Wednesday 25 April 2018

Seed dispersal

We have to be engaged in a reciprocal relationship with plants. One of our main responsibilities as medicine harvesters is to not only take but to give back. What in the world can we give a plant?!

This years big focus is going to be about seed dispersal!

Here is the problem!

Did you know that birds, chipmunks and spiderwebs are actually among the biggest problems when it comes to seed distribution? When they eat the seeds they digest and destroy them, spiderwebs/nests rod entire seed pods!! If we want to help our medicine plants, all we have to do is get there before they do.

If birds and chipmunks do not distribute seeds who does?

Seed dispersal of our medicinal plants is mainly conducted by a delicate balance of relationships between ants, bears and mice.

How can we help these relationships and therefore, our medicines?

This year we are going to be dedicating a ton of time doing exactly that!

Here is how it works:

Step one:

Ants prepare the seed for germination. The seeds have a fleshy outer layer called an elaiosome that is a "perfect food" for ants, when they have eaten all of the elaiosome the seed is ready for germination. The ants have two options; either throw it outside their home or store it within their nest in something called a midden. This whole process is called myremecochory.

Step two:

Bears transport the seeds. When they rip into an anthill to eat the ant larvae they do two things. Number one, as they dig into the ant hill to get at the larvae they literally toss pawfulls of seeds that have accumulating on top of the anthouse for who knows how long. Number two, when they eat the ant larvae they also end up eating a massive amount of seeds that are stored in the underground middens. Bears carry those seeds and poop them out in different areas.

Step three:

Mice. Almost specifically deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus). They rummage through bear poop for seeds that they use for food! They then take the seeds and, get this, bury them 5-10mm deep throughout the forest! Isn't this amazing!!!!! They end up eating the fruit tree seeds because they are massive and simply a better source of food. Seeds from our medicinal species of plants, which are smaller, are left around the forest as "emergency caches." For the most part these caches go untouched or forgotten about. So they literally take all the seeds of our medicine plants directly from the bear poop and plant them!

Now imagine sitting in front of a patch of your favorite species of medicine and knowing the steps that it took to make this possible, the complexity of this relationship is absolutely mindblowing! This deserves a powerful acknowledgement.

But you know what? Not just an acknowledgement but a human intervention that can catalyze and foster these relationships. Which brings us back to What can we do to help!?!

Sometimes we help the ants, by taking seed pods to them before they fall prey to birds and chipmunks. Literally feeding ants.

Sometimes we can do a little bit of role-playing, or clan-playing. Play bear and take the seeds the ants tossed out and throw them around. If you look at the base of an anthill, its not just sand, you can clearly see that the anthill is literally a giant pile of medicine seeds! When you pick medicine look around and you will find concentrated patches of medicines are always near a massive ant colony. By resurrecting the ancient practice of trading medicines, transporting medicines from territory to territory we are literally playing bear! And with the connectedness we possess in this day and age, it will be easy to transport medicine seeds to re-diversifying and re-medicinfying our territories.