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BEN # 184

Adolf Ceska aceska at CUE.BC.CA
Thu Feb 19 04:36:14 EST 1998

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No. 184                              February 19, 1998

aceska at victoria.tc.ca                Victoria, B.C.
 Dr. A. Ceska, P.O.Box 8546, Victoria, B.C. Canada V8W 3S2

From: Briony Penn <penn&gunn at saltspring.com> originally
  published in Gulf Islands Driftwood Feb. 11, 1998, p. 7.

[Prologue:  Briony  Penn's  article  describes a fight between a
rare endemic species, Macoun's meadow-foam (Limnanthes macounii)
and an  aggressive  introduced  species,  lawn  burweed  (Soliva
sessilis).  Both species met in Ruckle Park on Saltspring Island
in southwestern  British  Columbia.  Ruckle  Park  is  the  only
locality  of  Macoun's meadow-foam on Saltspring Island; another
locality we knew of disappeared under a sun deck that  an  owner
of  the  property  built  over the vernal pool where meadow-foam
used to grow. - Thanks to Briony Penn and  to  the  Gulf  Island
Driftwood for the permission to post the article on BEN. - AC]

Once  upon  a time there were two plants each exquisite in their
own right: Macoun's meadow-foam and the lawn burweed. Both these
plants had adapted to a very unusual  sort  of  place:  a  place
where  the  competition  was  weak, the aspect was sunny but the
water present. Of course there are few places in the world where
all three needs are met and, like many of  us,  the  meadow-foam
found  itself  a  haven in the sunny, mossy rock outcrops of the
Straits of Georgia where water gently seeped through its  roots.
There  it  grew  happily co-existing with the odd deer and human
browsing out the more vigorous competitors  such  as  camas  and
fool's onion.

Meanwhile,  at  the  other end of the world at approximately the
same latitude the burweed found its niche  in  the  sunny  rocky
outcrops of South America where wandering llamas grazed away the
competition.  Both  plants  had many similarities in features; a
reflection of their modest natures. They  both  liked  to  stick
close  to  the  ground  and laze around in the sun, catching the
rays with their ephemeral leaves.

The one vital difference between the two exquisites was that the
burweed had developed a rather robust manner of distributing its
seed. Its seed case had a sharp pointed spine  that  did  rather
well  at  embedding  itself  in the tough old hide of the pampas
deer and moving itself to  the  next  sunny  outcrop.  The  more
improvident  meadow-foam  had acquired the particular affliction
affecting all long term dwellers of the  Gulf  Islands,  an  in-
ability  to  worry  about  tomorrow, and its seed was hopelessly

This wasn't a problem for thousands of years and may  well  have
continued not to be a problem for many more except that increas-
ing numbers of exquisite groups of humans arrived in the Straits
who were also looking for places where the competition was weak,
the  aspect  sunny and the water present. One by one the meadow-
foam colonies were inadvertently wiped out and by the end of the
twentieth century, meadow-foam  was  reduced  to  a  handful  of
scattered  colonies, each no larger than a picnic table. Several
colonies were in Ruckle Park.

Meanwhile, burweed was doing rather better. It had inadvertently
become a major player in the changing world that  included  such
improvident  activities  as ecotourism and golf. Energetic back-
packers with thick woolly socks and tough young  hides,  on  the
search  for  pampas deer and adventure, were obvious substitutes
for the deer and the sharp pointed spines of the  seeds  ensured
their safe passage to the homes of the backpackers in the north-
ern latitudes.

Some  burweeds  found their way to golf courses in Arizona where
enormous machines and golfers  removed  the  plant  competition,
sprinklers  provided  the  water and the sun shone daily. Others
migrated in the backpacks all the way to Ruckle Park, the  first
such  found  in  Canada,  and  took  up residence within seeding
distance of the meadow-foam.

Now everyone knows that Gulf Islanders, such  as  the  exquisite
meadow-foam,  are  no match for competition, even such weak com-
petition as the exquisite burweed, and Ruckle Park in  the  last
year  has  become  the  stage  for  an  international drama. The
meadow-foam is on the endangered list and the burweed has become
the latest arrival in a long line of threats to  its  existence,
alongside  the  exquisite broom, ivy and makers of golf courses.
Now for the moral of the tale.

In regular fairy tales, there is a good and a bad and  the  good
wins  every  time.  In  this fairy tale, there is no good or bad
there  is  simply  'seemingly  improvident'  and  'inadvertently
opportunistic'  and  a storyteller who has a certain empathy for
underdogs and maintaining a diversity of approaches to life. Who
is to know whether the hopeless quality of  improvidence  during
one  millennium  might  not  be  the enduring quality in another
millennia. Could Macoun's meadow-foam become the lawn burweed in
another time? The only way to know is to try  and  do  what  one
can.  It  has been at our hands that the meadow-foam has all but
disappeared and it can only be our  hands  that  pluck  the  ex-
quisite burweed from amongst the meadow-foam. It is task that it
splendidly  reflective. You crawl on your knees on a sunny rocky
outcrop with water gently seeping under  your  knees  trying  to
decide  if what you are about to pluck is the rarest organism in
Canada- rarer than the blue whale - or a hardy  little  traveler
that  only a moment ago was caught amongst the coarse hairs of a
pampas deer. It is a time of learning as you must  confront  the
slight and subtle differences between species and the contradic-
tions  within  yourself  about  one's role in the biosphere. And
once you have done it, I promise you, you will never look at the
world in the same way again.

Ruckle is the only known site of lawn burweed that it  has  been
found  in  British  Columbia  to date and it is possible at this
stage to first-thank it for being so  exquisite-then  remove  it
with a respectful pluck.

[Epilogue:  A  similar  fight  is  being staged between Macoun's
meadow-foam and subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum)  on
Rocky  Point  near  Victoria.  Subterranean  clover  has similar
ecology as Macoun's meadow-foam and lawn burweed and  is  native
to Mediterranean Europe. - AC]


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