Study of a Tree

Georges Michel (French, 1763-1843)Georges Michel (1763-1843)

 

by Hope Jahren

A seed is alive while it waits. Every acorn on the ground is just as alive as the three-hundred-year-old oak tree that towers over it. Neither the seed nor the old oak is growing; they are both just waiting.
What each seed is waiting for is known only to that seed. Some unique trigger-combination of temperature-moisture-light and many other things is required to convince the seed to jump off the deep end and take its chance–to take its one and only chance to grow.
. . . .
When you go into a forest … you probably don’t look down, where just beneath your single footprint sit hundreds of seeds, each one alive and waiting. They hope against hope for an opportunity that will probably never come. More than half of these seeds will die before they feel the trigger that they are waiting for, and during awful years every single one of them will die.
. . . When you are in the forest, for every tree that you see, there are at least a hundred more trees waiting in the soil, alive and fervently wishing to be.

A coconut is a seed as big as your head. It can float from the coast of Africa across the entire Atlantic Ocean and then take root and grow on a Caribbean island. In contrast, orchid seeds are tiny: one million of them put together add up to the weight of a paper clip. Big or small, most of every seed is actually just food to sustain a waiting embryo. The embryo is a collection of only a few hundred cells, but it is a working blueprint for a real plant with a shoot and a root already formed.
When the embryo within a seed starts to grow, it basically just stretches out of its doubled-over waiting posture, elongating into official ownership of the form that it assumed years ago.
. . . .
After scientists broke open the coat of a lotus seed and coddled the embryo into growth, they kept the empty husk. When they radiocarbon-dated this discarded outer shell, they discovered that their seedling had been waiting for them within a peat bog in China for no less than two thousand years. This tiny seed had stubbornly kept up hope of its own future while entire human civilizations rose and fell.


With gratitude to Nicolas Silver for presenting me with the book from which this incomplete excerpt is lifted.
“Lab Girl” is a 2016 memoir by American geochemist, geobiologist, and professor Hope Jahren.

See also:

https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/in-our-hands-forests-sleep/

https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2014/05/10/the-seed-shop/

 

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No One Hears

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591 – 1666),
best known as Guercino (Squinter)

 

Angels

They have little use. They are best as objects of torment.
No government cares what you do with them.

Like birds, and yet so human . . .
They mate by briefly looking at the other.
Their eggs are like white jellybeans.

Sometimes they have been said to inspire a man to do more with his life than he might have.
But what is there for a man to do with his life?

. . . They burn beautifully with a blue flame.

When they cry out it is like the screech of a tiny hinge; the cry of a bat. No one hears it . . .

 

Russell Edson (1935 – 2014)

 

Published in: on January 23, 2018 at 5:47 pm  Comments (3)  
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In Our Hands Forests Sleep

lynx-la-balsaminaProbably from the botanical manuscripts of Federico Angelo Cesi (1585 – 1630), founder of the Accademia dei Lincei

 
Protea montana
 is a threatened species from the very highest peaks of the Western Cape of South Africa.
A fluffy seed coat allows it to be blown – after a fire has released it from the prison of a dead flower head – to a site where the same fluff allows it to corkscrew into the shallow soil and wait for winter rain.

For a thing so small, a seed bears a heavy burden: the future existence of its species.
If things go wrong for the seed, it could mean potential extinction.

Each plant species produces its own unique and beautiful seeds.
Beyond that beauty and uniqueness are the processes that place them into dormancy until the conditions are just right, distribute them, bring them out of their stasis and cause them to germinate.
Then each has its  pollination process allowing it to produce more seeds.

Mimetes stokoei
, the mace pagoda, has been declared extinct twice because there were no actual plants of this species growing anywhere on Earth.
What wasn’t considered at the time was that the mace pagoda had placed its entire future security as a species
on seed buried just under the surface of the soil, and was waiting for the right kind of fire to trigger germination.

Hope, so inextricably tied up in seeds, has led to them being one of our most important backup plans for the planet, and so humanity.
There are people out there all over the world busily collecting and storing seed; guardians of our future.
The wild relatives of our crops, endangered species, and culturally important varieties, are all important to seed-bankers.
In some countries, it’s the only way to preserve the sheer levels of genetic diversity there now.

We don’t really know what the future holds, so we must cover all bases.
On the day when we need to put endangered species back into restored habitats, or bring back genetic diversity to our crops, we will have all that potential locked away in the form of a seed.

Ecosystem restoration projects across the globe depend entirely on seed, along with the people collecting them and those who know how to grow them.
With some forethought, often on the part of enlightened governments, people are coming together to make sure the possibilities of seeds are realised.
In Thailand, rainforest is being restored using seed bombs dropped from army planes.
In the USA the Native Seed Network and the Plant Conservation Alliance are bringing together a united force of native seed collectors, growers, and landscape restoration experts in an attempt, fostered by the Obama government through its National Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration, to make sure all degraded habitats are restored using seed of local provenance as a matter of utmost urgency.

 

Robbie Blackhall-Miles is a plantsman and conservationist. He tweets as @fossilplants.
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/gardening-blog/2017/jan/13/seeds-little-time-capsules-that-could-secure-our-future?CMP=share_btn_tw#comment-91392416

https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2014/05/10/the-seed-shop/

 

So Intricately Done


Naturalis_Biodiversity_Center_-_RMNH.ART.803_-_Hydrangea_-_Kawahara_KeigaKawahara Keiga 川原慶賀   (1786 – 1860?)

