Plant Panic

I just watched an interesting video, 41 seconds long, entitled, “Scientists Discover Plants ‘Panic’ When It Rains”.

It says that droplets of water, containing bacteria, viruses, or fungal spores, are the main cause of disease spreading among plants. For that reason, when it rains, plants release a protein that causes the plant’s genes to prepare to defend themselves. So it’s kind of like human panic. Red alert, all hands on deck!

Nature is amazing. I’m impressed that plants have this coping mechanism. Anything that allows them to thrive is spectacular.

But it also makes me sad, because one of my favorite things to do is water the plants in my garden. I know I have a tendency to anthropomorphize things, and that’s a bad habit, but as I water my plants, I’ve always imagined them thinking, “Ahhhh, that feels good. Sweet relief. I was thirsty.”

Now I get to think that I’m freaking them out.

The last thing I want to do is cause my plants distress. At the very least, I’ll be directing my water stream at the roots as much as possible from now on, in hopes of maintaining a peaceable kingdom. I’d like my garden to be as Eden-like as possible.

garden-of-eden

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Chicken Gizzards

I had my first job when I was 10 years old. I used to buy large plants, break them up into much smaller plants in smaller pots, nurture them until they were thriving, and then sell them at the flea market. 25 cents here, 50 cents there…I wasn’t exactly on a path to riches, but it allowed me to buy school clothes, and it helped me fulfill a dream. I wanted to go to Disney World like it was killing me.

We had just moved to Central Florida, and we were in dire straits financially. Getting enough money for food was the priority, but I was still a kid. I wanted some fun, and I knew we’d never get to Disney if I didn’t take matters into my own hands. Back then, the admission for three people was 20 dollars. (That tells you how old I am, right there.) 20 dollars seemed like an all but unreachable goal.

I enjoyed working with plants. I took pride in offering a wide variety, and I knew all their names and could give advice on their care. But my biggest sellers, by far, were the Chicken Gizzards. They were very colorful, with their green and white stripes with the occasional quirky splash of red, and they were not very common at all. People would laugh out loud when they heard what they were called. I always sold out of Chicken Gizzards.

I haven’t seen one since, or I’d have bought it right away. I loved those plants. I almost thought it was a misremembered dream until I googled them, and sure enough, here’s a picture. Aren’t they cool?

chickengizzard

As much as I loved working with the plants, I hated the sales part. It was torture. I was painfully shy. As often as I could, I would bury myself inside a book until a customer approached. I remember the senior citizens that frequented the flea market telling me that I needed to smile more. Sage advice, I’m sure, but I had very little to smile about back then. Poverty is a lot more stressful on children than most people realize. It’s scary, feeling like you have no stability at all.

My profit margin was thin to begin with, what with plants, pots, and potting soil, and then a lot of those profits had to go for clothes. So it took me about a year, but finally, I was able to scrape together that 20 dollars, and my mother, my sister and I piled into the car and off we went to Disney World. My mother must have paid for the gas, the parking, and for lunch, too, because I don’t recall including those things in my calculations. But there we were! I was so excited!

I’m willing to bet that I’m the only person on earth who has Chicken Gizzards to thank for a trip to Disney World. It was a wonderful, hard-won adventure. Somewhere I have dusty old pictures of me with Pluto, me in front of the Country Bear Jamboree, and one of Cinderella’s Castle.

It was so exciting that about halfway through the day I worked myself into a major migraine and didn’t want to tell anyone for fear that we’d leave early. After it took so much for me to get there, I didn’t want to cut the day short. I had reached the promised land, and no amount of excruciating pain would keep me from it.

I managed to keep it together until we got back to the parking lot that evening. I then proceeded to throw up all over the place. Much to my chagrin, I drew a crowd. I was relived when we were finally able to leave the (by then almost empty) parking lot.

Come to think of it, the fetid pool I left behind kind of looked like Chicken Gizzards. Things do have a way of coming full circle.

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Hope for the Planet

I just watched an amazing TED Talk thanks to this Wired article. It has given me more hope that we can turn climate change around than anything I’ve read up to this point. Seriously. I feel like I can finally exhale.

Thanks to plant biologist Joanne Chory and her team, there is a possibility that we can dig ourselves out of this very dark and suffocating hole that we have placed ourselves in. And while the solution takes a great deal of expertise, it’s actually rather easy to understand. Here’s my condensed version.

  • Humans have put too much CO2 in the atmosphere, which is causing global climate change. (If you haven’t come to accept that fact, there’s really no point in reading the rest of this.)

  • Plants take in CO2 and release oxygen, but they’re currently unable to keep up with our pace.

  • But this team has come up with a way to modify plants so they’ll take in more CO2.

  • Suberin is a waxy substance that some roots have that allows them to take in more CO2.

  • This team has figured out a way to genetically modify plants so that they’ll produce more suberin, and also produce more roots and deeper roots, without having a negative impact on crop yields.

  • At the end of a plant cycle, unfortunately, a lot of plants rot, which causes them to release the CO2 back into the atmosphere. That’s why the root depth is so important. If we can get roots to go deeper, they’ll hold the CO2 longer, and rather than release into the air, the carbon will go into the soil, making it much more fertile for the next crop. (Soil depletion has been causing reduced crop yields for years, even as our population increases, so this is an amazing side benefit.)

  • This enriched soil also has the ability to retain moisture.

  • This team believes they are within 10 years of creating wheat, corn and rice crops that will have all these enhanced traits. How exciting. How amazing.

I see only two downsides to this endeavor:

  1. People are terrified of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms.) That has a lot to do with this trend toward a fear of science in general, and it’s a pity. I genuinely do not think that all GMOs are bad. In fact, genetic modification occurs in nature all the time. Nothing that you eat now is genetically identical to what was going on in nature a thousand years or more ago. So calling this stuff “Frankenfood” is inaccurate at best. (This article from WebMD backs me up on this.) But if people refuse to buy these products, then farmers will refuse to plant them, and all this amazing research will be for naught. There’s a solution in our future, folks. Let’s not torpedo it with our ignorance.

  2. Dr. Chory, the team leader, is experiencing increasing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. So she is in a race against time to get this research completed. I hope that her team could carry on without her, but I think her knowledge and experience and leadership is greatly needed, so I hope she’s able to beat the clock, for the sake of the planet.

Despite the hurdles, I finally feel like I can take a breath, because I know there are thousands of other scientists out there who are also running this race and coming up with answers. If we are going to be saved, it’s the scientists who will do the saving. There are also plenty of us who care about the environment enough to make sacrifices and also push for green energy solutions.

So take heart, dear reader. Take heart. All is not yet lost.

Hope for the Planet

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Making My Mark

It’s a strange experience, occupying a space that someone else had made her own for decades. All the furniture has been picked out, all the walls are painted, the art chosen, the plants planted. She’s not here, and yet she’s everywhere.

Which is not a bad thing, necessarily. For the most part, I like her taste. I would have liked her, I’m sure. But it’s time to make this place ours.

Slowly, but surely, we’re introducing change. We’re adding the new and getting rid of the old. We’re keeping the good, and getting rid of what no longer fits. We’re rearranging. We’re changing colors, here and there. We’ve had a garage sale. We’ve planted a tree.

Just recently we painted a glow-in-the-dark milky way on the ceiling. Adolescent as that may sound, I’ve had it in my last two houses, and I find it comforting to stare at as I drift off to sleep. So doing that meant a lot to me.

You don’t really think too much about marking territory unless you have dogs, but we humans do it, too. We just do it with paint and pillows and photos. It’s how you make a house a home.

Interior Design

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The Sonoran Desert: Here There Be Thorns

I really must be in love, because on my fiancé’s behest, I was about to fly to Tucson, Arizona. In August. If I wanted to experience 100 degree temperatures, I’d have stayed in Florida. And yet, here I was, on a plane, heading into what felt like the world’s biggest pizza oven.

Ah, but it’s a dry heat. The better to desiccate you with, my dear. It felt as if the inside of my nose was going to crack open and crumble to dust.

And yet, upon arrival, a funny thing happened. I fell in love with the place’s unique beauty. I strongly suspect that Arizonans are treated to more thorns per capita than residents of any other state in the union. Saguaro cactus. Organ pipe cactus. Barrel cactus. It has more plant species than any other desert in the world. Cholla. Prickly Pear. Creosote bush. Bur sage. Palo verde. Mesquite. Ironwood. Acacia. I was enchanted.

And running around amongst that flora was an amazing amount of fauna. An astounding variety of lizards, too quick to be photographed. Turtles. Bats. Rabbits. Coyote. Gila monsters. Hummingbirds. Quail. Roadrunners. Snakes. And lest we forget, the troublesome Javelina.

It seems like life should be impossible in the blistering heat of this desert, and yet there it was, all around me. The terrain was amazing, too, with its mountains and plains and dry washes. And, being monsoon season, when it rained, my goodness, it rained, causing floods where one would think water had never been before. And then the temperature would drop 25 blessed, blessed degrees and the desert would bloom and be as lush as it could ever be.

Would I live in the Sonoran Desert? No. I’d miss moisture and grass and nothing scary to step on when barefoot.

Will I visit again? I hope so! There’s a certain poetry to the place. But I hope I won’t be back in August. Please, God, not in August.

Here are some pictures we took of this beautiful land.

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Even Weeds Belong Somewhere

My whole life, I’ve felt as though I didn’t quite fit in. So much so, that at some point I gave up trying. In fact, these days I seem to have gone to the other end of the bell curve entirely. I kind of delight in being out in left field most of the time.

Except when I’m feeling vulnerable. When I’m tired, I feel much more insecure. When I’m improperly dressed at a party, and have no idea which fork to use, I’m not going to lie–that kind of sucks.

But it isn’t anyone else telling me that I don’t fit in. It’s entirely me. And it’s based on some pretty arbitrary social rules. It always makes me think of weeds. I’m a weed.

During my young adult life, I lived in a town called Apopka, which called itself the “Indoor Foliage Capital of the World.” (I wonder if they still do? It’s been many decades since I’ve been back.) Back then, you couldn’t throw a rock in that town without shattering a greenhouse window. It made me look at plants in an entirely new way.

It amazed me how much people were willing to pay for stuff that you can find growing entirely wild somewhere or other. People do love the exotic, but even exotic things have to be commonplace in some location, or they wouldn’t exist.

So, a weed is simply something that doesn’t fit in. It’s not where it’s supposed to be. Worse case scenario, it’s invasive. But that’s not the weed’s fault. It never asked to be uprooted. There it was, minding its own business in its natural habitat, when some fool decided to send it half way across the world without considering the consequences. And then the name calling begins. (Damned weed. Get out of my yard! We don’t want you here!)

So it’s all about perspective and location. We all have our place. It’s just a matter of finding it. So maybe as you walk along the path of your life, try being a little less judge-y of the other living things that you encounter who are feeling out of place. They, too, have their journey. Just sayin’.

Weeds.jpg

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Nesting

So, it’s official! I am buying a house! I’m so excited.

During this waiting period, while all the paperwork gets processed, and in between packing by fits and starts, I am starting to imagine the many ways I will make this house a home.

First of all, this place is really, really small. And it has very little storage. I see several trips to IKEA for shelving and cabinetry in my future.

And while the house is small, the yard is fairly big. My dog Quagmire is going to love it! But I’m going to need a lawnmower. And lots and lots of plants, to take up some of that space so I have less need for the lawnmower. I’ve always wanted a weeping blue aster pine, but I’m not sure if they fare well in Washington State. I’ll have to do some homework. I also insist on having a lilac bush and a forsythia, because my mother adored them. And I love Chinese maples. Oooh! And tulip trees! And junipers!

And I’ll need a couch. And tools. And…

Whoa, Nelly. Get a grip. All this is going to cost money. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Yadda yadda.

Oh, leave me alone! Can’t you see I’m nesting, here?

Rufous_hummingbird_(female_nesting)

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