We have come to the end of our plant course here. Complete immersion in the plant world is what it is all about. Here are some thoughts on plants…
What Is a Plant?
Trying to define what a plant is, is like trying to define all of creation. Plants, as primary producers, are the basis for all life. A primary producer is the essence of the food web (or food chain). Plants have the uncanny ability to manufacture their substance out of free carbon, moisture and sunlight. “Out of thin air” is not too far off the mark. From an insignificant seed (in the larger scheme of things) plants set down roots and build ring upon ring of growth into the atmosphere above ground. In awe, one can only marvel at the diversity of creative expression exhibited by the plant world. From the most meager algae or duckweed to the majesty of a redwood, plants occupy every possible niche on this planet, horizontally and vertically.
Gerbert Grohmann calls the plant world the “light-sensitive organ of the earth.”
Just as the human eye receives light in order to manufacture impressions of the external world, the plant is the receiver of the sun’s rays and creates its substance, the image of the plant, through an admixture of sunlight, moisture and carbon. Many of us remember the formula we learned in biology class in high school for the photosynthetic process: 6CO2 + 6H2O + Energy –> C6H12O6 + 6O2. This equation for photosynthesis shows that these compounds are used to produce glucose, the sugars that form the substrate for all plant life, the carbohydrates, or complex sugars. Add nitrogen and we have plant protein.
As the primary producer, the primary food for all creatures, plant substance is carried through the food chain and transformed into food by secondary and tertiary producers and beyond. All of this metamorphosed substance goes into making soil that the life in the soil produces for future plant growth, and the cycle repeats itself endlessly.
Those of us that strive toward a perennial plant culture, those of us that have witnessed the degradation and weakening of our seed stock and the debilitation of plant life due to unnatural cultural practices, excessive tillage, unbounded chemical applications, and the dwindling of plant diversity, have learned that once the cycles of life have been circumscribed, we all suffer as a race: debilitating disease, obesity, emotional disquietude, intellectual instability.
If our plants are weak, if our plants are mineral and nutrient deficient, then so are we. By increasing our awareness of the issues that beset the modern world, by improving the fertility of the soil, and by utilizing the biological intelligence that surrounds and circulates through us, we can once again help to fortify the plant world through best practices. As we build soil into dynamic humus, the plant’s genetic stability will effectively be restored. There is no laboratory solution that can do this, no test tube experiment that can mimic what is already present in the ecosystemic services that supply the plant’s every need. Artificial fertilizers and manures create artificial plants. Aspirin will not cure a recurring headache. Something more comprehensive, more constitutional is needed. The “green revolution” is a revolution of aspirins, quick fixes, and as the foundation continues to crumble, the nutritional foundation of humanity and all life crumbles.
Plant guilds belie the fact that what we design into our plant matrices is a combination of plants that thrive together, that share resources, and contribute to the whole. When a community thrives as community so do its individual members. The community and the individual members are strengthened.
The etymological root of the word “plant” arises ultimately from the Latin plantare, to drive in with the feet, push into the ground with the feet, and from planta, the soul of the foot, to spread. The nature of the plant is to “take root”, to drive its feet downward, to push into the ground, at the same time rising upward in to the daylight and the atmosphere. The plant’s foot (root) spreads through the soil matrix and into the many levels of the soil profile. It is here that it finds its support and sustenance.
Plant form is diverse to the point of infinity. Every geometrical configuration ever known and unknown is depicted in the way plants grow as they insert themselves, structurally, into the immediate environment. The design of a plant is predicated on efficiency, beauty and the interaction that it has with the other kingdoms of nature: mineral, animal, human.
But do plants really stand still?