Gold and Green

a lopez garcia fruitAntonio López Garcia
Los Melacotones y Las Rosas (detail), 1956

 


The Consent

Late in November, on a single night
Not even near to freezing, the ginkgo trees
That stand along the walk drop all their leaves
In one consent, and neither to rain nor to wind
But as though to time alone: the golden and green
Leaves litter the lawn today, that yesterday
Had spread aloft their fluttering fans of light.

What signal from the stars? What senses took it in?
What in those wooden motives so decided
To strike their leaves, to down their leaves,
Rebellion or surrender? and if this
Can happen thus, what race shall be exempt?
What use to learn the lessons taught by time.
If a star at any time may tell us: Now.


Howard Nemerov (1920 – 1991)

 


Night of The Ginko

by Oliver Sacks (1933 – 2015)

Today in New York—November 13th—leaves are falling, drifting, skittering everywhere. But there is one striking exception: the fan-shaped leaves of the ginkgo are still firmly attached to their branches, even though many of them have turned a luminous gold. One sees why this beautiful tree has been revered since ancient times.

Carefully preserved for millennia in the temple gardens of China, ginkgoes are almost extinct in the wild, but they have an extraordinary ability to survive the heat, the snows, the hurricanes, the diesel fumes, and the other charms of New York City, and there are thousands of them here, mature ones bearing a hundred thousand leaves or more—tough, heavy Mesozoic leaves such as the dinosaurs ate. The ginkgo family has been around since before the dinosaurs, and its only remaining member, Ginkgo biloba, is a living fossil, basically unchanged in two hundred million years.

While the leaves of the more modern angiosperms—maples, oaks, beeches, what have you—are shed over a period of weeks after turning dry and brown, the ginkgo, a gymnosperm, drops its leaves all at once. The botanist Peter Crane, in his book “Ginkgo,” writes that, in relation to a very large ginkgo in Michigan, “for many years there was a competition to guess the date on which the leaves would fall.” In general, Crane says, it happens with “eerie synchronicity,” and he quotes the poet Howard Nemerov

Are the ginkgoes responding to some external signal, such as the change of temperature or light? Or to some internal, genetically programmed signal? No one knows what lies behind this synchronicity, but it is surely related to the antiquity of the ginkgo, which has evolved along a very different path from that of more modern trees.

Will it be November 20th, 25th, 30th? Whenever it is, each tree will have its own Night of the Ginkgo. Few people will see this—most of us will be asleep—but in the morning the ground beneath the ginkgo will be carpeted with thousands of heavy, golden, fan-shaped leaves.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/11/24/night-ginkgo

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What Bloom

Portrait-of-a-botanist-1603 AnonymousAnonymous, 1603
 
Portrait of a botanist standing behind a table on which a book with pictures of plants lies.
In his left hand a lily of the valley, in the right hand a hatchet.
Top right the family crest.
Top left:  QVID FLOS / + ÆTATIS: 25~ / Ao 1603. ~
(What Bloom / age: 25 ~ / Ao 1603. ~)
Book illustrations are clearly from The New Herbal of Leonhart Fuchs (1501 – 1566)
On the left-hand page:  Arum maculatum L, also known as Cuckoo Pint, Jack in the Pulpit, Lords and Ladies, and Wake Robin
On the right-hand page: Convallaria majalis L, Lily of the Valley,
[a perennial plant that forms extensive colonies by spreading underground stems called rhizomes. New upright shoots are formed at the ends of stolens in summer, and these upright dormant stems are often called pips. Pips grow in the spring into new leafy shoots that still remain connected to the other shoots under ground]

How Plants Think
by Richard Mabey

When the much-missed neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote that “there is nothing alive which is not individual”, he meant nothing which is alive.

Discoveries about intricate cross-species communication in plants have opened a new frontier in botany, revealing that the plant kingdom has more than 20 different senses, and examples of what can only be described as vegetal intelligence.
Beans locate their poles by echolocation.
A Patagonian vine can change the colour and shape of its leaves to match those of the trees it is climbing over.
Mimosa, the “sensitive plant”, can learn which stimuli are worth curling its leaves against in defence and which are not – and retain this knowledge for 10 times longer than the memory span of bees.
Entire forests are linked by an underground “wood wide web” of fungal “roots” that transport and balance nutrient flows and carry signals about disease and drought throughout the network.
Traditionalists have derided attempts to describe problem-solving and learning as “intelligent” in organisms that lack a brain.
The philosopher Daniel Dennett, in a neat parry, has mocked such views as “cerebrocentrism”, and lamented the fact that we find it difficult (and maybe humiliating) to conceive of intelligence as existing in any form other than our own brain-and-neurone variety.

But however they are defined, these new findings validate Sacks’s belief in plants as individuals – active and adaptive agents.
Some of the last pieces he wrote were enthralled appreciations of what is provocatively called “plant neurobiology”.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/oct/16/how-plants-think-the-cabaret-of-plants-richard-mabey