A few years before his death in 1862, Henry David Thoreau wrote:
“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have seed there, and I shall expect wonders.”
It seems odd that Thoreau would even bother to mention that he believed that plants come from seeds, but there were a fair number of smart people in his era that did believe in spontaneous generation of plants. This idea was supported by the observation that a fallow farm field or burned forest would regenerate native plants without intentional sowing; the ecology of seed dispersal was largely unknown. In fact, Thoreau’s “Dispersal of Seeds” essay, based on his field notes, was one of the first serious and largely accurate natural history treatments of the subject.
Thoreau’s faith and expectation of wonder finds fertile ground in us, especially now. This week marks an important milestone for our Ecological Immersion Program and philosophy. This week we will plant our first bur oaks at Hitchcock grown from acorns we collected at Hitchcock. I’ve initiated similar projects in other places, but Hitchcock is our home. Believe me, this is a very big deal. We began with faith and a bucket of acorns and now we have trees. Our trees.
I know it seems obvious to us that ecotype matters; that planting native trees of local origin in places they would naturally grow makes ecological sense. Surprisingly, there are many – like the unenlightened people of Thoreau’s day – who are unaware or distrustful of basic biology. In fact, I was recently attacked by a man at an ecology conference for advocating ecotype planting. His claim was that in light of global warming, it makes more sense to plant exotic, southern trees in the northern Great Plains! Despite his bizarre claim, I was even more astonished at his vehement reaction to my position. How could collecting local bur oak acorns for replanting local oak savannas be radical or offensive?
Anyway, I do expect wonders. Our saplings are beautiful and healthy (grown by our good friend Heather Byers) and ready to plant. We will gather on Thursday, November 14 at 10am to plant a couple of dozen in a new restoration area with Chad Graeve and the Hitchcock staff. If you can join us, please do! We’ll meet at the barn. Let me know if we can expect you. I will personally guarantee your safety from science deniers.