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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Lost Colony

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

FLYING FISH John White (c. 1540 – c. 1593)
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.
Prof Dave Goulson’s review of the impacts of these pesticides

Roelandt Savery (1576 – buried 25 February 1639)

Published in: on February 22, 2012 at 8:53 pm  Comments (1)  
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