Flock Together coverBy B. J. Hollars
University of Nebraska Press
ISBN 10: 0-803-29642-8
ISBN 13: 978-0-803-29642-8)
January 2017
FLOCK TOGETHER is a narrative journey of the author, B. J. Hollars, to become a birder, but also to present a warning to humanity. It starts with the presumed extinction of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, last seen in 1972, but then claimed to have been seen in 2005. (I have to insert here that I believe I saw two at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri in 1982? 83? – They were huge, had the red top knot and I distinctly remember the white on the wings since I was looking the strange looking woodpecker up in a bird book. Our local DNR said I was mistaken. Maybe, only remember what I thought I saw.) Hollars also went to a Passenger Pigeon Symposium, which led him to a monument for the bird with the following wording on its base: “The species became extinct through the avarice and thoughtlessness of man.” Who knew mankind could kill billions of pigeons in 40 years? The monument is right, what an ignoble exploit. He talks about many other birders who spend time recording bird sightings and their viewpoints, and spends much effort in searching out museums about birds and their legacies. He claims the dwindling numbers of North American birds are due to loss of habitat, cats (Oh, God, I’m guilty), and windows. I am glad to say I could list more names of birds than he claimed the average American could list, but then you have to consider my name, Robin. I do agree, also, with his statement that the in the Bible, God gave man dominion over animals for care giving rather than consumption. So true, after all, He gave no guarantee of a second world if we screw this one up. Bird watching is not quite what most people think it is. Yes it is searching for different birds and keeping a bragging list, but it is also about caring for the environment and all the creatures living on Earth. Throughout his narrative, Hollars gives us warning to be aware of the many warnings we’ve already had, and to become the concerned caregivers we should have been all along.

Brillian Green coverBy Stefano Mancuso and Alessandra Viola
Island Press
ISBN 13: 978-1-61091-603-5
ISBN 10: 1-61091-603-4
March 2015
Botany or Molecular Biology
Translated from Italian version Verde Brillante: Sensibilita e intelligenza del mondo vegetale, 2013 Giunti Editore S.p.A. Firenze-Milano

The revelations of this book begin with the basic differences between plants and animals, and how humans have been led to believe plants are purely vegetative with no ‘intelligent’ qualities. They talk about  how science disproves all those human assumptions and about plant supremacy. Everyone seems to know plants can live without animals, but not even humans can live without plants. They (plants) also reign on Earth as 97% of all life is plant, and the remaining 3% is animal, including humans.

Mancuso and Viola describe how plants organize their ‘bodies’ on an equivalent basis for all parts rather than the specialization of specific organ systems like animals. This provides plants the chance to recuperate even after losing up to 95% of their body. The authors explain how plants have all the senses of humans but use different methods. Plus they have many more sense. Humans, it seems, must change their thinking to see the truth of how smart plants really are. Plants hear, see, speak, feel, and smell but in different capacities using energy waves and operating at the molecular level. They seem to be great molecular manipulators. They also covered how plants communicate, both within body using three different systems, and outside the body by producing different scents. They provided some striking examples of how adept plants, who remain in situ, are at contacting other plants and animals.

orchid photo Ophrys apifera

Photo taken by Bernard Dupont, Creative Commons.

Plants as well as communicating with animals can manipulate them. For instance think about this example from the book: “Ususally, when we speak of mimesis we think of animals such as chameleons or walkingsticks. But their considerable mimetic abilities are as nothing compared to what an orchid like Ophrys apifera can do …Its flowers are able to mimic perfectly the shape of the female of certain nonsocial hymneoptera [wasp] …And that isn’t all: besides the female insect’s shape [and color], the orchid imitates the consistency of its tissues, its surface (including the fuzz on its body), and of course also its scent, secreting pheromones identical to the ones produced by females ready to mate” (page 113).

This was only one example, there are more. Some plants can call predator friends in the air or underground to attack their own predators. The question eventually becomes do humans manipulate plants with selective propagation and gene manipulation for their own purposes, or have plants been partners in this endeavor all this time? And don’t tell me it’s all evolution, because that same evolution brought us to where we are today.

