When I was in primary school we used to have nature walks in the local park which was fun and meant we were away from school, which I detested, but we also had a nature table. I think most primary schools did. We could bring in nature stuff and display it. So pussy willow, nuts, feathers and jam jars of wilting flowers!
A perennial display arranged by the teachers was watching roots grow.
An empty jam jar would have a rolled tube of damp blotting paper inserted into it and in the space between outer blotting paper and the glass the teacher would place a runner bean seed.
We had all seen runner beans, most of us had probably seen them growing, but what went on underground?
This was the magic.
I have never forgotten.
To watch that intricate network of roots sprouting from the seed. Living of the seed itself, we supplied no earth, no food. It was a doomed seed but I would race to view its overnight progress every morning.
Eventually when a shoot was produced the teacher would remove it, I hoped she planted it, I felt a little mean we had given it no food. Maybe she threw it away.
They are one of nature’s marvels.
Precious and overlooked on the whole.
They adapt their DNA to conditions, those who can survive temperature changes soil erosions, lack of water, too much water – whatever, carry on into succeeding generations. Farmers over the centuries have been keeping the strong plants the varieties alive. Some plants preserved in the permafrosts have survived for thousands of years and are still viable which is truly amazing. Now we are wiping them out in the name of economics.
There are dedicated seed champions, storing them in cataclysmic secure vaults for a time when we need them. About 1300 gene banks of varying sizes and security spread across the world and they only carry a small portion of the bio-diversity of the plant world. Not every nation can supply the conditions to store them for generations. Let us hope we never need them. However they are essential we cannot allow the diversity of plants to be destroyed because every person on the planet needs seeds of some kind or other to exist.
I carried the vision of the runner bean seed in my memory through my life, on my travels when I saw some huge exotic plant I would consider their root system. When I became a gardener, it became personal
The first packet I sowed, lavender, all produced plants. They so know what is expected of them. By then I had read of Mendel and the DNA discoveries. But it was still a little piece of magic. Those minute seeds, majestically large seed all perfect little power houses of life. Wonderful.
I welcome most of them into the garden, if the plants become too thuggish I will reluctantly winnow them out. I leave them standing over winter for the birds to harvest. I marvel at the spread of them across hard surfaces and unfriendly terrain.
I despair of the stupidity of mankind in their careless eradication of plants, of their desire for monoculture. When a disease hits, vast swathes of land will be laid bare. Those few men who guard our seed heritage will be all that stand between us and massive starvation.