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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

This week, facts, legends and lore about pearls, the birthstone for those born in June.


CURWOOD: It's June. And if you were born during this month, then your birth stone is the pearl, the queen of gems.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: The pearl was one of the first precious stones to be valued by people, and at times it has gained extraordinary value. There's a legend that says the pearl was the daughter of the moon, but of course natural pearls actually form when an irritant, like a parasitic worm, drills a hole into the shell of the particular species of clam, mussel, or oyster. And as a defense mechanism, the mollusk forms a sac around the intruder. And that sac then secretes calcium carbonate. The color depends on the inside of the shell lining, otherwise known as the mother of pearl. As for the pearl value, consider the legend involving Cleopatra and Mark Antony. Now, Cleopatra was known for lavish dinner parties. And one time she bet that she could devour the wealth of an entire country in a single meal. And as the dinner ended, Antony assumed he had won the bet -- until Cleopatra broke a pearl from her earring, crushed it, and dropped it into a glass of wine that she then drank. Did she win? Pliny, the Roman historian of the first century A.D., valued the pearl at at least five million dollars. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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