110 Plants to Feed the BeesI discovered this book on Net Galley and opened it out of curiosity. Bees and their populations are a huge environmental issue right now. I think I’ve mentioned in my last post and in other posts, the volume of honeybees in my area has declined drastically in the last few years. Hopefully this book will help gardeners become aware of plants to draw bees and maybe as gardeners we can provide a welcoming and safe environment for these extremely important insects.

100 Plants to FEED THE BEES: Provide a Healthy Habitat to Help Pollinators Thrive – The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
Publication date: December 2016
Publisher: Storey Publishing, LLC
ISBN-10: 1612-12701-0
ISBN-13: 978-1612-12701-9

While this book is a handbook of plants insects need, it is an important book for every gardener. The book begins with a very interesting short version of the multi-million year history of how plants and insects evolved into essential partnerships. For those who have ignored environmental problems, bees have been disappearing, and bees and humans also have an essential partnership. The DNR claims bees pollinate approximately roughly 75% of the vegetables, fruits, and nuts we eat. Personally, I love those plant products and want to keep bees around to do what they do best. Unfortunately, I’ve also noticed a distinct decline in the number of honeybees visiting my plants.

100 PLANTS TO FEED THE BEES offers an extensive list of plants whose flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees, and not only honey bees but native bees and other pollinators such as moths, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Each plant section contains a photo of the plant, the plant’s botanical name, and some basic information on the plant, plus a map of where it grows. Interesting information and sometimes warnings about the plant are also included. An example of a warning is mustard, which is considered a noxious weed in some locations, and illegal to grow.

Included in the 100 plants are native wildflowers and non-native or introduced wildflowers (weeds), garden plants, herbs, trees and shrubs, and even pasture plants. I was glad to see many of the plants I’ve recognized growing in my area, and my garden holds many other recommended selections. I was surprised to see Tilia Americana or the common basswood tree, until I remembered standing under my trees when in bloom and hearing myriad bees busy in the tree’s unseen upper stories. I appreciated the list of insects each plant attracts far beyond bees, too. I looked over an online version of the book, and then pre-order a volume. I recommend all gardeners purchase a copy of 100 PLANTS TO FEED THE BEES, and a big thanks to Xerces Society authors Eric Lee-Mäder, Jarrod Fowler, Jillian Vento, and Jennifer Hopwood for this work.

Aloe vera is a very common houseplant, found on most kitchen sinks because of its healing properties. I bought mine many years ago as a rather spindly young plant suffering from over-watering and lack of good light. It has developed into a sturdy plant with lots of little pup plants sprouting from its base that I replanted into separate containers every few years.

I once took them to a plant sale, but no one wanted any.  How could that be? Did everyone already have one, or did they not know how valuable this plant was?

Photo Aloe vera

Known and used for its healing properties, it is an easy topical ointment for small burns, cuts, and scrapes. It is a simple matter to snip off a leaf, slit it lengthwise, and rub the gooey gel inside the leaves over the wound. What does this gel contain? The University of Maryland Medical Center posts that “Although aloe is 99 percent water, aloe gel also contains substances known as glycoproteins and polysaccharides. Glycoproteins speed the healing process by stopping pain and inflammation while polysaccharides stimulate skin growth and repair. These substances may also stimulate the immune system.”

Over-the-counter skin and hair preparations also flaunt Aloe as an ingredient that reduces wrinkles and helps tame dry hair. On the Internet you can find Aloe vera drinks, the creators making many health claims for their product. Unfortunately, the consumer seldom knows how much Aloe the product contains. It might be as little as a drop or two, and consuming Aloe vera can create problems. But how effective is it, or are the claims just hype? So far the research has been inconclusive on many of the claims made for Aloe vera except as a topical ointment for skin irritation where there is evidence it helps skin injuries heal. Some people are allergic to the gel and in those cases it might cause more harm than cure. However, research continues on its affects to alleviate type 2 diabetes and certain liver diseases.

Most Aloe species come from Africa, but since prehistoric times, its reputation for healing has made it an important crop, spreading it throughout the Mid-East where it received its commonly known name, which is also its botanical name. Aloe is derived from an Arabic word for bitter, while vera is Latin for truth.

