During the super moon this past summer, Sid and I took a weekend trip to the small town of Julian, about an hour and a half north of San Diego. We stayed at the Pine Hill Lodge, a secluded retreat set up above the city and back into the forest.
After a lazy afternoon nap, I woke up to a stunning view of the woods from our patio and said to Sid, in awe: “Think about it – aside from us and the other patrons, it’s a jungle out there. In less than a hundred square yards I bet I could find over a hundred different plant species, all of them vastly different. Some, like those, are oaks hundreds of years old. Some are ephemeral and bloom for less than two weeks. Some are tubers, others vines. Some are poisonous, some edible. And all of them manage to live in peace with one another. And we think we’re the higher life forms.”
Used to this sort of philosophical rambling, he nodded politely and suggested I take a hike (literally, thank goodness). But the fact remains: what has always drawn me to plants is their remarkable ability to be both endlessly complex and staggeringly simple at the same time. Plant precursors were swimming in the primordial soup billions of years ago, and the redwoods stood long before man was around to marvel at their grandeur. In a lot of ways, I view plants as the more advanced form of life. And while Homo sapiens have the ability to speak, think and be mobile (although some plants do also move, travel and make noise), it’s not these similarities that make them amazing. It’s all the ways in which plants have already accomplished what our species has yet to even understand. So, in today’s post, I’d like to elucidate on some of the more humbling accomplishments of our friends from the kingdom Plantae.
Leaves of Canna ‘Cleopatra’, a chimera that exhibits variable flower and foliage colors.
• Chimeras In Greek myth, a chimera is a creature with the head of both a lion and a goat, with a snake for a tail. Scientifically, the term has come to represent an organism composed of genetic material from two or more distinct sources. While chimeras do occur throughout the animal kingdom (including in humans), these instances are rare. In plants, however, chimeras are more common and quite striking in appearance.
• Cloning While cloning has been demonstrated in a number of animal species and is feasible in humans, plants often produce clones of themselves with no trouble at all. In fact, many plants reproduce in this way much more readily than through seed. Succulents, for example, produce prolific clones of themselves called ‘pups.’ What’s more, a cutting taken from almost any plant can be rooted to create an identical copy. Many cultivars must be propagated through this technique alone, as their seed does not breed true. It’s cloning you can do in your home!