Iíve been weeding my bush morning glory garden, though I have to say itís not a real garden. Iím not a real gardener, and the flowers were not even mine in the first place. We found them growing wild in the pasture ó planted by nature, watered by rain, and weeded by cows until that chore fell into my hands.
Why the cows avoided those particular flowers is a bit of a mystery. Plants produce a multitude of chemical compounds, and some apparently just donít taste as good as others. Cows have their preferences, too.
In his range management class, Bob Nicholson once said the difference between a cow and a mower is the cow discriminates. True, a mower will cut down everything in its path, but a discriminating man can guide a mower around some of the more handsome flowers ó only thatís not so easy to do when the place is being overrun by weeds, like it is this year.
The bush morning glory is native to the High Plains, and it has a big beautiful pink flower that blooms from July to September. We have a few patches of it growing in the draw down behind the house.
When I say we ďhaveĒ the flowers, I mean they are growing on our land. But I also love them, and thatís something quite different from merely having them. Falling in love with a flower makes you want to defend it, and that means getting down on your hands and knees and pulling weeds. Any self-respecting gardener would do as much.
Weeding is the only part of gardening I am any good at. One of my professors gave me a green thumb once, literally the cast of someoneís thumb made out of green rubber, and thatís about as close as Iíll ever come to really having one. Fortunately, in nursing my patch of wild morning glories, I get a lot of help from nature.
We humans can fall in love with just about anything, only some things require more justification than others. Iíd be hard pressed to explain my fondness for a certain old tattered work coat that I keep wearing in spite of its unseemly appearance. Flowers at least have the benefit of being attractive.
But flowers have something far more important than beauty, something not found in even the finest coat. They are invested with life. They are living, breathing organisms, and we are connected to them by a long history of evolution, by genetic unity and by a deep feeling of kindship. To put it another way, we are all members of the same exclusive club, spinning around a lonely star on the edge of an immense galaxy, held together by a vital bond of interdependence.
The naturalist E.O. Wilson says this bond, or emotional attachment, to living things is rooted in our biology. He calls it biophilia, literally ďthe love of life,Ē and he defines it as ďthe innate tendency to be attracted by other life forms and to affiliate with natural living organisms.Ē
There is a growing body of evidence to support the theory of biophilia, particularly in relation to our health. Natural settings have been found to reduce stress as measured by heartbeat, systolic blood pressure and muscle tension. Studies of patients prior to surgery consistently show a significant reduction of stress in the presence of plants and aquaria, and post-surgical patients recovered more quickly if given a window view of an open landscape.
The popular notion that owning pets can reduce stress-related problems has been well-supported by research. In one study, pet ownership accounted for a reduction of cholesterol, triglycerides and systolic blood pressure. Another study found survivors of heart attacks who owned dogs had a survival rate six times higher than those who did not.
I have no doubt the love of flowers has its own unique health benefits, over and above the joy it brings. The lure of the garden is a lifeline to the living earth, and it is one that might play a more important role in the future as we continue to grow ever more alienated from nature.
To me, there is no concept in biology more beautiful than biophilia. It is fascinating to think our emotional attraction to living things has survival value, and that behind the act of growing a garden or keeping a pet lies a grander theme.
According to Wilson, when we get the urge to cultivate a bed of roses or to weed a patch of wild morning glories, we are doing it not just for the love of flowers, but for the love of life itself.
Richard Weber is a nature enthusiast
living in Ellis County.