News and opinions from Operation Wildlife and Associates

From Wild Flower to Garden Flower

 

Where do garden flowers come from?  They were all growing in the wild once, or their ancestors did!  Someone started planting them close to a house; or maybe even by a cave entrance?  Apart from planting for food, people learnt very long ago to plant trees for shade, hedges for protection and so many plants for medicine against real and imagined diseases. 

In some sinister cases plants served to cast spells or provide poison for evil deeds.  At some point the cultivated plant also began to inhabit the gardens of humans for their beauty, for their flowers and sweet odours.

The beginnings of all this couldn’t have been easy.  Water, winter, grazing animals, insects and a myriad of other challenges had to be overcome before gardens became effective ventures.  Every new plant finding its way from nature to garden would always provide some challenges to the amateur gardener of ancient times, as well as even to today’s horticulturist!

But along came the scientific methods: observing, recording, repeating actions under controlled conditions and theory building that established standard procedures for doing things botanical on a vast scale, all over the world, in an ever growing economic sector.   Variations of methods for all imaginable cultivation conditions and desired outcomes were made easy.  Cross-pollination, careful selection of plants and related patience for testing many methodologies saw to the growing of cultivars upon cultivars that yielded plants never to be seen in nature as she lives independently.

Out there in the wild, nature is still carrying on with the evolving and maintaining of a wonderfully diversified plant world not affected by human fiddling to achieve commercial objectives.  (We haven’t managed to usurp all the territory yet!)   New plant species appear and adapt as they spread spontaneously to various environments.   Many less known ones are awaiting our encounter or discovery in unknown spots where few people go.

At the same time our preoccupation with economic growth at all costs makes us push deeper into the realm of every country’s natural vegetation for progress and standing room(?) for all the new people in our growing numbers.  Plants are bulldozed daily and succumb to our insatiable needs.

Operation Wildflower is a small but growing group of South Africans that search for plant habitat demolition events before they occur and then arrange with the authorities to remove the plants they picture for their gardens in a legal manner.   They transplant them at home and look after what is pretty, exciting and would otherwise have been destroyed.  The organisation has been around for about fifty years, has taught many members much about plants through the networking with knowledgeable members during (and after) the collection activities and quietly goes about the business of multiplying valuable indigenous plants.  Some nursery people participate as well; they grow new plants from the seeds they collect from their saved plants once those have flowered, for 
for selling on the open market.

We cannot deny progress, although we should all contemplate responsible limits to growth that society could agree on!  When a plant species has become rare or threatened by extinction, little efforts like that of Operation Wildflower might contribute to survival of some.  Other ways may have to be explored to sustain plant diversity for ensuring a balanced and sufficient response to the problem.  But keen and willing people that spend their week-ends by looking in hidden spots, always between the marker flags of the designated area where the development will kill the plants, present one way of bringing more varieties of cherished plants to places where a second chance for flowering (and seed) can be guaranteed.

Written by Ivan Latti
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