Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Horse tails and living fossils

I’m away in Sweden on holiday and was in some woods with my camera after a long time. I didn’t expect to find anything particularly exciting. But that’s not what woods are like is it? You make your own excitement in them. The beasties are amazing not in themselves but in the knowledge you possess of them, right? Or something like that. Thank everyone that ever figured anything out, they made the world a bit more wonderful for us all.
Now, plants don’t usually do a thing for me.Well, that’s unfair. I am beginning to appreciate things about them, especially that they are far less passive in controlling their destinies than we believe them to be. Nonetheless, in comparison with insects, or even birds and mammals, I know less about them and am less keen to.
I did, however, a long time ago do a presentation on plants and how they crossed over from being water loving organisms to being land creatures. Plants have done much the same as animals: crawled out of water onto land and then back again (sea grasses are an example of this). I cannot even begin to do justice to the profoundness of this moment in the history of life, plants are the engine of this planet. But although I may not be able to, Loren Eiseley is.

There were beautiful illlustrations in paleobotany text books and papers of ancient and giant and varied ferns that once were the only plants in the forests. The first plants to form a thin fragile green skin over the earths surface were ancient ferns. I saw one of those ancient ferns today as we strolled on a path by a river: a Wood horsetail, Equisetum sylvaticus.


There were thousands of them, fragile and delicate, layering the forest floor with their delicate whorled leaves. Utterly beautiful in the broken light. The Horsetails are a living fossil. They are a member of a once (in the Paleozoic) rich and diverse class of plants, now reduced to handful of species in a single genus.
The only reason I know anything about them was that I took a class a long time ago. (And I had a camera and an internet connection and an internet rich and varied enough to help me track them down, but off course, in my mind, my personal history matters more.) I might have walked among the living dead and not have known it.