Seen from a distance, the colors of Autumn evidence the seasonal transition. The leaves turning brown, yellow or red and then falling from the trees at once signify death and the cyclical nature of life. Up close however, as this image reveals, it is also the time for the deposition of seeds, the first act in replacing the life that came before—and through mutation enhancing the species. Because I’ve been photographing grass and weeds lately, I was curious to learn about the lifecycle of grass in particular. Here are the highlights of what I found.
There are three stages of growth for grasses: the vegetative during which the leaf blades develop, the transitional during which the buds on some plants evolve into flowers and the reproductive stage when pollination and fertilization take place resulting in seed formation. The transitions between the vegetative and transitional stages, as well as the evolution of seed heads, happens quickly and imperceptibly, with seed heads, or spikelets, usually appearing on the tips of the stalks known as apical meristems. As the seeds along the spikelets mature, they are released and dispersed by wind, rain or some other means of transport. Seen here, the seeds appear in rows along the heads, and each one is capable of producing a new grass plant. A grass seed contains one “seed leaf” that pushes the plant’s first true leaves up to the surface of the soil. Unlike other types of plants whose first leaves appear in pairs, grasses produce a single leaf that emerges from the soil as soon as the root emerges from the seed.
Observing the image of a mature grass with its “finger” of seeds, I think about its forebears, all of whom experienced and survived the vagaries of dramatic changes in soil and climate. Beyond the beauty of this blade of grass, enhanced by the backlight of late sun, the camera has captured the moment in its lifecycle when it’s about to disperse its seeds. I marvel at how this living system, constituted of billions of individual cells, each of which is continually making decisions in its own best interest, knows when and how to manufacture seeds in the first place and then disperse them. I could be wrong, but I don’t imagine there’s much intercellular competition or squabbling going on at that level. In my readings on the life of cells I notice that there isn’t the divisiveness caused by leaders and followers, haves and have nots, liberals and conservatives. The primary differentiating factor has everything to do with their choice of function and location. There’s no question that the priority and driving force is the construction of a viable whole system, one that can reproduce itself.
This particular plant’s existence alone provides evidence that its member cells have responded appropriately to both internal and external changes, allowing the whole system to survive, grow and reproduce. Every living cell contains the plan (DNA) for constructing a whole system. And through electrochemical processes, each cell chooses to play a specific role to contribute to the fulfillment of the plan. This is true of all healthy cells. At the level of the human individual, we have brain-nervous systems that function as the stimulus-responding mechanism to monitor and adjust the body to internal and external changes. What plants have that we lack is a plan for securing the health and well-being of the higher order bodies—the social and global bodies. Human beings are not naturally endowed with a drive to collaborate with other members of the species to construct a society—or world—that can survive, grow and evolve as a unit, a functioning whole system. As a species that is both conscious and social, humanity struggles to coordinate, largely through trial and error. Looked at over just several generations, barely a blip on the evolutionary timeline, it can appear that we are taking two steps forward and one step back. Civilizations have grown, but not one has survived. Should we expect otherwise? The plant kingdom has had the advantage of 140 million years of evolution, compared to our 200,000.
Whether or not it’s appropriate to parallel our species with the plant kingdom, the fact that both are on growth trajectories, cycling through internal and external changes is for me reason to trust that nature knows what she’s doing, that the life that’s living us is purposeful and patterned for complexity, expansion and increased consciousness—constructing who know what? As Buckminster Fuller often said, “We cannot learn less, we can only learn more.” For the moment and from the perspective of evolving life, there’s every reason to trust that, although we as individuals and nations have far to go, progress is being made. Despite personal ups and downs and social trials and tribulations, all is well and on course. Through the winter and summer months—actually and metaphorically—we’ve been busy creating the seeds of our future. Now, it’s time to release them so the world can bring forth the next best thing.
I trust in nature for the stable laws of beauty and utility. Spring shall plant and autumn garner to the end of time.
About This Image
Title: A Finger Of Grass
Ordinarily I would walk or drive past a patch of weeds and grass and not give them a thought. But by stalking that same patch with a camera I’m on heightened alert, looking for something that stands out—a pattern or a quality of light that enhances form and texture. Whatever the attraction, I’m compelled to compose the elements in the viewfinder. If it doesn’t work there I move on. If it does I enjoy the sound of the shutter and come away hopeful.
I was photographing in a local park recently and came across this blade of grass. What attracted me was the backlight, how against the dark background of forest it created a bright rim around the finger of seeds. Using a macro lens, I critically focused on the finger and opened the aperture wide enough so the background would be out of focus.