Monday, 11 June 2007

A Summer Snowstorm

The temperature this morning when I was out walking was about 20 Celsuis (about 70 F), and yesterday it was frankly hot in the afternoon. Yet when I turned off to go through the woods near the Sanctuaire, the ground was covered with white. Not snow in June, surely?

No, the covering was thousands and thousands of seeds from the Eastern cottonwood or poplar (Populus deltides Bartr.) which had been blown around during the last few days and had collected on the floor of the woods. “A summer snowstorm,” as the Global Forest Science web site says. Very lovely, and a reminder of the profligacy of nature. How many seeds, and how few trees will grow from them!

This was the kind of thing that led Linnaeus to decide that the sexual reproduction was the key to classifying plants. His descriptions of the male and female parts--the stamens, stigmas and styles--were called “salacious”and “loathsome harlotry” by some of his contemporaries. An example: he called one class Polyandria (from the Greek words for many Poly and male Andros) and described it as “twenty males or more in the same bed with the female.” For more see the section on the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden in my book Recreating Eden: A Natural History of Botanical Gardens as well as this month’s National Geographic.

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