“Jean-O-Types” & Genotypes
Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! The other day I was on a walk with a friend and we stopped to look at a tree that was obviously getting a lot of attention from some sort of woodpecker. She asked a simple question, “do you know what kind of tree this is?”. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t too long of a pause, but for me there were thoughts firing off left and right inside of my head before I gave her my answer.
My first instinct was to say, “oooooh no, I don’t have any idea of what that tree is”. Then I had a flood of memories of my dad showing me different wood pieces in his carpentry shop, different logs in our woodpile and of him pointing out the various trees in our yard. He always encouraged me to touch them, smell them and to look closely at the patterns and textures before he would reveal their names. All of this was coursing through my brain in a matter of seconds before I said, “oooooh it’s an ash tree”.
Since that walk, I have been pondering what happened inside my head and how the name of that tree finally made its way to my lips. This simple question and answer were pretty miraculous to me and it showed me that perhaps some of the projects that I am beginning to get underway really are going to be attainable. Up until this recent "ash tree experience", I had pretty much convinced myself that since my brain injury many years ago it was impossible for me to remember and recall the names of things. I now realized that I had been defaulting to the crutch of “gee I don’t know” or deferring to others. Although I definitely do have actual recall issues, I now see that my brain is beginning to find ways to make this happen. I just need to give it the time to process the information in its own way and I think the key is going to be touching, smelling and looking. Oooooh my! Last week my idea of wanting to identify the plants and ecosystems of our yard seemed to be an almost insurmountable and paralyzing task, but now I see how possible it is as long as I engage all of my senses.
By being able to identify the tree that we were looking at, we realized that not only that single ash tree, but also several others in the same area seem to be rife with some sort of Ash Borer, which is what the woodpeckers were after. Determining whether or not these trees are invested with the devastating Emerald Ash Borer is going to have to be left to folks with more expertise like those in our local conservation commission or the UConn Extension, but at least we noticed this and we can report it. Boy oooooh boy is it important to know what is around you and what should and should not be there. This experience has reaffirmed to me just how important it is that I really get to know the individual plants and ecosystems that are at work in our yard.
This brings me to plant genotypes. I had never even thought of genotypes, plant, animal or human until fairly recently when I started hanging out at meetings with folks who know about such things. In a nutshell, “genotype” refers to the genetic makeup of an organism and it describes it’s complete set of genes. I know a few people who have embraced the “23andMe movement” to learn more about their own genetic makeup and I can sort of get that, but do I really need to know the exact genetic makeup of the plants in our yard? Well it appears that it is pretty useful knowledge. Luckily, we don’t need to order thousands of mail in genetic tests, all we have to do is look around.
The easiest example is something I have experienced myself and it goes something like this: buy an Echinacea(Eastern purple coneflower) plant, plant it, it grows for a month or two or maybe a full year and then it is never to be seen again even though it is a perennial. Versus, find locally growing Echinacea that has been thriving for years, collect the seed and then germinate and grow your own plants that live happily ever after in your yard. The difference? Often the plants that we buy are not of the genotype that can live in our specific growing area. They are Echinacea, but they are of a genotype that thrives further north or south from where we live, which is why they rarely survive for more than one growing season. If you are not of the mindset to collect your own seed and then germinate it, no worries just take the time to find people who do pay attention to things like this like local seed companies and native plant centers and sellers. Locally for me, The Hudson Valley Seed Company is a great source for seeds and the Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College is a great source for plants whose genotypes work in my planting zone. Happy plant hunting, spring is on the way. Oooooh yeah!