Commercially grown in Texas, Florida, and Mexico, it is not surprising that much of the research is done at Texas A&M University. While Aloe are succulent plants and have sharp points along the edges of old leaves which makes them look somewhat like cactus, they plants is in the lily family. Many sources claim Aloe has been associated with healing for over 4,000 years, although I don’t know who kept those records!

The FDA does not regulate labeling on Aloe vera products as it is considered a food, although I don’t suggest sautéing Aloe leaves for dinner. It is like sipping bitter mucilage glue. The health drinks have many other ingredients to tame and conceal the Aloe’s bad taste.

There is also a chemical product called aloin derived from the green part of the leaf. It has historically been used as a laxative, but now is used mostly for animals, as its side effects can be very unpleasant cramping.

Beyond its use as a burn and skin ointment, and when not constantly plucked for medicinal applications, Aloe vera develops into an attractive plant with an interesting leaf structure. It is an undemanding plant, liking bright light and well-drained soil. If the leaves turn reddish it probably needs fertilizing; yellow leaves indicate too much water. Its gray-green leaves can grow to eighteen inches in length, producing a very impressive plant. The leaf spines also become more exaggerated with age, and while not as sharp or potentially dangerous as cactus spines, they can catch on cloth and cause small scratches. That’s okay. Just cut off a lower leaf and spread the gel over the injury.

photo of plant's complex societies

Complex societies

Since 2000, scientists, and in particular botanists, have been delving into the sentience of plants. They’ve made some amazing discoveries. Plants are not the insensate lifeforms Homo sapiens has believed for so long.

Most people, in the past and still today, think of plants as living, but sedentary things that just grew and either thrived or didn’t, but which provided humans food, medicine, and clothing. People presumed they lacked the ‘anima’ or movement and cunning of the upper echelon of life forms, animals, of which we humans, with our self-awareness and intelligence, dominate all other creatures and even the planet Earth. At least, again, that is what many think. We are now learning that we can change the Earth, but it isn’t always a smart thing to do, and that plants and ‘lower’ lifeforms might not be so much lower, and even in someways, smarter.

In reading a 2015 publication, Brilliant Green, The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence, Ismarty-plants’ve learned philosophers since before Aristotle have wondered and postulated about plants, and whether they have souls, a sign of intelligence. Even Darwin and his son had views on plant intelligence which seemed to have been largely ignored. The authors of this book go on to describe plants’ ability to communicate, to remember, and to feel, see, hear, taste, and touch.

Programs like Nature on PBS are also creating shows like “What Plants Talk About,” (also known as “Smarty Plants” in Canada) which cover the discoveries about the ignored nature of plants. On Ted Talks, Stefano Mancuso  speaks on “The roots of plant intelligence,” and The New Yorker’s video “Do Bean Plants Show Intelligence,” based on the research of Michael Pollen, show scientists’ perceptions of plants are changing. Many videos are available on line to show the extraordinary discoveries about plant behaviors.

I’m sure most readers know that plants can survive without humans, but most ‘higher’ life forms cannot survive without plants and their ability to use sunlight, carbon dioxide from the air, and minerals found in the soil to produce sugars and other food substances. Depending on the species, they can live one season or for thousands of years. They clean air, water, and the soil that humans pollute. As mentioned, they take carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen back into the air. What we often don’t know is they live in complex societies both above and below the soil, and when we decimate a forest for wood products, we can also decimate the society of entities that made the forest a healthy and productive ecosystem in the first place.

It is time for humans to stop taking plants, and other life-forms for granted and to use the products and life forms on Earth in a responsible way. Our existence depends on it.

Last year in May (2015) Dr. John P. Holdren, who advises President Obama on science and technology, announced new steps to increase the population of insects that help pollinate our food crops. According to Holdren in his release “Announcing New Steps to Promote Pollinator Health,” these insects have helped  add “more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops.” The article announced three goals:

  1. Reduce honey bee colony losses to economically sustainable levels;
  2. Increase monarch butterfly numbers to protect the annual migration; and
  3. Restore or enhance millions of acres of land for pollinators through combined public and private action.

