Geographie des Plantes Equinoxiales

Tableau Physique des Andes et Pays Voisins 1805

This is an elevation profile of equinoctial plants of the Andes Region, using the cutaway technique. Drafted by Alexander von Humboldt (1769 –1859), centered on Mount Chimborazo. It includes 2 tables showing the distribution of plants and geology in the area, including large numbers of plant families, genera, and species names corresponding to the vicinity of the equator in South America.
The tables also show data about altitude, appearance of electricity, changes in weight, blueness of the sky, animals, location of the snowline, the boiling point of water, and atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity, and composition.


John William Lewin (1770 – 1819)


The gross heathenism of civilization has generally destroyed nature, and poetry, and all that is spiritual.

John Muir  (April 21, 1838 – December 24, 1914)



The Coming of Spring

coming spring
The Coming of Spring: Constance Smedley, writer, suffragist, social activist, founder of the Lyceum Club 
by Maxwell Ashby Armfield  (1881 – 1972)



Grass Becomes Fireflies

pineconeattrib. LWR Wenckebach (1860-1937)


In ancient times the Japanese divided their year into 24 periods based on classical Chinese sources. The natural world comes to life in the even more vividly named 72 subdivisions of the traditional Japanese calendar.
The 24 divisions are each split again into three, for a total of 72  that last around five days each. The original Chinese names did not always match up well with the local climate, so in Japan they were eventually rewritten, in 1685, by the court astronomer, Shibukawa Shunkai.

(The dates in the following table are approximate and may vary by one day depending on the year. [My own fear is that climate change will have distorted seasons everywhere, and so the dates may vary more widely. –SecretGardener]
There are no standard readings in Japanese for the kanji names of the 72 , so other sources may give different readings.)


Risshun (Beginning of spring)
February 4–8: East wind melts the ice
February 9–13: Bush warblers start singing in the mountains
February 14–18: Fish emerge from the ice

Usui (Rainwater)
February 19–23: Rain moistens the soil
February 24–28: Mist starts to linger
March 1–5: Grass sprouts, trees bud

Keichitsu (Insects awaken)
March 6–10: Hibernating insects surface
March 11–15: First peach blossoms
March 16–20: Caterpillars become butterflies

Shunbun (Spring equinox)
March 21–25: Sparrows start to nest
March 26–30: First cherry blossoms
March 31–April: Distant thunder

Seimei (Pure and clear)
April 5–9: Swallows return
April 10–14: Wild geese fly north
April 15–19: First rainbows

Kokuu (Grain rains)
April 20–24: First reeds sprout
April 25–29: Last frost, rice seedlings grow
April 30–May 4: Peonies bloom

Rikka (Beginning of summer)
May 5–9: Frogs start singing
May 10–14: Worms surface
May 15–20: Bamboo shoots sprout

Shōman (Lesser ripening)
May 21–25: Silkworms start feasting on mulberry leaves
May 26–30: Safflowers bloom
May 31–June 5: Wheat ripens and is harvested

Bōshu (Grain beards and seeds)
June 6–10: Praying mantises hatch
June 11–15: Rotten grass becomes fireflies
June 16–20: Plums turn yellow

Geshi (Summer solstice)
June 21–26: Self-heal withers
June 27–July 1: Irises bloom
July 2–6: Crow-dipper sprouts

Shōsho (Lesser heat)
July 7–11: Warm winds blow
July 12–16: First lotus blossoms
July 17–22: Hawks learn to fly

Taisho (Greater heat)
July 23–28: Paulownia trees produce seeds
July 29–August 2: Earth is damp, air is humid
August 3–7: Great rains sometimes fall

Risshū (Beginning of autumn)
August 8–12: Cool winds blow. The mountains begin to color.
August 13–17: Evening cicadas sing
August 18–22: Thick fog descends

Shosho (Manageable heat)
August 23–27: Cotton flowers bloom
August 28–September 1: Heat starts to die down
September 2–7: Rice ripens

Hakuro (White dew)
September 8–12: Dew glistens white on grass
September 13–17: Wagtails sing
September 18–22: Swallows leave

Shūbun (Autumn equinox)
September 23–27: Thunder ceases
September 28–October 2: Insects hole up underground
October 3–7: Farmers drain fields

Kanro (Cold dew)
October 8–12: Wild geese return
October 13–17: Chrysanthemums bloom
October 18–22: Crickets chirp around the door

