Over the weekend of March 12-13th, I visited Death Valley National Park in California for the spring bloom, which was considered to be especially impressive this year. I tagged along with a 2-day plant walk set up by the California Native Plant Society. The event was well-organized by a gentleman who knows the area well and scouted out prime locations ahead of time. I enjoyed the presence of botanists because I got positive IDs on everything we saw. They had their books and would key-out anything they couldn’t name off the top of their head, and they corrected each other on newer names.
One male-female couple on the trip had not been to Death Valley in three decades and the woman joked that they only visit every 30 years, and that she looked forward to coming again in another 30, when she’ll be 96. I was not part of the conversation so didn’t mention that its doubtful that all the flowers and plants we were seeing would still be there in 30 years, at the rate that the climate is changing. Even scientifically-minded people are not giving much thought to Climate Change.
Of course, the scientific approach is not well understood by most people, including most people who consider themselves scientifically-minded. As an approach, it is limited to examining phenomena that can be measured in particular ways, and so leaves out entire aspects of life and sensation. It cannot, therefore, ever provide complete explanations. Humble scientists know this. Smart ones also know that, scientifically, “Absence of proof is not proof of absence.” In the popular mind, however, these things are not understood, and many people who present themselves as rational, logical and “scientific” believe that the opposite is true: that absence of proof is proof of absence.
I mention all of this because at some point on the second day, one of the other attendees said to me — out of the blue — that she had heard that some people think that “plants have feelings” but that she didn’t believe it. I responded that, first of all, plants have senses and respond to stimuli, but that secondly, “feelings” as the term is commonly used, are purely human. I was referring, of course, to the ego-self and its inventions, but this point was lost on her and she simply retrenched in her original statement. I had no interest in talking about it with her; as one of the most scientifically-minded people on the trip, she clearly had no curiosity beyond the narrow field of intellect that she had chosen and seemed to have mastered fairly well.
I certainly wasn’t going to bring up the fact that I have experienced communication with plants many times in my life. Sometimes it has been subtle, and other times almost like being shouted at. I am not a superstitious person and am highly skeptical about New Age ideas, so these experiences have not been self-delusion as a product of wishful thinking. They have simply been experiences that I have had from time to time, usually unbidden.
Twice during the course of this weekend event, I experienced being “called” by a plant. The first instance was when we had paused and the leader was trying to decide if this was the spot to turn around and go back for lunch. A strong sensation rose in me that said, “No! There’s still something just ahead.” These words to myself were not a hope or wish that there was something else ahead; they were the reaction to a signal. And as it turned out, whe we hiked a little further up the trail — about another 20 feet — we found a Rambling Milkweed, twining through another shrub, not visible until we were right on top of it. I had never met this plant before in this life. I had only seen photographs but had been wanting to meet it for some time. I was quite thrilled.
The second time was when the Coyote Tobacco called me. We were walking up a steep-walled canyon and I could feel it as we got nearer. This was not melooking at the habitat and guessing that it would grow there; quite the contrary; in my intellectual mind and in my own personal experience, I associated the plant with sandy washes, in a spot that gets sun at least half the day. When I did finally find Nicotiana obtusifolia, it was in full shade in a particularly windy section. Not where I would have guessed, in other words. I spent quite a few minutes with the various individuals along the short stretch of canyon where they lived before they gave out again.
Obviously, the botanist who doesn’t believe that plants have feelings would think that I am full of shit. That’s her prerogative, but it’s also merely her belief, not a scientific fact. I remain grateful to her, however, for knowing the botanical names of so many plants. That’s what I was interested in learning that weekend during the Death Valley bloom.
Death Valley contains many different ecosystems, from washes to canyons and mountains, at elevations ranging from below sea-level to over 5000 feet above it. In the past, changes in climate were generally gradual enough that plants could shift from one area to another. However, the rate of anthropomorphic Climate Change is much faster and is speeding up. Extinction is the likely outcome for most of the plants in this slideshow.