Dreams are powerful tools that can help guide anyone to success and happiness. They represent some cherished aspiration, an ultimate ideal of achievement.

The word sylvan refers most directly to a setting associated with the woods. Reflecting on the vigorous life that abounds in sylvan settings is a very powerful force in my life. For me, this word evokes feelings of transcendence, clarity, and unity.

A Sylvan Dream is a dynamic compilation of my life dream. It is an attempt to seek out and document the truth, beauty, and clarity that exists in this world.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

We All Have Interesting Histories

Aconitum columbianum, commonly known as Monkshood, is a rather intriguing plant to me.

Monkshood is a member of the Buttercup family, Ranunculacea in Latin. This is interesting because rana means frog. This plant is essentially in the frog-foot family because it likes to live in wet soils close to constant water. Most buttercup species are named so in English due to their bright yellow buttery flowers. However, Monkshood, along with its close relative, Larkspur has somehow developed purple flowers with completely different flower morphology. Rather than the common open-faced flower form, this flower has developed a much more challenging gambit for their pollinators to navigate. Two thin sepals hang like legs from below the hood, allowing a landing strip of sorts for the small bumblebee to land. The small bee then quickly crawls up into the narrow chamber of the flower brushing its undersides over a bed of anthers full of pollen. Once the bee reaches the narrowing top of the flower it stretches its tube-like proboscis about half the length of its body to the top of the flower where it receives a drop of nectar from each flower. I remember the first time I sat long enough to observe a bee visit one patch of flowers, meticulously flying from plant to plant for over twenty minutes.

What amazes me about pollination is not only how important the form of the flower to the bee is, but the intricate yet chaotic timing of maturity that occurs when the flowers can give off pollen, and when they can receive pollen. If the female part of the flower, the stigma, were receptive at the same time the plant was giving off pollen, it would simply reproduce with itself. Not good. To inhibit this, the stigma will usually become receptive before the pollen is being released, or after all of the pollen has been dispersed. So, the natural chaotic pattern that the bee creates, flying from flower to flower, patch to patch, day after day collecting its food, along with the timing of the flower's reproductive organs creates the perfect pattern through which to carry out all of the reproduction of the flowers it visits while ensuring maximum dispersal of each flower's genes.
This ingenuous symbiosis is what allows plants to spread their genes all over the earth, all the while using the motor skills and desire of other animals, especially humans. Michael Pollan has written a whole book, The Botany of Desire, about this phenomenon regarding how humans have selectively spread the genes of the most sought after plants all over the world via nothing more than our desire for sweets, drugs, and nutrition.

The Latin name, Aconitum, comes from the word for monk, or aconite. I find not only this name, but the shape of this flower intriguing since monks were often the individuals most in contact with this flower, since they held the majority of medical knowledge in ancient European culture. The potent alkaloid, aconitine, is found throughout the whole plant and affects the ability of the muscles in the heart to pump correctly, effectively stopping the heart in even small doses. Despite this, Monkshood was commonly used to treat people with heart problems, for it was thought to ameliorate symptoms of arrhythmia. This plant was also stuffed into sheep meat, and then set around the fences of sheep pastures to kill off harmful wolves. Criminals were also executed with distillates of Monkshood. Some Harry Potter enthusiasts may recall a Wolfsbane potion used to repel werewolves or something in the earlier books, which called for monkshood flowers.

In the late summer months monkshood and goldenrod blooms form thick glowing patches of deep purple and yellow along verdant sections of the trail in the western United States. During a backpacking trip this summer in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area in the Rocky Mountains, I came upon a very tall patch of albino monkshood under the shade of Aspen and Coltsfoot while wandering around off of trail looking for a good place to dig a cathole. The whole plant was completely identical to regular Monkshood, yet the whorl of flowers atop each plant was completely white with vaguely green veins. This albinism is a rather rare occurrence, but is known to occur from time to time where the flower is abundant.

No comments: