Saturday, March 30, 2013

Learning From Plants

There are many lessons we can learn from plants. I look for these lessons as I walk through the gardens here at Kona Kai and also when I am anywhere else plants are present. Different plants exemplify certain particular lessons more apparently than others, and I've tried to pick out some examples and photos from the Gardens here at Kona Kai:

Plants don't need much, and can do a lot with very little - just sunlight, water, air, and nutrients from the soil. It's pretty incredible what, and how much, plants can produce given only these ingredients. If I told you I could produce some delicious food, potent medicine, useful materials, and objects of beauty from just air, light, and some water and soil given enough time, you would bet that's unlikely, but it's exactly what happens if I have a seed or two in the soil I'm going to use. The chemistry behind this apparent alchemy plants utilize is incredibly complex and still manages to astound scientists today. I hope that I can be like plants and transform what sustains my body into things exponentially more useful and beautiful for the world.

A very productive papaya plant (Carica papaya) in our tropical fruit garden producing delicious fruit from simple ingredients.

Plants make good use of all their resources without much waste. When a plant acquires something, it's going to be making use of it and does not keep resources that it does not use beyond what is prudent food/water storage for its environment. Because a plant only keeps what it makes use of, remaining resources are available to other organisms, allowing them to grow and flourish along with it. I have found this to be a great way to live - keeping only what I need and use regularly and then passing on whatever I'm not using to someone else who can make use of it. In this way, other people can flourish along with me and I make as efficient use of the planet's limited resources as possible.

The coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) has roots, a trunk, and leaves to take care of its needs.

Plants own nothing beyond themselves and seem quite content. Their glory is not in what they own but being what they are to the greatest potential possible in their given situation. Thoreau wrote that a poet's most challenging work is his/her own life, which also has the potential to be the greatest work of poetry they can possibly produce. If I put more effort and energy into developing myself as a better human being instead of into acquiring and accumulating things, perhaps I can write a living poem as beautiful as the ones I see being written by the plants in our gardens.

The intricate and delicate beauty of plants is poetry more eloquent than verse.

Plants are not striving to be something they aren't, comparing themselves with others and envying them - the concept is quite foreign to them. They are who they are and to see a plant growing true to its own unique nature, no matter how inconspicuous or seemingly insignificant, is beautiful. In the orchid house today, I saw the tiniest orchid plant I have ever seen in my life putting out a single flower. As small as it is, the orchid could figure it counts for nothing in comparison with the great coconut and mahogany trees overshadowing the orchid house (or the much bigger and more floriferous orchids nearby) and so shrivel up and die in their shadows. But it's doing its own thing as the type of plant it is and just so happened to be the one that caught my attention over any other orchid or tree nearby. If every plant tried to be as big as a mahogany, have flowers like a hibiscus, and leaves like a palm, then the world would have lost out on the incredible beauty and usefulness found in plants' diversity. The same is true for people - I am extremely thankful that each person has different gifts and character qualities so that we can learn from and help each other to do things that we would not be able to accomplish if we were all of the same talents and character. And so I should strive to develop the good qualities and talents of my unique self and thereby contribute the most to the beauty and function of humanity.

Juuuust managing to peek over the lip of its pot. Heroic.

Plants grow and bloom where they are planted since they have no option of relocating to other places like animals and humans can. I have seen plants growing in places where conditions are extremely harsh and yet they still put out leaves and bloom, making the best of the situation they are given. These plants remind me that I too can grow and "bloom" even in the toughest situations, hardest times, and most hostile places.

Firebush (Hamelia patens) growing out of a rock!

Blooming beautifully in spite of its much-less-than-ideal situation.

Plants are patient and long-suffering without complaint. Plants are peed on, climbed on, cut up, rained on, snowed on, tossed about by strong winds, infected with disease, pushed to their limits for production, and often die a slow death. Yet even in the midst of these things, plants remain silent and serene like the silent sun, moon, stars, and clouds overhead. I find it startling just how quiet the world is without the noise we humans make with cars, machines, talking, TV, music, etc. I thrive when I take time to be silent and still in a place free from those noises. When I do this, part of me becomes one with that peacefulness and I can bring this back with me into my daily life. Plants can be powerful witnesses of serenity in the midst of chaos, as they are just as peaceful in the city as they are in the country; they seem to transcend the noise.

The red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) out across the bay from Kona Kai are a great escape via kayak into the quiet (except when people head down to Key West for the speedboat races).

Plants consume in order to produce, thereby benefitting many other organisms, especially humans. I think of the many ways plants benefit me - fruits for food and spice, leaves for shade, roots for medicine, trunks for materials and energy, flowers for fragrance and beauty, etc. Given the food I eat and water I drink, I too can be a producer and provide for the well-being of the other organisms on this planet (humans, plants, and animals). I hope to be a consumer who consumes in order to produce for the benefit of the wider world, not a consumer who consumes in order to consume more for myself.

The pineapple (Ananas x) is a symbol of generosity, and it is certainly generous using so many of its resources to produce such large and tasty fruits.

If you have any lessons you've learned from plants, feel free to share in a comment!

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director

1 comment:

  1. Never give up! Lesson learned from gardening in Florida, lol. When you think you've been beat, try again...when you think "I'm not doing this again", aka. my vegetable garden lol, try again...because you never know when that "A-ha" moment will happen or when a spectacular event stops you in your tracks allows you to appreciate & give thanks. Thanks David! I am sure the Keys is a spectacular place to be for Easter weekend. Hopefully one day we can make it down there for a visit. Wishing you a wonderful week!

    Best wishes,