Friday, June 6, 2014

The Wonder of Plants

Once again, the haze and humidity have cleared, and I am left with a sharper brighter image, as though nature washed her windows clean. Every growing thing is renewed, and the early morning light smiles in bright yellow-green on the leaves of every tree and shrub.

Plants are remarkable things, and I've learned so much about them lately from all the research I've done for various online content articles. Here, in these woods, I'm literally surrounded by more varieties than I can count, and I doubt I'd be able to discover them all, considering how playful nature is in forever introducing new varieties into the landscape. From the tomato plants that I myself so lovingly put into the ground each year to the tallest pine that grows up on the ridge, all share growth characteristics all the while possessing features that are unique to each species.

Plants grow from the roots up, with the first cells originating beneath the soil, and it is almost magical the way they just seem to know to grow downward while the aerial parts of a plant know to grow upward. When a seed germinates, it simultaneously sends out both a fledgling rootlet and a pair of false leaves known as cotyledons. The root orients itself in the soil to seek out as much as moisture and as many nutrients as possible, while above the soil, the cotyledons eventually give way to the true leaves whose job it will be, with the sun's help, to manufacture food that the entire plant will need. Both parts of the new plant work in unison to support it toward the eventual goal of flower, fruit and seed production.

As I sat today looking at one of the tomato plants I have in a pot on the porch, I tried to imagine what is going on inside it. Is the process of cell development and enlargement actually visible, or does it happen in such infinitesimal degrees that it cannot be observed, and like so much else in nature, we simply have to believe that it's happening? For with each passing day, the plant's leaves are a bit higher against the railing and soon, they will surpass it entirely, at which point I'll have to tie it a little higher along the vine so it doesn't topple over. And then, without warning, I'll look one day and there will be the characteristic yellow blossoms indicating the spots where tiny green tomatoes will eventually appear, much to my eternal delight.

A plant grows in much the same way as do other living organisms-by cell production and enlargement. As new cells are formed, they fill with water drawn up into the plant through the roots. As they swell, they push the cells above them higher, causing the stem to elongate and grow. Some cells store water and others starches, and it is water that gives a plant its ability to stand upright and not keel over, a characteristic known in botanical circles as turgor or turgidity, which is the pressure the engorged cells exert on each other and on the stem walls. That's why a wilting plant seems to magically right itself once it's been given a drink, as the water floods the cells deep within the stem.

From the tiniest moss plant to the gigantic California redwoods, all plants follow this pattern of growth and development, each according to its own genetic code. Here, in these humble woods, I am reminded of that fact each time I look outside at my tomato plant and at the trees beyond, that never cease to amaze me in their variety, their tenacity and their eternal capacity to look ever upward.

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