Sōkō (Frost falls)
October 23–27: First frost
October 28–November 1: Light rains sometimes fall
November 2–6: Maple leaves and ivy turn yellow

Rittō (Beginning of winter)
November 7–11: Camellias bloom
November 12–16: Land starts to freeze
November 17–21: Daffodils bloom

Shōsetsu (Lesser snow)
November 22–26: Rainbows hide
November 27–December 1: North wind blows the leaves from the trees
December 2–6: Citrus tree leaves start to turn yellow

Taisetsu (Greater snow)
December 7–11: Cold sets in, winter begins
December 12–16: Bears start hibernating in their dens
December 17–21: Salmons gather and swim upstream

Tōji (Winter solstice)
December 22–26: Self-heal sprouts
December 27–31: Deer shed antlers
January 1–4: Wheat sprouts under snow

Shōkan (Lesser cold)
January 5–9: Parsley flourishes
January 10–14: Springs thaw
January 15–19: Pheasants start to call

Daikan (Greater cold)
January 20–24: Butterburs bud
January 25–29: Ice thickens on streams
January 30–February 3: Hens start laying eggs


Altered Planet

wyeth 1 treeAndrew Newell Wyeth (1917 – 2009)
Detail, Snow Hill


by Robert Macfarlane

In 2003 the Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht  coined the term solastalgia to mean a “form of psychic or existential distress caused by environmental change”.

Albrecht was studying the effects of long-term drought and large-scale mining activity on communities in New South Wales, when he realised that no word existed to describe the unhappiness of people whose landscapes were being transformed about them by forces beyond their control.
He proposed his new term to describe this distinctive kind of homesickness.

Albrecht’s coinage is part of an emerging lexis for what we are increasingly calling the “Anthropocene”: the new epoch of geological time in which human activity is considered such a powerful influence on the environment, climate and ecology of the planet that it will leave a long-term signature in the strata record.
And what a signature it will be:
We have bored more than 31 million miles of holes in our search for oil.
We remove mountain tops to get at the coal they contain.
The oceans dance with billions of tiny plastic beads.
Weaponry tests have dispersed artificial radionuclides globally.
The burning of rainforests for monoculture production sends out killing smog-palls that settle into the sediment across entire countries.
We have become titanic geological agents, our legacy legible for millennia to come.

Plastics in particular are being taken as a key marker for the Anthropocene.
We currently produce around 100 million tonnes of plastic globally each year.
Because plastics are inert and difficult to degrade, some of this plastic material will find its way into the strata record. Among the future fossils of the Anthropocene, therefore, might be the trace forms not only of megafauna and nano-planktons, but also shampoo bottles and deodorant caps – the strata that contain them precisely dateable with reference to the product-design archives of multinationals.
What will survive of us is plastic – and lead-207, the stable isotope at the end of the uranium-235 decay chain.

Recent publications indicate that scientists will recommend the designation of the Anthropocene, and that the “stratigraphically optimal” temporal limit will be located somewhere in the mid-20th century.

This places the start of the Anthropocene simultaneous with the start of the nuclear age.
It also coincides with the so-called “Great Acceleration”, when massive increases occurred in population, carbon emissions, species invasions and extinctions, and when the production and discard of metals, concrete and plastics boomed.
Jason W Moore argues that the Anthropocene is not the geology of a species at all, but rather the geology of a system, capitalism – and as such should be rechristened the Capitalocene.

In 2010 Timothy Morton adopted the term hyperobject to denote some of the characteristic entities of the Anthropocene. Hyperobjects are “so massively distributed in time, space and dimensionality” that they defy our perception, let alone our comprehension.
Among the examples Morton gives of hyperobjects are climate change, mass species extinction and radioactive plutonium. “In one sense hyperobjects are abstractions,” he notes, “in another they are ferociously, catastrophically real.”

We are living through what is popularly known as the 6th great extinction

A third of all amphibian species are at risk of extinction.
A fifth of the globe’s 5,500 known mammals are classified as endangered, threatened or vulnerable.
The current extinction rate for birds may be faster than any recorded across the 150 million years of avian evolutionary history.
We exist in an ongoing biodiversity crisis – but register that crisis, if at all, as an ambient hum of guilt, easily faded out.

