Man and Plants

   Man may be the most adaptable of all the animals on earth, but his adaptability cannot compare with the way in which plants will change to survive in a world controlled by men. When anyone who lives in a modern industrialised country comes face to face with a land plant, he can be almost certain that it is not entirely as nature would have it, but what man has made it. Only the plants in the oceans have lived and developed throughout time more or less untroubled by the ambitions of mankind.
   When you look at a field of waving corn, it is not the original wild corn from the upland slopes of Asia Minor. It is a new species developed by selection and cross-fertilisation to produce a bigger grain for the feeding of men and their domestic animals. Even the grass of meadow and pasture is not the wild scrub of the tundra. It has grown from selected seed, cleaned of the interloping weed and the fungal pest.
   The potted plant so carefully watered and tended, even the flowers in parks and gardens, are not wild species. They are hybrids of hybrids, fed with nitrate and  life. The fruits and vegetables on your table would not have existed had men not altered the course of their development. Even the wild fruit trees and the wild vegetable plants growing in the countryside are discarded stages in that development.

   Wild Plants
   Many of the wayside wild flowers found themselves where they are because men brought the first seeds to the area, and some of their descendants escaped and flourished where they fell. The wild parsley, the wild garlic and the wild mustard all have relations producing their spices and flavours for the modern cook. The wild vine once produced its fruit to fill the wine bottles of a vanished society. The wild flax once gave seed oil to fill the lamps of long ago: its cousin still provides fine linen for your home. The foxglove and the deadly nightshade have cured men's ills, the madder and the now wild woad have dyed his raiment.
   Even the mighty trees of the forest can live only where man permits them. They may stand proudly erect only as long as man finds them useful for his own devices. The history of their coming and going is told now only in the microscopic pollen grains buried deep in the layers of peat where once the wild, free forest grew. There is no part of any civilised countryside where the plants have not felt the influence of man. In the past, he may have used them with scant respect. That they have survived in such profusion reflects less credit on him than on their own cunning. Perhaps plants cannot think, but plants have the knowledge to survive.