It's a challenge to get Nick past the gooseberry bush in the front yard. We're headed down the hill to take care of the animals early on a Sunday morning when he spots the gooseberries and carefully reaches through the prickly branches, ignoring the green fruit to pick one ripe, reddish-brown berry after another, popping them into his mouth as fast as he can. Once he has picked almost every ripe berry, he wanders off to the nearby blackcap raspberry patch to see if any fruit can be found there.
Nicholas is just nineteen months old. In the garden behind our house, he loves to pick and eat peas and wineberries. If Nick can learn to recognize and locate so many different edible plants as a toddler, imagine the knowledge that a lifetime spent close to nature can provide. Although we think our grandson is an extraordinary child, I suspect that this type of understanding comes easily to many young children because in the past, it was necessary for human survival. Green plants are essential to life. Trees, shrubs, herbs and grasses provide oxygen and food. They are key components of nature's biological cycles. Without plants, we wouldn't be able to eat, breathe or get rid of our wastes for very long.
Unfortunately, fewer and fewer humans currently have the chance to become familiar with local plants. An orgy of new technologies, sterile schools with test-based curricula and distant sources for almost everything we need to live, have replaced direct contact with nature. The artificially-manicured plants of the golf course and theme park are now substitutes for the real thing. Suburban monocultures have superseded nourishing gardens and small farms. Media-driven, environmental hysteria keeps many children and their parents indoors. These scares are often a result of, and are encouraged by, our growing disconnection from nature.
Worldwatch Institute reports that people today are able to recognize fewer than ten plants but they can identify hundreds of corporate logos. It's gotten so bad that Suzanne's fifth-grade science textbook shows tomatoes growing on bean plants! A look through any popular magazine reveals nature mostly as a backdrop in advertisements for drugs, pesticides and SUVs designed to conquer nature.
Our society's increasing ignorance about plants has serious implications for our future. As long as our relationship with nature exists at the other end of the pipeline, wire or highway, ignorance of our lifestyle's effects on the natural world, compounded by our lack of understanding of the way nature works, will continue to push ecosystems toward unsustainability. Getting to know local plants and sharing them with children is a great way to create a healthier relationship with the environment.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
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