So while our chemical companies have been developing poisons to kill predatory insects, there is a possibility they have also decimated insects important to our well being, and now with a population topping 7 billion people on Earth, we need all the help we can get to feed them all. There are other contributing causes to pollinator decline, and one is we have changed the landscape so it doesn’t provide what they need to survive. These, of course, our suppositions on my part since I haven’t followed all of the research.

However, when my package came from Burpee with my seed purchases, included was a free packet of Pollinators  Seed Mix. It included cornflowers, flax, cosmos, poppy, larkspur, zinnias, and sunflowers. Because I have been concerned about the decline in honeybees—I have witnessed it in my garden—I decided to plant them, giving a 4×4′ vegetable bed over to the seeds. Of all the disasters in my vegetable garden this year, the pollinators shined in success. Yes; I saw many insects on the flowers, including honeybees. But a Monarch also visited. To help these butterflies I also let the wild milkweed grow, although I’ve noticed they really like my butterflyweed (another species of milkweed) better.

pollinators

Why bring this up? To let you know these seed packets are available for sale now in various plant combinations, including herbal. I took this photo last Thursday, so you can see the plants are still blooming. I’ve used some for bouquets for indoors, too (not a lot, I left most for the insects!) Please grow some. Lets keep the honeybees and Monarch butterflies around.

Oops! Posted and then added more. Here are Holdren’s sites for more information on the new policy copied from the site:

  • Read the National Strategy to Promote Pollinator Health HERE
  • Read the Pollinator Research Action Plan HERE
  • Read Pollinator-Friendly Best Management Practices for Federal Lands HERE
  • Access Appendices to the National Strategy HERE

Gardening is always an adventure and an investigation into the plant world and nature. This year’s vegetable garden has been very different and not very successful. In a word, the cause is DEER, and my garden is not the only one attacked this year. I’ve spoken with several other gardeners whose crops have been decimated by deer. It could be the increase in corn fields around us, which provide also provide food.

Last week we repaired some fencing and put up more fence posts. Yet, this year the grapes have been very successful and weighed down sections of the fence. No matter what Bill and I did, the deer jumped the fence at some point in the perimeter and dined at leisure in the garden beds. The results are the tomatoes have well-cropped tops, and are developing tomatoes on the bottom branches.

Pumpkin blossomYesterday, the deer again jumped the fence and this time ate all the ripening grapes. ALL the grapes of an abundant crop off three vines. So much for making homemade wine. Deer also like Jerusalem artichokes,  horseradish, Swiss chard, beans, and sunflowers. All gone. However, the yellow crookneck squash are huge and abundant as are the pumpkins. On the back deck Bill finally put the lettuce containers on the small table and the raccoons he insists on feeding haven’t been able to get into them.

My flower gardens have done well except for the fact I haven’t kept them as well weeded as they needed to be. Four years after planting the seeds, the white Liatris Florestan White, or Blazing Star, finally bloomed, including one hidden one that I thought had died. I love raising plants from seed and I thought this one a lost cause, and here the plants finally deliver flowers! Deer did eat many of the daylily blooms, but I had daylilies blooming from the end of June to the end of August.  With my vegetable seeds from both Burpee’s and Park’s, I received free packets of ‘pollinators.’ They are blooming in the vegetable garden now and are beautiful.

I also read about using banana peels on plants for fertilizer and implemented the trial. It worked on the tomatoes (although this effort was largely a lost cause) and on the few roses I have. Just wrap the banana peel around the base of the stem. Recycling and fertilizing in one step–how convenient!

While the vegetable garden has been disappointing, it has been an interesting season of gardening. Since I’ve been very busy indoors working on creating an  online course for my classes, painting the walls, woodwork, floors (I truly have a painted house), and writing, most of my gardening has been a few sessions of weeding and much looking. Now I look forward to a fruitful fall hunting season for some hunter, and next spring, new fencing, and another table for the back deck, it should be a good gardening season.

After my post about Gardeners and God Complex, I’ve reaped some bad karma for my presumption.

First, all the seeds I planted when the soil first became workable died or were eaten by birds or insects.

Second, a drought has followed the cold spell that followed the warm spell that let me plant early.

Third, the peas came up but languish in the heat.