A remarkable artwork by the American writer and conservation biologist Julianne Lutz Warren is called “Hopes Echo”.
It concerns the huia, a bird of New Zealand that was made extinct in the early 20th century due to habitat destruction, introduced predators and overhunting for its black and ivory tail feathers.

The huia vanished before field-recording technologies existed, but a version of its song has survived by means of an eerie series of preservations: a sound fossil.
In order to lure the birds to their snares, the Maori people learned to mimic the huia song. This mimicked song was passed down between generations, a practice that continued even after the huia was gone. In 1954 a pakeha (a European New Zealander) called RAL Bateley made a recording of a Maori man, Henare Hamana, whistling his imitation of the huia’s call. Warren’s exhibit makes Bateley’s crackly recording available.
It is, as Warren puts it, “a soundtrack of the sacred voices of extinct birds echoing in that of a dead man echoing out of a machine echoing through the world today”.

Many of the new words we have had to invent are ugly coinages for an ugly epoch.
Taken in sum, they speak of our stuttering attempts to describe just what it is we have done.

excerpted from, Generation Anthropocene



marshal sunflowerAlexander Marshal (c.1620 – 1682)
English entomologist, gardener, and botanical artist, noted for the florilegium he compiled

We Need a Cure

Humanity is suffering from an illness the extent of which is not fully known, and the impact of this is being felt across the globe. It renders humankind unable to see the plants in their environment, and leaves us deeming the plant-life everywhere as nothing more than  background for more important things.

Take an image of a lion in the wild in Africa and ask anyone what they see. The answer you will invariably get is “a lion”. If you are lucky, you may get the answer “a wild lion”, or if you are extremely lucky, “a wild lion in Africa”.
Generally you won’t get the answer “The African savannah in the dry season with some amazing acacia scrub and a lion lying on a bed of dry red grass (Themeda triandra) in the shade of a really old sausage tree (Kigelia africana)”.

The picture is not just a picture of a lion. It’s a picture of a whole environment and the biodiversity within it, without which the lion cannot survive.
A human is in exactly the same position as the lion. However, we have forgotten our need for this web of which we are a part.
The inability even to see the vegetation surrounding us has been given a name; plant blindness

The number of garden designers is growing, and yet specialist plant nurseries, with their focused knowledge of the individual plants in their care, are closing.
Plants – living things – often become throwaway items used purely for decoration, with little acknowledgment given to their much deeper importance to the human state.

Plants are vitally important elements in our ecosystem that clothe us, feed us, give us the oxygen that we breathe, and the medicines that cure us.
They are carbon sinks that will allow us to reduce global warming, control the impact of drought, and filter pollution out of the air and the water.
They need to be understood as the complex living organisms, in their myriad of forms, which they truly are.

Plants need to become valued again, recognized, seen.
We need to find a cure for plant blindness, and quickly.

by Robbie Blackhall-Miles

Robbie Blackhall-Miles is a modern day plant hunter’s propagator and gardener. He is interested in ancient families of plants and blogs about these on his website He also tweets as @fossilplants.

‘Does it matter that so many of the stories we tell take place in some ecological make-believe, where plants and animals are treated as little more than the living wallpaper of a stage set for human actions or as interchangeable ciphers for conveying life lessons?’

“the people who live in cities have lost their connexion with the earth; they hang, as it were, in the air, hover in all directions, and find no place where they can settle”

We are blasé, in the sense that Georg Simmel used that word in 1903, meaning “indifferent to the distinction between things”.
As we deplete our ability to denote and figure particular aspects of our places, so our competence for understanding and imagining possible relationships with non-human nature is correspondingly depleted.

Different Kinds of Air

A man, like  mouse, should have more than one avenue of escapeA man, like a mouse, should have more than one avenue of escape
Joris Hoefnagel (1542 – 1604)

                    Observations on Different Kinds of Air
. . . . I flatter myself that I have accidentally hit upon a method of restoring air which has been injured by the burning of candles, and that I have discovered at least one of the restoratives which nature employs for this purpose. It is vegetation. In what manner this process in nature operates, to produce so remarkable an effect, I do not pretend to have discovered; but a number of facts declare in favour of this hypothesis…
One might have imagined that, since common air is necessary to vegetable, as well as to animal life, both plants and animal had affected it in the same manner, and I own that I had that expectation, when I first put a sprig of mint into a glass-jar, standing inverted in a vessel of water; but when it had continued growing there for some months, I found that the air would neither extinguish a candle, nor was it at all inconvenient to a mouse, which I put into it.
…Accordingly, on the 17th of August 1771, I put a sprig of mint into a quantity of air, in which a wax candle had burned out, and found that, on the 27th of the same month, another candle burned perfectly well in it. This experiment I repeated, without least variation in the event, not less than eight or ten times in the remainder of the summer.
Joseph Priestley (24 March 1733 – 6 February 1804)

