On Plants / De Stirpibus

Justin E. H. Smith in his own blog:

6a00d83453bcda69e201b8d286d4fb970c-450wiImagine you are in an urban park. Look around. How many animals do you see? I’d imagine you see a few birds, a dog or two, perhaps some insects, and a dozen or so humans. Now how many plants do you see? You could not even begin to count, nor to say where one leaves off and another begins.

I am standing in the train station in Karlsuhe, on my way back to Paris from Wolfenbüttel. Even here I see: a few dozen humans, about as many pigeons, a good deal of concrete and iron. And off in the distance I see, again, countless trees, defining, in more ways than one, the horizon of my perception. I see grass pushing up through the gravel between the tracks. Over a stone wall bounding the station to one side an ivy or vine plant of some sort tumbles: it is not moving, visibly, but one might easily imagine it striving, grasping its way toward our platform. And this is a completely dominated space, this is nearly as close as we can get to the longed-for suppression of the vegetal.

We passively suppose that plants and animals are the two equal parts of living nature, the two kingdoms, two moieties each taking half the territory. Of course this does not stand up to scrutiny. I read somewhere that in terms of biomass Earth’s aquatic life is around 90% animal (and this mostly krill), and 10% vegetal, while among the terrestrials it is roughly the reverse. But this seems to give far too great a share to land animals.

Wherever there is a portion of the Earth’s surface that is covered predominantly with animals, there is a problem, an ecological anomaly. Even pods of gregarious walruses need to clear off the beach before too long, lest they destroy whatever balance was there before them. And this is not to mention factory farms with their billions of cows, or cities with their billions of people. Yet wherever there is a portion of the Earth’s surface that is covered predominantly with plants, there is, simply, nature.

Plant life is the paradigm and the general rule of life itself; animal life is the exception.

More here.

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