Digital Ischemia

30/11/2016

Flickering Shades

The Ghost of Species Past

Dropwort (Filipendula vulgaris)

Dropwort (Filipendula vulgaris)

See this dropwort (Filipendula vulgaris), a perennial herb cousin of Meadowsweet in the family Rosaceae, on its favoured dry pasture. Taste its bitter sweet tuberous roots and young leaves, cooked or raw. Smell its crushed mature leaves, like oil of Wintergreen, as they release methyl salicylate. Infuse dropwort’s flowers for traditional medicine. Feel its therapeutic effects, as the methyl salicylate is metabolised to salicylic acid, a proven NSAID, like aspirin.

There was balance there.

The Ghost of Species Present

Ghost orchid (Epipogium aphyllum)

Ghost orchid (Epipogium aphyllum)

Perhaps you may see the ghost orchid (Epipogium aphyllum), or perhaps not: declared Extinct in Britain in 2005, a single ghost orchid was subsequently discovered. Now Critically Endangered – one ghost orchid does not make a viable long-term population of a species – it flickers on the edge of existence. When it does appear, it occurs in beech, oak, pine and spruce forests. Ghost orchids obtain nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi that are associated with coniferous tree roots, thus they have no chlorophyll and do not photosynthesise. Being mostly subterranean, this ghost is named for its creamy-white to pinkish-brown colour during its fleeting appearances to flower in dark, damp woods.

Patience. It awaits serendipity: a pollinator that has visited a fellow ghost orchid flower recently and nearby. Such visits have been fewer and fewer, and further and further between. We might never know the full extent of what we might lose by its passing.

The Ghost of Species Yet to Come

Scottish bog myrtle (Myrica gale)

Scottish bog myrtle (Myrica gale)

Scottish bog myrtle (Myrica gale) has been known for centuries – Highlanders and other north-western Europeans used it to flavour beer and discourage biting insects. Bog Myrtle oil has antibacterial properties which promote healthy skin, but it is also an abortifacient.

Clinging to life, finding survival just that little bit harder with each rapid generation. Sense the air and the water, the light and the warmth, the shadow and the push of neighbours. Each individual knows only its local conditions and its individual success or failure to thrive there. But the collective intelligence of the plant species is there for us to grasp.

Here the path bifurcates. Feel the slight indicative changes in climate pressures. Dread the heralding of another ‘miracle’ plant, of industrial harvesting scouring moorland to feed human hyperconsumerism until the fad passes.

We don’t have time enough to wait for natural evolution to refill these niches. Meanwhile, other connectees in the web adjust to their space change. So, we rush to isolate our chemical benefactors, to artificially evolve what we want from only a fragment of understanding. Evolution has a very long timescale for good reason. It is not finished, never finished. Can we listen? Can we wear much smaller shoes?

 

Today is Remembrance Day for Lost Species.

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