Yesterday evening I had my mind blown. I sat by the garden under a tree, enjoying the warmth of the disappearing afternoon sunlight, while reading Botany in a Day, by Thomas J. Elpel. I am really excited to be reading this book, it is one I got for the 9 month program at Alderleaf Wilderness College, and from what I can tell it guides the reader to recognize distinct characteristics of various plant families, starting with the most common ones, and from there the reader is then able to see a plant and tell what family it belong to. The book also has sections about most of the plant families found in the U.S. and Canada (many of which occur in other counties around the world). By knowing what family a plant belongs to, and knowing a bit about the family, the reader will then likely be able to spot a plant, know its family, and just by knowing its family also know many of its properties, what uses it has, if it has any edible or medicinal qualities, and what part it plays in the ecosystem. So, while reading and enjoying the fading light, I was also enjoying a Green Flash Soul Style IPA in a glass, and appreciating its rich golden colors, it’s coldness, and it’s bubbles in the golden light. It has been a while since I had an IPA because I have been eating healthier lately, cutting out calories, and regularly exercising.
Anywho, the part of the book I was reading was about the beginning of life. And it absolutely blew my mind! What it said is that life started 3.8 billion years ago in the ocean as bacteria and blue-green algae. 3.8 BILLION years ago!! These single celled organisms reproduced by dividing into clones of themselves and filled the ocean over time. And then eventually, after more than a billion years, it is thought that different species of these bacteria and algae merged together to form more complex cells. And then, almost another billion years later, cells began to reproduce bisexually. At this point evolution began speeding up because different combinations of genetics were able to form, and then those new types of life were able to combine to form even more variations. Prior to this everything was just creating exact replicas of themselves, except for the occasional mutations. About 500 million years after bisexual reproduction occurred, multi-celled organisms started to evolve. Large algae, tiny animals such as worms, and sponges. And then the first herbivores came into existence. Elpel suggests that herbivores were the first predators, and that they “wiped out many primitive, defenseless organisms.”(pg.6). It seems quite quickly at this point (in comparison to the slow process up to this point), life began evolving much quicker. He suggests that it was due to the herbivores who killed off many of the defenseless species and that only left the species who were able to run, hide, or defend themselves against these “predators.” This caused more advanced predators to evolve, which in turn caused more advanced prey species to also evolve, and then even more advanced predators, and on and on like this until there were all kinds of diverse life in the oceans.
60 million years after the jump in evolution that filled the ocean with sea creatures due to the evolution of herbivores, plants began migrating to land. In the ocean these plants would float in the paths of disturbance where the movement of the water would move minerals from the ocean floor around and feed the plants. On the shorelines they didn’t have these flows of nutrients, so it was almost impossible to live on land. But it is theorized that it was at this point that plants accidentally formed symbiotic relationships with fungus. Fungus is a non-plant, non-animal organism that breaks down both dead and living matter, and even rocks. In this symbiotic relationship the fungus would live inside the plant and bring up nutrients from the soil to feed the plant, and the plant would produce carbohydrates that the fungus could live off of. Now the great majority of the plants on Earth have and rely on their relationships with the fungus in the soil in order to survive.
In the next 100 million years after plants (with the aid of fungus) began colonizing land, the diversity of species on land expanded beyond the diversity found in the ocean. That was 350 million years ago, and since then life has continued to evolve at great speeds. There are now double the species and 50 percent more organic matter on land than in the ocean.
I fully give Thomas J. Elpel full credit for all of the information above. I did my best to paraphrase the information. It was found on pages 6 and 7 of Botany in a Day.
So wow! My mind was blown. I mean, I knew that life started in the ocean as single celled-organisms, eventually evolved into more complex organisms, eventually spread to land, and that it took a really long time for all of this to happen. But for some reason yesterday this all really struck me. It is amazing how all that is, all that I have ever known in my short little life, has all been dependent on an amazing history, an amazing sequence of precise events over billions of years on a cellular level. It made me look at a bright magenta ice plant flower on the way back to the house in amazement, and feel wonder at some dead pieces of plant poking out of the barren dry granite earth. It made me realize how inconsequential all of our “problems” are. The trivial things of our lives, what we look like, what things we own, who is running for president. It made me see and appreciate the miracle of my life and all of the lives I interact with, the lives of those others who I love. It made me marvel at my multi-celled organism of a kitty, Delilah, and how for some reason she gravitates towards me — we have a bond that we have developed. Love. Love developed from single cells floating in the ocean. The right combination of elements of nature develops into love. Amazing.
I have included a link to Botany in a Day on Amazon for any readers who are interested in this book. It is an amazing book about plant identification. It has sections on most of the plant families in the US and Canada. If you do decide to purchase this book at some point, I would be so grateful if you can purchase it by clicking through my link. It costs exactly the same for you, but Amazon will give me a small percentage of the sale, which will go towards keeping this website going. You can read more about this on my affiliate page here.