The last month has been a time of gains and losses, like a long, drawn-out chess game in which I’m blinded and the opponent is permitted to intermittently slap me in the face, taunt me, and reverse the game board. Worse still, before the blind fold, I was foolishly optimistic, despite former beaten players on the sidelines warning me of the opponent’s tricks. To have built up so much, only to have it all fall down.
Even the weather last weekend lured the Koriyama locals with a surprising heat wave. I watched as my neighbors took the opportunity to cut down the orange persimmons (kaki in Japanese) that decorated the nearly bare trees like small, squat Halloween pumpkins.
Of course, my disappointments are nothing compared with the disappointment and frustration of the staff at Kew Gardens’ Princess of Wales Conservatory. Sam Knight of The Guardian wrote an especially enthralling account of a thievery perhaps not all too significant to those outside the realm of botany. In January this year, one of the conservatory’s Nymphaea thermarum, the world’s smallest water lily now extinct from the wild, was filched unnoticed, a crime considered by the staff to be carefully calculated.
Now, facilities like the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, have installed CCTV cameras, after an unfathomable crime in which “someone hacked and burnt eight of the Botanic Gardens’ most important trees in a vicious overnight rampage” in 2013. According to the report, vandals also destroyed dozens of rare cacti in the arid garden.
One of the most interesting points of The Guardian article is that these collections were built up by poachers themselves, botanists who travelled and uprooted and removed – at gun point, if need be – plants from their natural habitats. While we’re doing a fine job of ripping up things in the name of science and quickly consuming and destroying the land around us, it sometimes makes the effort of conservation and biodiversity maintenance of plants pointless efforts.
“They are the most relevant things to humans really, even though humans don’t realise it,” a horticultural scientist of Kew said to Knight. “Most medicines come from plants and algae. Most new technology is going to come from plants and algae. The basis of antibiotics is plant and fungi, and what do we do? Nothing. We don’t give a toss.”
Meanwhile, The Plant Press published an insightful – and not very uplifting – account of the downsizing of botanical institutions and research centers over the past few years.
Although it’s overwhelming, I realize it’s not all gloom and doom. The Japanese, from what I’ve observed here in Koriyama, are very much in touch with nature. Despite the unfortunate number of parking lots suddenly appearing where lots of Herb Roberts and Blue Fleabanes once stood, I’m surrounded by a bounty of gorgeously maintained garden plots filled with Cosmos, Commelinas, and Chrysanthemums, and the countryside spills over with wild mints, thyme, yomogi, and more.
Especially encouraging are the protected trees surrounding the many shrines in and around Koriyama. On an isolated hill west of downtown Koriyama, my favorite shrine, Otsukikasuga Shrine, is enveloped by seemingly legendary cedars. I can imagine some of these giants have been around for some time and can only hope they will continue to be. It took so much time for them to grow up, and it would be a shame to see it all hacked down.