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


Du Bon Usage Des Arbres

lindenLinden Tree On A Bastion
Albrecht Dürer (1471 – 1528)



Frédéric Joignot, The Guardian

“Man is senescent, that is to say is programmed to die, but a plane tree is not,” says French botanist Francis Hallé. After its leaves have fallen, life begins again in the spring and the tree recovers its youthful genomes. If it is not subjected to accidents, diseases or humans, the plane tree could live for centuries.
The botanist knows of a 2,000-year-old olive tree in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the Côte d’Azur

Humans, with a mere 2 square metres of skin, underestimate the surface area of a tree. To calculate that you need to measure both sides of each leaf, add the surface of the trunk, the branches and boughs, the perennial and feeder roots and the absorbent root hairs, not forgetting the bark pockets. A 15-metre tree in leaf would cover a total area of 200 hectares, which is the size of Monaco. A tree doubles its weight when wet, and its entire surface breathes and allows us to breathe.

Hallé believes that arboreal photosynthesis is our best ally in the fight against global warming. Buffon’s plane tree, like all trees, absorbs quantities of carbon dioxide, responsible for greenhouse gases, and between 20% and 50% of matter produced by the tree, including wood, roots, leaves and fruit, is composed of CO2. When trees breathe they clean the atmosphere and retain CO2 and urban pollutants such as heavy metals, lead, manganese, industrial soot and nitrous oxide. These are stored in the wood. That is why we should refrain as much as possible from cutting down old trees. The older they are, the better they control pollutants.

At the same time, trees release oxygen that allows us to live. An adult human consumes about 700g of O2 per day, or 255kg per year. In that time, an average tree produces 15kg to 30kg, so about 10 trees are required to provide oxygen for one person. Trees also humidify and cool the atmosphere by evaporation and transpiration. A wooded area of 50 square metres brings the temperature down by 3.5C and increases the humidity by 50%. Leaf movement, especially in conifers, releases negative ions that are supposed to have beneficial effects on health and mood.