Three years ago, when I opened this blog, I did it with a passage from Michael Crichton’s book “Jurassic Park.” For those who have not read the book (and perhaps has only seen the movie), we should remember that this work of Crichton speaks essentially of the emerging genetic engineering and the relationship between man (playing god) and nature, a relationship made of domination and control. The consequences of this lack of respect for something vastly greater than we are, in the book as in the film, were disastrous.
I quote another passage of the same book, in which the paleobotany Ellie Sattler makes some considerations on the plants used in the park, their dangerousness and the irresponsibility of the engineers who choose the plants only for the aesthetic impact, as if they were artificial beings.
As Dr. Sattler remarks, plants are extremely alive and “on the move”. Just think about bamboo, the fastest plant to grow in the world, which can grow up to 60cm a day and, in ideal conditions, even 5cm per hour …
Our conception of green as motionless background is so superficial and wrong.
Enjoy the reading.
Beyond a fence, they came to the swimming pool, which spilled over into a series of waterfalls and smaller rocky pools. The area was planted with huge ferns. “Isn’t his extraordinary?” Ed Regis said. “Especially on a misty day, these plants really contribute to the prehistoric atmosphere. These are authentic Jurassic ferns, of course.”
Ellie paused to look more closely at the ferns. Yes, it was just as he said: Serenna veriformans, a plant found abundantly in fossils more than two hundred million years old, now common only in the wetlands of Brazil and Colombia. But whoever had decided to place this particular fern at poolside obviously didn’t know that the spores of veriformans contained a deadly beta-carboline alkaloid. Even touching the attractive green fronds could make you sick, and if a child were to take a mouthful, he would almost certainly die-the toxin was fifty times more poisonous than oleander. People were so naive about plants, Ellie thought. They just chose plants for appearance, as they would choose a picture for the wall. It never occurred to them that plants were actually living things, busily performing all the living functions of respiration, ingestion, excretion, reproduction-and defense.
But Ellie knew that, in the earth’s history, plants had evolved as competitively as animals, and in some ways more fiercely. The poison in Serenna veriformans was a minor example of the elaborate chemical arsenal of weapons that plants had evolved. There were terpenes, which plants spread to poison the soil around them and inhibit competitors; alkaloids, which made them unpalatable to insects and predators (and children); and pheromones, used for communication. When a Douglas fir tree was attacked by beetles, it produced an anti-feedant chemical-and so did other Douglas firs in distant parts of the forest. It happened in response to a warning alleochemical secreted by the trees that were under attack.
People who imagined that life on earth consisted of animals moving against a green background seriously misunderstood what they were seeing. That green background was busily alive. Plants grew, moved, twisted, and turned, fighting for the sun; and they interacted continuously with ammals-discouraging some with bark and thorns; poisoning others, and feeding still others to advance their own reproduction, to spread their pollen and seeds. It was a complex, dynamic process which she never ceased to find fascinating. And which she knew most people simply didn’t understand.
But if planting deadly ferns at poolside was any indication, then it was clear that the designers of Jurassic Park had not been as careful as they should have been.