NW Flower and Garden Show—Plant Explorers

Thursday afternoon was filled with adventure during the Plant Explorer seminar hosted by Richie Steffen.  It was titled Outrageous tales from truly obsessed plant geeks and featured Panayoti Kelaidis (director of the Denver Botanic Garden) and Kelly Dodson and Sue Milliken (Far Reaches Farm, Port Townsend).  The hour seemed only a few minutes as I felt we were just sitting around the dining room table talking travel and plants.   It was fun.  Here is some of the conversation.

They are looking for species plants, as these have undergone nature’s test—millions of years of evolution.  Tried and true.  They said it’s great to see plants in their native habitat, only then can we learn how they grow and under which conditions they thrive.  You might realize why something doesn’t do well in your wet backyard when you see it growing on a rocky windswept hillside.  Why do they search the world for plants?  To seek out the ones that can thrive in their respective home states and ‘to be a botanical footnote in history’.  They understand that native habitats are under assault by humans and many species are disappearing, what better reason than this to make discoveries and preserve species?   Panayoti suggested that nature is a process with an enormous amount of impacts along the way, yet nature is resilient as well.  Global warming is changing our environment and thus changing where and how plants grow.  We need to be aware of this and ready to adapt, just  as the plants around us might change and zones creep.

For all their travels to Asia, Europe, South America and more, they acknowledged that the world is still a very big place and poorly known.  Plant exploration and study is small in comparison to the vast unknown that remains.    Some locations have a narrow band of endemics, especially in higher elevations.  There may be a plant that only occurs at five thousand feet on an isolated cliff or ledge.  It’s range might be incredibly small.  These are the plants that await discovery.

What do you think?  Should every living thing be categorized, named and ‘discovered’?  Will humans never settle down until we understand and list every species in the natural world?  This quest for knowledge, it’s who we are and what makes us tick.  Always on the lookout for the scientific method:  observe, hypothesize, test, evaluate.  Isn’t this how everyone operates, or is it just me?  Back to the experts, they said that invasive means planting the wrong plant at the wrong time.  In the end they stressed that their travels may seem romantic and fun, but the truth is far from it.  It’s work.  Hard, tedious and stressful.  But I’m glad they think it’s worthwhile, because I do too.  I appreciate these plant explorers and all those willing to ‘explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations and to boldly go where no one has gone before’.   Thanks.

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