It is all too easy for those of us belonging to the Animal Kingdom to look down on plants. They seem a pretty static form of life and don’t seem to have mastered even basic tool use, let alone any of the trappings of civilisation. However, this ‘summer’ has suggested to me that we shouldn’t underestimate them.
The weather in recent months has been erratic at best: it has apparently been the wettest summer in a century and the dullest in thirty years (I think this latter statistic relates to lack of sunshine rather than an oppressive degree of ennui engulfing the country). Not ideal growing conditions for plants one might imagine but an extremely productive time for their enemies: slugs and snails (though not, to the best of my knowledge, puppy dog tails). Despite these apparently unfavourable conditions, most of the plants in my garden have gone beserk with new growth over the summer. The vine and the beech hedge in particular have produced truly prodigious volumes of foliage, so much so, that when returning from my sojourn in Edinburgh I feared that Fish Towers would resemble the castle of Sleeping Beauty and I would need a machete to break through the undergrowth (well, I’m no prince). It’s not just my garden, the hedgerows and verges of South Cambs have also been growing at an amazing pace, though this has raised one question in what remains of my mind: why do the fastest growing plants all possess either vicious thorns or stings? They all reach out from the verges to snag the unwary cyclist, especially those of us foolish enough to wear shorts.
The marvel of this vegetative growth is that it has been achieved with little more than rainfall (all too plentiful), carbon dioxide (a tad more plentiful than of late through man’s tireless burning of ancient plants), nitrogen and (rather limited) sunshine. I’m beginning to wonder if my (mostly) vegetarian lifestyle is a rather riskier option than previously imagined. If the plants manage to metabolise one more major molecule, I think we animals could be in serious trouble and my habits may make me somewhat of a target for our new vegetable overlords.
By the way, shouldn’t the classification of life have moved on from patriarchal monarchy? How about the democratic republic of the animals? Or does that sound too like a brutal dictatorship? The federal republic of fungi, anyone?