Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pieces and Parts of Our Gardens...and Our World

"The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, 'What good is it?' " 
                                                                    ...Aldo Leopold

This quote, which I noted in my Facebook feed the other day, caught my eye.  It made me remember old jokes in the 1970's about "useless" research being funded by the government - things like the mating habits of crayfish.  Why would anyone care about that, let alone plunk down good money to support that sort of foolish, nonsensical research?!

Well, I care.  I cared then, simply because I loved animals, and now I care even more, because I realize how little I know about the plants and animals around me and about how they interact with each other.

Most importantly, all of us should care.  As a society, WE KNOW SO blasted LITTLE ABOUT THE NATURAL WORLD OF WHICH WE ARE BUT ONE PART.  What conditions DO crayfish/crawdads require to reproduce?  How about pollinating insects?  How about natural predatory insects?  What harm will we do if we do away with this species?  or that one?

You're a gardener.  Here's a quick test for you:  How many natural predators of insects can you identify?

It's okay.  Take your time.  I'm patiently waiting  - and humming the Jeopardy tune - while you make your tally.....

I'm guessing you thought of ladybugs,...

praying mantises,...

and, if you're really thinking, maybe flycatchers.

Well, did you think of all the various different types of spiders - garden spiders, crab spiders, grass spiders, funnel spiders, hunting spiders and so forth?  They eat oodles of insects every day.

How about all the different kinds of birds?  Almost all birds feed their young exclusively insects as they grow, even if the species eats seeds when it reaches adulthood.

Did you list wasps?  Most young wasps grow up on a diet of insects or spiders, too.

Are toads on your list?  They're completely carnivorous, eating primarily insects.

Frogs are completely carnivorous, too.

Garter snakes manage to chow down on quite a few insects as they prowl along the ground.

If you've listened to one of my talks, you know that one of my favorite insect predators is the wheel bug.  In my gardens, wheel bugs probably eat more insects than praying mantises and ladybugs combined.

Flower flies.  In this species of syrphid fly, for example, every adult you see nectaring at a flower ate an average of 250 aphids to reach adulthood.

The list goes on and on and on and on.  Blister beetle grubs feed on grasshopper eggs.  Coyotes eat insects as part of their varied diet; their pups often practice hunting on grasshoppers.  Even my German shepherds can't get enough cicadas every summer - talk about a buzzy, tasty, crunchy dog treat!

The quote with which I began this post is taken from a much longer paragraph in Aldo Leopold's Round River essay:
The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, "What good is it?" If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.
We treat many parts of our world as if they were totally unimportant, killing plants and animals indiscriminately, feeling a flush of power as we prove that WE are dominant.

Sooner rather than later, to use another classic metaphor, we are going to loosen and throw away the last remaining bolt that was holding our aircraft together. 

But we're gardeners, you and I.  We know that we are not dominant over nature - nature manages to humble us time and time again, year after year.  Still, each spring, we feel the thrill of nurturing life.  That's part of the challenge of gardening.  So, as gardeners, let's take a pledge to learn about the natural world around us, so that we can share our knowledge with others.  In doing so, we'll help to repair the web of life to which we belong, hopefully saving the last few bolts from loosening and even tightening many more in their proper places so that they keep our world together, functional, and flying.

There's another quote, this one by John Muir, that seems appropriate to close with:  "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world."  It's OUR world.  Let's take care of it.


Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

Love that John Muir quote!
So, so true!

sweetbay said...

One of the things I love most about my garden and farm is all of the wildlife that it supports.

There is so much wisdom packed into Aldo Leopold's writing.