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.

 

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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/

 

Lost Colony

FLYING FISH  John White (c. 1540 – c. 1593)

FLYING FISH John White (c. 1540 – c. 1593)

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2013/aug/05/neonicotinoids-ddt-pesticides-nature
by George Monbiot

Neonicotinoids are already known as a major cause of the decline of bees and other pollinators.
These pesticides can be applied to the seeds of crops, and they remain in the plant as it grows, killing the insects which eat it.
The quantities required to destroy insect life are astonishingly small: by volume these poisons are 10,000 times as powerful as DDT.
When honeybees are exposed to just 5 nanogrammes of neonicotinoids, half of them will die.

It is only now, when neonicotinoids are already the world’s most widely deployed insecticides, that we are beginning to understand how extensive their impacts are.

Only a tiny proportion of the neonicotinoids that farmers use enter the pollen or nectar of the flower.
Some of the residue blows off as dust, which is likely to wreak havoc among the populations of many species of insects in hedgerows and surrounding habitats.
But the great majority – Prof Dave Goulson says “typically more than 90%” – of the pesticide applied to the seeds enters the soil.

Neonicotinoids are highly persistent chemicals, lasting (according to the few studies published so far) for up to 19 years in the soil. Because they are persistent, they are likely to accumulate: with every year of application the soil will become more toxic.

Of course, not all the neonicotinoids entering the soil stay there. Some are washed out, whereupon they end up in groundwater or in the rivers. What happens there? Who knows?
Neonicotinoids are not even listed among the substances that must be monitored under the EU’s water framework directive.

One study shows that at concentrations no greater than the limits set by the EU, the neonicotinoids entering river systems wipe out half the invertebrate species you would expect to find in the water. That’s another way of saying erasing much of the foodweb.

The people who should be defending the natural world have conspired with the manufacturers of wide-spectrum biocides to permit levels of destruction which we can only guess. In doing so they appear to be engineering another silent spring.

http://www.monbiot.com/
Prof Dave Goulson’s review of the impacts of these pesticides

Gardens “a balance of poetry and practicalities”

Thomas Bewick 1753 – 1828

A Little History of British Gardening
by Jenny Uglow

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2004/jun/19/featuresreviews.guardianreview22

‘… a prosperous farmer’s wife was in charge of “ordering the kitchen garden; and keeping the fruits, herbs, roots and seeds; and moreover watching and attending to the bees”. There was art and invention in the garden too, and Uglow delights in telling us how the housewife worked “like a scientist with glasses and alembics, distilling purges and cough medicines as well as conserves and pickles”. They made perfumed oils for scents and soaps. Marigolds and violets were candied for sweets; elderflowers, irises and mallows made into lotions for softening wrinkles and rhubarb in white wine was used for dying hair blonde.

By the 1700s gardening had become a topic for coffee-house chat, with fashions provoking strong reactions from commentators. Alexander Pope, writing in a new periodical called the Guardian, decided that “persons of genius preferred nature”, whereas “people of the common level of understanding are principally delighted with the little niceties and fantastical operations of art”.’

Jill Sinclair

In the middle of nowhere


Genetically modified seeds, scattered during harvest, or fallen off a truck during transport, lead to transgenic plants cross-pollinating in the wild.

 

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=genetically-modified-crop