The Ai'le Bush, also known as the "Bone Bush", is hardy, very resilient to cold and heat, and thrives in arid conditions throughout the world of Caelereth. Despite its name, it is also renowned for producing one of the most spectacular array of colours in its flowers, as they literally change throughout the year before eventually forming into a fruit. The Aj'Nuvic Grounds, to the north west of the Ráhaz'Dath desert in South Sarvonia, play host to the largest fields of these bushes and after its infrequent rains can be transformed into a sea of colour by the flowers of the Ai'le alone.

Appearance. To accurately describe the Ai'le appearance, it is necessary to ignore the flowers for a moment.

The bush itself, given enough water, can become quite a giant. Records detail some reaching up to three peds in height around the wetter, northern part of the Aj'Nuvic Grounds. The typical though is between one and two peds, tending to the former in the harshness of the southern Grounds, where rain can come years apart.

The trunk and branches are covered in a silvery coloured bark, which seems to effectively reflect sunlight away, and thus help it preserve moisture. It is also this silvery colour, exposed during the winter when all the leaves and flowers have been shed, that gives it the name, "Bone Bush". Although stark, a field of Ai'le in winter is almost as breath-taking a sight as during full bloom. As the low winter sun reflects from the bark, the whole field seems to shimmer and gleam with a majestic will to survive.

The leaves come in two varieties. Most are small, thin and almost thorn-like, sharply tipped to keep the soft tongues of grazers away. They are a dark green in colour throughout the year, until they are shed in winter. The rest of the leaves are still small, but flatter and more rounded, as if to try and catch more of the sun's light. A resinous outer coating to these leaves seems to serve in a similar way to the oil that coats the feathers of the al'syrr bird. It traps moisture, and helps seal it inside the leaves. These start out as new shoots of a very pale green, slowly ripening throughout the late spring and early summer until a deep sognastheen green, and then eventually brown right before shedding.

And thus we come to the flowers. It wasn't exaggeration in the Overview when stating they are renowned, as you shall see as we describe their wondrous variation.

It all starts in spring, when dozens of new buds start to open and reveal a brilliant blue, almost matching the very sky above. The petals are curved and rounded, moving down and backwards as they open, pulling back on themselves and opening the centre of the flower, allowing easy access to any insect wishing to help pollinate it. As spring progresses, the blue almost seems to be washed away, leaving behind a clean, pure white, before it takes on a very pale yellow as summer approaches.

By the time the summer is well set in, the petals will have become a deep Strata yellow and the flower will be fully matured, each being almost four nailsbreadths across. As autumn approaches the yellow deepens even further into a dusky orange, and finally to a majestic Aeruillin red before they drop to the sand.

The Compendium researchers were lucky enough to witness the whole variation of colours whilst studying the western al'syrr in their summer habitat. Truly a wonder.
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Territory. You'll find Ai'le throughout the world, wherever the arid conditions they prefer are met. Migrating birds can carry the tough seeds in their stomachs for thousands of strals, before releasing them in their droppings across the world's deserts. Some may be lucky and strike a rock as they land, often enough to split the seed shell. But most will require a hard frost to finally germinate and produce a new plant.
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Usages. Ai'le, given its remote growing locations, isn't widely used. Only the part of the Shendar population known as the Shen-Kha'si ("Clay-People") go into the Grounds with any regularity, herding their animals up there at certain times of the year.

The berries aren't particularly pleasant to the taste, being very sour and a little bitter, although some people enjoy them. They aren't poisonous, and even if it is an acquired taste, they do seem fairly nutritious. As such, the Shendar are loathed to be wasteful of any source of food in their hostile environment, and some efforts have gone to make more use of them.

Perhaps the most successful of these has been a variety of sour jellies, although the sheer quantity of fruit required, and the effort to get the juice from them makes them a rare treat rather than a regular dish.

The branches aren't big enough to provide any great quantity of wood, but it does burn fragrantly on campfires. A pleasant flowery smell, that can be quite relaxing.

Some attempts are made by children to fashion crude silvery jewellery from the silvery bark.
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Reproduction. Ai'le relies on each and every insect it can possibly attract, to help pollinate its many flowers. Some believe the whole purpose of the variations in colours throughout the year is to appeal to different species, although we're not aware of any noted colour preferences in desert bugs.

However, from various researches one can come up with a different theory. Careful examination of the fruits displays an unusual fact. Every single fruit has exactly five seeds inside. Five matching the number of colour variations seen throughout the summer. Blue, white, yellow, orange, red. It is possible that the colour change symbolises a part pollination and the forming of a single seed, until eventually all five seeds have been created, the flower collapses, and the fruit forms.

Regardless of why or how, the facts remain. It works. Whether because of the colours, the flavour of the nectar, or quite simply, the sheer quantity of flowers, the insects come, and in droves.

Our researchers are not experts on desert pollinators, but we did recognise one species of butterfly. We'd seen many of the same type visiting the desert rose bushes to the south in the Yar Dangs. It seems this delicate, pale yellow butterfly holds a preference for the early spring, blue coloured, flowers, although perhaps this is simply because the roses, down south, are yet to bloom. It is hard to believe this butterfly could make the long journey all the way to the Yar Dangs, but if anywhere was to provide enough food for such a flight, then the Aj'Nuvic Ground Ai'le fields would certainly be it.

In very late summer, and throughout the autumn, the Ai'le fruits are in profusion. Small, fleshy red berries (the same colour as the flowers had been before wilting), with exactly five small hard seeds inside, cover the bushes. The quantity of fruit seems directly related to the amount of rainfall. As large a variety of insects helped in pollination, an equal number of animals come to take advantage of this pre-winter bounty. A variety of birds, including some busy al'syrr trying to gather last minute fats before their migration south, are amongst the first to reach them. Then come the desert rodents, dune mice obvious amongst them. Behind those come the predators, elfcats and eagles, and also the largest grazers, the aj'nuvics themselves.

In short order the Ai'le will be stripped to its 'bones', but quite satisfied that the carefully produced, indigestible, seeds in each fruit will be well spread out throughout the Grounds, and further abroad by the migrating bird species.

The seeds themselves are incredibly tough, and most won't actually be damaged enough to allow a young shoot to break through. Some will break from the fall, after being deposited by a bird in flight, but even this isn't very reliable. A sharp frost, common in the cold winter nights of the Aj'Nuvic Ground, seems to be required for cracking the shell with any reliability, although how the young shoot survives the subsequent frosts is still unknown.
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Myth/Lore. Northern myths make mention of a powerful potion made from an infusion of "Many-coloured flowers from the desert". The effects are said to vary wildly depending on the colour of the flower petals when the potion was made, as well as the colour of the existing flowers at the time the potion is taken. Such variations include love draughts, illness curing, and alcohol more potent than any spirit - but also sickness, strange deformities and even death.
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 Date of last edit 31st Singing Bird 1668 a.S.

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