wild plants own their own lives

orchid.jpg 

Taking plants from the wild is wrong and if we were a little more organized it would also be unnecessary. I am especially disappointed by my local native plant society which does not take a position against collecting wild plants. I have known members to attend a field trip then go back the next day and dig plants. Members have participated in the ‘rescue’ of plants in construction areas to take home and try to grow. Native nurserymen associated with us have collected wild plants, which is legal and can be done under a permit issued by the state.

 

I think people see large numbers of plants in the wild and they imagine there is no harm in taking just a few for themselves. I have heard them argue that a plant is safer in their collection than it is in the wild. When I was young I acquired a respect for the power of plants to germinate in a sidewalk crack and rise from rubble of my city. My story was not so different, after all. I imagined the day after humans disappeared (in any of the looming armageddon scenarios of those days) our stone buildings would begin to disintegrate and become clad in plants siezing their place in the sun, roots opening every small crack. It is painful to me to think that our fieldwalks might serve to convince us wild plants are not so precious after all.

 

I do not single out the Native Plant Society in the problem of unethical behavior. I have attended many plant groups during more than twenty years and have often heard people admit to taking wild plants for their collections. On three occasions the guest speaker bragged about smuggling plants from abroad. One was smuggling aroids, one orchids and the other bamboo, hiding plants in luggage for return to the US.

 

But if you call yourself the Native Plant Society it seems to me you must convey an ethic that wild plants are not to be confused with ones that are cloned for our use. Each wild plant owns it’s own life, has a job to do and must be left alone. The individual contains in it’s genetic data holographically the memory of the depredations and successes of the entire species. And each contains flaws that are the wellspring of the adaptability of the population. Collecting a plant for our personal use removes it from participation in the destiny of it’s species.

 

The Native Plant Society should to be ready to provide guidance to the public when an ethical problem arises. I ran into such a problem when I picked up a large specimen of Encycla tampensis, the Butterfly Orchid, in the road after a hurricane in 2004. I still have the plant, pictured above being shown off in full bloom the following spring. The problem of what to do with it I regard as unresolved. The Society could use it’s affiliation with the nursery industry to originate, clone and market improved versions of native plants. These named varieties would have characteristics that make them slightly more attractive than the wild species and themselves produce no viable seed so they will not go on to interfere with wild populations.

 

I remain a member of the organization, having just paid for my thirteenth year. But unless the chapter adopts a noncollecting ethic and then agrees to convey that mission to the wider organization my involvement will be limited.

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