 

Bloom — is Result — to meet a Flower
And casually glance
Would scarcely cause one to suspect
The minor Circumstance

Assisting in the Bright Affair
So intricately done
Then offered as a Butterfly
To the Meridian —

To pack the Bud — oppose the Worm —
Obtain its right of Dew —
Adjust the Heat — elude the Wind —
Escape the prowling Bee

Great Nature not to disappoint
Awaiting Her that Day —
To be a Flower, is profound
Responsibility —

 

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830 – 1886) 

Sic Transit

goat tosini this
Michele Tosini (1503–1577)

 

 

Ginger

 

Am I the only one

                           watching
my neighbour’s
                      frolicksome goat,
Ginger,
            tied to a pecan tree?
All morning
                  it has been examining
an empty bushel basket
                                  and has lifted
one leg delicately
                            like a circus horse
as if to roll it,
                           but whether to do that
or to butt it
                     with its small horns,
that is the question.
                                 Not of great moment,
no signing of the Charter,
                                        but like air music,
quickest of the elements.
                                       Towards which I leaped!

In form
            its own grace,
appearing,
                as it passed
in retrospect, classical.
The real goat stayed,
                                 imperturbable,
the body solid
                      as a four-square loom
and delivered me
                         from abstraction.
His coloring,
                     greyish-soft shades,
their dark and light
                        passing into each other
as in an antique rubbing.

I now found myself
                            sitting so near,
my shade,
               as in the Inferno,
sensed his,
                  but he gave no sign
of my presence,
                        even when I stroked him
and my heart leaped
                              at the gentle fleece,
too fine for a hard life.
He continued nibbling
                                 on a dry bush.

I would not have believed
                                       unconcern
could bolster the man in me
                                          and be so enduring.
Sic transit, not caring
                                    whether it is recognized,
The Divine
                (from another age).
He was poking
                     into the underbush now
and reached across my head
                                        for the small spiny twigs.

At that the phase
                           changed
and a sensuous trembling
                                     hung in the air,
as when a bee is about
                                  to descend
on blossoming clover,
                                 and I
felt myself being pulled
                                     as by a line
from the invisible
                            other side
to enter goathood,

                            deeper than sight.

 

Carl Rakosi (November 6, 1903 – June 25, 2004)

 

A Boy Was Born

pallFederico Fiori (c. 1526 – 1612)


In Memoriam

 

https:// 
  www.youtube.com/watch?v=lt1rVw3N8ks

Benjamin Britten setting (1933) of a Middle English carol from an anonymous manuscript written around 1504.

The Animal That Therefore I Am

young barn owl elisabeth frinkYoung Barn Owl, Dame Elisabeth Jean Frink (1930 – 1993)

 

To put all living things that aren’t human into one category is, first of all, a stupid gesture – theoretically ridiculous – and partakes in the very real violence that humans exercise towards animals.

Confined within this catch-all concept, within this vast encampment of the animal,
in this general singular, within the strict enclosure of this definite article (‘the Animal’ and not ‘animals’), as in a virgin forest, a zoo, a hunting or fishing ground, a paddock or an abattoir, a space of domestication,
are all the living things that man does not recognize as his fellows, his neighbors, or his brothers.
And that is so in spite of the infinite space that separates the lizard from the dog, the protozoon from the dolphin, the shark from the lamb, the parrot from the chimpanzee, the camel from the eagle, the squirrel from the tiger, the elephant from the cat, the ant from the silkworm, or the hedgehog from the echidna.

The confusion of all nonhuman living things within the general and common category of the animal is not simply a sin against rigorous thinking, vigilance, lucidity, or empirical authority, it is also a crime.


Jackie Élie Derrida (1930 – 2004)
(Jacques Derrida)

 


–Thanks to Kieran Suckling for bringing this work of Derrida to my attention–

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/
http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/action/alerts/

 

De Kat en Den Úÿl en Muziek

labotz cal owl & pussycat18th century calligraphy drawing by Jacob Labotz, schoolteacher

 

My musical friend, at whose house I am now visiting, has tried all the owls that are his near neighbors with a pitch-pipe set at concert pitch, and finds they all hoot in B flat.
He will examine the nightingales next spring.

Gilbert White (1720 – 1793), from The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne

 

An Attempt

herbst lobster

Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Herbst (1743-1807) was a German naturalist and entomologist, and a theologian and chaplain for the Prussian army.

Versuch einer Naturgeschichte der Krabben und Krebse’ (An attempt at The Natural History of Crabs and Lobsters)
was possibly the first comprehensive work on the crustaceans and definitely included descriptions and illustrations of previously unknown species.
It was released in instalments between about 1782 and the mid-1790s. There were three volumes of text and an atlas consisting of more than sixty hand-coloured engravings. Various editions were issued, some coloured, some not, and some coloured later.

It is still regarded as a primary source in the field.

Preserved at Various Depths

sowerby shell

Copper plate engravings in black printing ink, hand colored with watercolor, with iron gall ink and graphite inscriptions, from
“Mineral conchology of Great Britain, or, Coloured figures and descriptions of those remains of testaceous animals, or shells which have been preserved at various times, and depths in the earth” by James Sowerby (1757 – 1822)