Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Listening To Flowers

I have always been extremely interested in wild orchids. It started as a kid in Michigan, then became much more serious in Ohio as I began organizing camping trips and hikes around times when certain species would be blooming. This carried on even when I lived in The East Village in Lower Manhattan. I usually either biked over the George Washington Bridge into the Palisades. The Palisade Cliffs extend the Hudson River and most of it is a protected forested reserve. You come upon the remains of estates now reclaimed by the forests high above the river. There, I hiked and biked and collected mushrooms and in the spring and early summer, learned the habitats of 12 different native orchids. Now, I live in a very rural environmentally diverse part of France. When I first began to explore this area, I started to catalogue the wild orchids that grew here. I began to learn more about the very specific needs of the different species. Orchids are every where on this planet and have been able to evolve and exploit almost every ecological niche. Some of of the plants here are very tiny. You have to know what you are looking for and how to recognize them. I lived outside of a small village named Ajat when I first moved here and in the late 1990's there was a real threat from developers to expand the quarrying operations. There has always been stone quarrying around Ajat. The region is very famous for a variety of limestone. The Pierre de Thenon is quarried for architecture and because of it's hardness and the fossil figuring in the stone, it is used for floors and staircases. The grand stairway of the Paris Opera is a great example of it's use. The quarry proposed for Ajat, though was to get gravel and stone for the proposed auto route being built between Bordeaux and Clermont-Ferrand. When the auto route was done, the quarry was going to become a huge landfill and the over active corrupt bureaucracy was proposing an adjoining waste disposal incinerator complex that would make big bucks by taking waste from all over this part of Europe. The area of that part of France is very special and very fragile. It is called un causse. It is specifically a limestone plateau region with a very thin soil cover. The forests are full of junipers and a very specific spindly dark oak. The forests have a very special relationship with the rock and this is what makes this region one of the most important truffle producing areas of the world. The truffles fungus forms a symbiotic relationship with the oaks. They both profit. The mycelium roots of the fungus need the oak, the oak needs the fungus to liberate the nutrients in the thin layer of soil over the rock plateaus. The same thing with the orchids. They need specific fungi and soil conditions to germinate.
When the giant quarry incinerator project threatened Ajat, a group of diverse residents of the area formed an association to fight it. They tried to stop with health concerns, ground water pollution, and the general degradation of the quality of life. They were fighting a coalition of land owners who saw the opportunity to sell out and make quick big bucks. It looked as if it was going to be long and messy legal battle with little hope of winning against some of the biggest corporations in Europe. But there was a hero, it was little, rarely seen hybrid orchid that seemed to have a very limited specialized habitat, the causse environment in the fields and woods around Ajat. Thanks to a British botanist who had discovered and written about the orchid, the residents of Ajat were able to stop the entire quarry project because of the environmental endangered species rules of the European Union!
I have become even more interested in wild orchids since then. I try to find and record the various species in the different environments here. There are saprophytic varieties without chlorophyl. Some need full sun, some need semi shade. I've found over 18 varieties here which I have been writing about on this blog. I always get excited when I see the first plants in the places I have learned to look for them first each year. Normally, they should be just starting now, but we have had orchids blooming here for over 2 weeks! The earliest I have ever seen. We should be listening to flowers, they have a lot to tell us. I ran into this very interesting link from the University of California that has the results of crowd sourcing knowledge and research on this subject from many different scientists. What can flowers tell us about climate change? Check out this video:

1 comment:

bj said...

Absolutely magnificent ani.gifs!