Fourth, deer jumped the fence and ate all the new pepper plants I had grown from seeds and just planted, along with the leaves of the Jerusalem artichoke, the asparagus (although we had a great harvest of asparagus), and the parsley that has gone wild in the garden. The deer did not touch the eggplants or tomatoes. Bought and planted more peppers, two of which have disappeared.

Fifth, within a day of  the cucumber seedlings breaking ground, they disappeared, as happened to the beets, parsnips and turnips. And something is eating the young squash plants. Moles? Birds? Insects? Grasshoppers?

Sixth, I planted a bed with beans, but now see I’d planted it with sunflowers too. It will be war of the world all over again.

Seventh, a special someone (not giving away names!) wanting to be helpful tilled the walkways between the beds so my feet sink into loose sandy soil whenever I walk the garden.

So, grrr, I didn’t take into consideration all the things not necessarily under my control. I’m hoping its not too late to plant more crops. What else can happen?

Two good aspects: the grapes seem to have abundant fruit developing for the first time. (I really need to learn how to prune those vines, and I’m sure the Baltimore Oriole nesting nearby will enjoy them as they did the Juneberries!)  Yet the rhubarb is doing tremendous and the ancient apple trees have fruit developing.

At my garden club’s flower show last Friday, my 22 year old Mammillaria elongata cactus took the Award of Merit (orange ribbon) in the houseplants class of the horticulture section. Yeah! (Except there were some very worthy entries just as deserving!)

Cactus winner

phloxs

Take a section of land, perhaps put a fence around it to protect it from predators, tear off all the existing vegetation, prepare the soil, and plant what you want to grow: that can be either a farm field or a garden, a human creation. Both farmers and gardeners create gardens by imposing their will on nature. The gardener chooses the location, chooses the plants allowed to live and grow, and what plants (weeds) to pull and let die. A gardener creates a world in a garden. Does that give a gardener some type of God complex?

Gardens are hard work and take continued effort. If the gardener doesn’t keep up their garden, the natural world, believed to have been created by the real God, takes over. Local nature reclaims its property very quickly, making this world-building ephemeral. So why garden?

Certainly gardeners create gardens for food. Even with the cost of seeds, plants, fertilizer or organic materials to incorporate into the soil, watering, and the effort of all the work, a gardener can produce enough vegetables to feed their family through the winter for less cost than the grocery story. There is also satisfaction in this production of food, and the taste is usually far superior to any bought vegetable. The gardener knows what chemicals have been used on the produce which is often not the case with purchased produce.

Other benefits come with gardening beyond growing the family food. The creation of flower gardens and landscaping offer the chance to be creative, to mix the colors and textures of plants into vistas of extraordinary beauty. They offer the opportunity to inspect the beauty of plants up close, and discover the differences of each species. Wonderful flowering scents can permeate gardens. Gardening activities and plant selections can be very successful; some are failures, so gardening teaches the gardener about nature, about ecosystems, and the extensive world of plants, which leads to a greater appreciation for nature. This can lead to explorations of chemistry, weather patterns, and biology, adding a greater understanding of life.

Gardens are peaceful. They can give the gardener moments of single minded, thoughtless work, relaxing an over wrought mind. Just as often, gardening gives the gardener the ability to expand their personal thoughts. Either way can be very calming. Flowers, branches, leaves, and vegetables brought inside and made into an arrangement can bring the outdoors in, bringing the same beauty and peace found in a garden to a room

The successful efforts gone into making a garden give not only the gardener but also others something to enjoy. Having a visitor appreciate a garden brings the gardener another reward. Yet, just standing in the middle of a garden can bring a special contentment. Another benefit–good landscape increases property values.

Gardens tell time, give the seasons a distinct joy. Each season has its special jobs, its special plants and blooms. The joy of the first daffodils, to the ending summer’s chrysanthemums bring unique happiness, and a warning of how fast time passes.

Yet most gardens are doomed. Sometimes it’s temporary, like in Michigan where each winter the garden goes dormant, often providing an entirely different beauty. Ultimately, though, when the gardener is gone, usually so is the garden. So, gardens bring a sense of mortality providing the gardener the wisdom to enjoy each day; so not quite God, but a God-like experience.

All these reasons and more are why I garden.

Follow Rhobin's Garden on WordPress.com