How do you view the plant kindgdom? As benevolent caregivers of our planet by providing oxygen and food for nearly every other organism? As a source of beauty and wonder? As the original source of energy of all fossil fuels? Or as complex, sophisticated warriors who ruthlessly stake out and defend their claim to a patch of soil, water, nutrients and sunshine?
If the last one surprises you, then you might not be familiar with the concepts of competition and allelopathy among plants. A corn plant that germinates and emerges only four to five days later than its neighboring plants will never catch-up. It is relegated to a second class existence, destined to become barren or at best produce a marginal withered ear, essentially a weed, compared to those plants that emerged uniformly only a couple of days sooner. This fight for resources that plays out in a corn field is not chemical in nature, its simply the advantage of being taller and first to grow, the larger plants dominate because they get more sunshine, which translates into more energy to feed a larger root system, which means the ability to intercept more nutrients and water in the soil. The smaller plants under the dense foliage are at a disadvantage they simply can’t overcome.
Some plants have additional weapons at their disposal for helping them and their offspring survive and thrive. The concept of allelopathy takes competitive advantage to another level. Allelopathy is when a plant excretes a chemical substance from its roots or a chemical is released from decaying leaves or fruit, that inhibits the germination, growth or fitness of other plants growing in its vicinity, thereby conferring an advantage to that plant or its next generation to dominate that space. Allelopathy is the explanation for why little grows under a mature walnut tree. It’s not just the shade from the canopy, its the allelopathic qualities of the natural chemicals released from the trees roots, leaves and rotting green fruits that prevents other things from growing within its reach.
The photograph above is a winner in this year’s historical photography contest in England and was taken by Matthew Browne. You can read the full article about it in the link below. It is a marvelous artistic image of a tree’s ability to envelop objects in its way. It is interesting to consider that the tree was already 300 years old when Shakespeare wrote his sonnets. Looking at the image, given the serene gaze of the Buddha peeking out, you could debate whether Buddha is being born, emerging afresh or is being swallowed up and being destroyed. It all depends on your perspective. Are we coming are we going? I think the tree is embracing, telling us, like Shakespeare, “I engraft you new.”
Under The Greenwood Tree
(A Song from As You Like It)
by William Shakespeare