Friday, May 8, 2015

Wasteful Nature

I've been marveling all week at the vast drifts of elm seeds that cover the sidewalk in front of my office. Hundreds of thousands, surely, just on this one block, and in all likelihood not a single one will grow into a mature tree. Which reminds me that my maple trees are about to do the same thing to my garden.


G. Verloren said...

We see it as "wasteful", but species that adapt mass offspring tactics do so because of evolutionary pressure to do so. Trees can't protect their young, and so they have to hope that of the thousands or even millions they produce, a handful will not get eatten by other life forms before reaching maturity.

The upshot is that this tactic feeds all those other life forms. Birds, mammals, insects, even mold and fungi and other decomposers - they all rely on the huge output of these plants to survive. The seeds don't really go to waste - they make it possible for the food chain that surrounds the trees to continue.

And without that food chain, the trees would surely go extinct for want of polinators. It's a sort of odd symbiosis. It's only in human environments, surrounded by brick and stone and cement, where the lesser life forms are not openly tolerated, that seeds go to waste. And the trees don't know any better - and they can't evolve either, because that's a very slow process that can only occur over generations, and even if it could happen rapidly, city-bound trees are almost exclusively planted there by humans.

leif said...

what he said ^^


G. Verloren said...

On a slight tangent, there's a lovely Japanese phrase - もったいない mottainai - that is used to express a sense of pity over waste. You use it when you break something, or when you spill a glass or knock over a plate of food, or when anything regrettable for the waste of something useful or desireable happens.

It's a great and eminently useable word, and despite its exotic origins and sound I make regular use of it around the house when something goes to waste. It can also be used somewhat sarcastically, when someone behaves pettily or stubbornly, but I prefer to reserve it for more light hearted uses - if I'm being bitter or dark in my commentary or mutterings, I prefer German or Yiddish.