In 1771, about the time of the first stirrings of the industrial revolution and its appetite for fossil fuel, an English minister grasped key processes of the natural carbon cycle. In a series of ingenious experiments, Joseph Priestley found that flames and animals’ breath “injure” the air in a sealed jar, making it unwholesome to breathe. But a green sprig of mint, he found, could restore its goodness. Priestley could not name the gases responsible, but we know now that the fire and respiration used up oxygen and gave off carbon dioxide. The mint reversed both processes. Photosynthesis took up the carbon dioxide, converted it into plant tissue, and gave off oxygen as a by-product.

The world is just a bigger jar. Tens of billions of tons of carbon a year pass between land and the atmosphere: given off by living things as they breathe and decay and taken up by green plants, which produce oxygen. A similar traffic in carbon, between marine plants and animals, takes place within the waters of the ocean. And nearly a hundred billion tons of carbon diffuse back and forth between ocean and atmosphere.

In other words:
Alone in a sealed jar, a mouse would die from exhaled CO2. But as Priestley observed in 1771, adding a plant allows the mouse to thrive. In this proof of photosynthesis, the mint absorbed CO2, retained carbon for growth, and released oxygen


Global Warning

global“If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current levels of 398 ppm to at most 350 ppm…”Dr. James Hansen

Since Dr. James Hansen, a leading climatologist, warned in 2008 that we need to reduce the amount of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere to 350 parts-per-million (ppm) in order to preserve life on Earth, little has been done to get us there.

It’s getting late. If we’re going to preserve a livable Earth we, the global grassroots, must do more than mitigate global warming.
We must reverse it.

But how?

Hint number one: not by politely asking out-of-control corporations and politicians to please stop destroying the planet.

Hint number two: not by pinning our hopes for survival and climate stability on hi-tech, unproven and dangerous, “solutions” such as genetic engineering, geoengineering, or carbon capture and sequestration for coal plants.

Hint number three: not by naively believing that soon (or soon enough) ordinary consumers all over the planet will spontaneously abandon their cars, air travel, air conditioning, central heating, and fossil fuel-based diets and lifestyles just in time to prevent atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from moving past the tipping point of 450 ppm or more of CO2 to the catastrophic point of no return.

We can reverse climate change by sequestering several hundred billion tons of excess CO2 using the “tools” we already have at hand: regenerative, organic farming, ranching and land use.

And we can make this world-changing transition by mobilizing a vast green corps of farmers, ranchers, gardeners, consumers, climate activists and conservationists to begin the monumental task of moving the Carbon Behemoth safely back underground.

Ronnie Cummins



The Number of Fools is Infinite

Oronce Finé (20 December 1494 – 8 August 1555)The World In The Head Of A Fool
Oronce Finé (20 December 1494 – 8 August 1555)

“The Guardian” writers make new year wishes.

Nature is uplifting and exhilarating, and yet writing about it is often a gloomy business of confronting the ways in which we are consuming and despoiling it. Each year brings small spits in the wind – a clean energy advance here, a new nature reserve there – but these gobbets of good news are blown away by the logic of global capitalism: nature is a finite public resource to be annexed by private individuals for short-term profit.

After a 2013 of  species loss and ever-rising exploitation, a realist might wish for 2014 to be a bit less bad. But I would love to see just one glorious occasion where people choose nature over profit – a piece of ground not fracked, a runway not built, a badger not culled. A few such exercises of gentle restraint and voices in mainstream politics and the media may belatedly begin questioning our society’s crazy fixation on economic growth as the source of all wellbeing and happiness. Reframing this miserable, myopic vision is too much to ask for 2014. It’s probably too much to ask for 2041. But it’s never too early to start trying.

Patrick Barkham is a natural history writer for the Guardian and former feature writer. He has also worked for The Times. He is the author of The Butterfly Isles – A Summer in Search of Our Emperors and Admirals and Badgerlands.


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