Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cheer Up, Stuff Happens

Last summer, a surprise plant popped up in the shady southwest corner of the yard, under the mulberry tree. The plant was about 8 inches tall, and bore small, pale, round, orange fruits inside a paper shell lantern.  I thought maybe it was deadly nightshade, which is deadly (2).  I was planning to look it up, when I saw it at a local farmer's market.  It was a ground cherry (1), which is a member of the nightshade family, but not deadly (be sure to know the difference before trying things out in your yard).  They taste like musky, light cherries.  I know that they are a wild edible, but I don't know how it got in my yard.  It could've come on the wind, in the feces of an animal, or laid dormant in the soil for decades, waiting for it's Moment to arrive.  A mystery to me, because I have no comprehension of the scope of the universe.  So I'll just defer to Jeff Goldblum's classic line about self-fertilizing Raptor eggs in Jurassic Park:  life finds a way.

Fascinating how flora just Shows Up. The first settlers to America knew well that Nature in their new domain had to be actively fought off, or It would win. A few centuries later, that landscape has been raped.  In fact all over the planet it seems like Earth has decidedly lost a few rounds in the Battle to Be.  But looks are deceptive.  There is The Obvious, and there is The Insidious.  American suburbanites, for example, obviously commandeer water and pesticides and wide open spaces, like there is no tomorrow and no competition. What is a raccoon or a honeybee or a fish or old-growth tree going to say about humans trashing prime real estate, really?  A manicured yard gives the impression that Man, not Nature, is in control; everything looks uniform, cookie-cutter, predictable, within boundaries, sterile.  

But this is a pathetic illusion.  Without constant intervention, Nature has her way, Nature is 'What Life on Earth Is."   Although territory is in dispute, control is not.  Climate Change will weigh in pretty heavily one day soon. But even on a smaller scale, Nature still--always--Shows Up. 

One terra-example of Nature takeover is ruins of ancient civilizations, absorbed into the physical strata.  A fine example in this century is the city of Detroit, where abandoned inner-city sites are everywhere.  These sites are becoming grown-over (check this out: http://dornob.com/houses-gone-wild-haunting-photos-of-abandoned-homes/).  But you don't have to be a devastated civilization to have a view of what we're dealing with in Nature.  A smaller example of Nature Showing Up is in my tiny suburban yard, where "in control" is not practiced, and Nature stuff happens.

In addition to the visiting ground cherries, I was surprised to find a couple of milkweed last year.  Another gift from the birds, or the wind, or who-knows.  Last year I found two milkweed plants;  this year, over a dozen and still counting. They must like it here! They seem to spread by root, and are growing under a domestic blackberry bush. In fact, that bush was a start given to me by Dad from his Southern Illinois farm;  it may well have brought the milkweed with it.  If so, it's been dormant for years. I will take a year to observe and accurately identify and learn about this little prize, but in the meantime, it's great news for neighborhood pollinators. It's also good  news for my growing abundance of edible wild plants: http://foragersharvest.com/milkweed-a-truly-remarkable-wild-vegetable/

So, its hard to see Nature take the big hits: sprouting subdivisions; water orgies in desert lands that were never designed for water orgies; decimation of small animal populations that are displaced by human activity; melting ice caps.  But it is comforting to see small things that persist in Nature, despite human insult to the planet.  Nature is way older than humans, and has long-established methods. Many small things, someone said, make a difference.  Life goes on, stuff happens.

Scrappy little milkweeds that came from who-knows-where,
and have made themselves at home in the garden. I'm easily excited about
visiting plants, but these will be great for pollinators and,
when I have it figured out, for food. 

(1) Ground cherries:  edible members of the nightshade family (which includes tomatoes!)

(2) Deadly nightshade pictures:  (DONT eat these) http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=deadly+nightshade+picture&qpvt=deadly+nightshade+picture&qpvt=deadly+nightshade+picture&FORM=IGRE