Tag Archives: Mycellium

The Oldest Flowering Plant in North America

Lately, my daily practice is more and more a matter of getting grounded enough to learn from the mycellium that connect everything in my little Bit of Earth.

(Random mourners at the funeral: “You can’t deny, she was an intelligent woman, a successful lawyer, very well-respected in her field. Imagine her dying out in that back woodland and no one finding her for days! They said her hands, and mouth, and lungs were full of soil!

Accumulated a nice nest egg, owned her home, paid her taxes, always voted, bought cookies from the girl scouts, donated to the local library, did a lot of pro bono work, and brought bundles of herbs and baskets of muffins when new neighbors moved in.

Too bad she went so crazy in the end, imagining she could talk to the fungi attached to tree roots or some such! Just think! She spent her evenings thinking that she was “talking” to fungi and that they were the Earth’s brain cells! They say she died happy, though. Wonder who’ll get her Hermes collection.”

“Well I heard she fancied herself a Witch. It was a rather extensive collection, wasn’t it?”)

One thing that I’ve learned is that mycellium value very highly the ability to communicate/carry information between not only, say, my two Japanese Temple Pines, but also between, for example, the Temple Pines and the Bracken’s Brown Magnolias, and the White Oak, and the Daisy Gardenia shrubs, and the, well, you get the idea. And the soil keeps shifting and the plants keep shifting and the mycellium that connect the plant communities of the Eastern MidAtlantic to the plant communities on the other side of the Appalachians are very important. Information, for them, is material; it’s cells, and microbes, and droplets of sugar water, and it’s also concentrated sunshine, and it’s also the way that the stars were formed. They’ve/It’s been doing this for a long, long time. The planet didn’t just get connected when someone developed the internet. (Some say that mycellium are “sentient,” which, duh, of course they are, and that they know when you are present. After you walk, “the very ground leaps up” to absorb the nutrients you’ve left behind. Of course it does. And that makes walking a holy act. Maybe that’s one reason why I love to go outside barefoot.)

And, so, I was delighted today to read this story about one of America’s oldest flowering plants. I wonder about the mycellium that connected its roots to those of its neighbors. The article says that:

There’s also a much more recent history of this fossil that’s just as fascinating. Jud[, the student who wrote about the fossil,] did a bit of research and found that it’d been excavated in 1971 by a former Smithsonian curator, Leo Hickey, who went on to Yale and died in February before working with Jud to re-analyze the fossil after all these years. Hickey had found it during a dig at the Dutch Gap, in Virginia, in sediments that were exposed over a century earlier, by freed slaves who were forcibly taken from the Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony by Union troops and forced to dig a canal in August 1864.

While digging, they exposed ancient fossil-filled rocks, and a few decades later, in the 1870s and 1880s, scientists worked there to collect fossils and create some of the Smithsonian’s first fossil collections. Later, Hickey and other researchers returned to collect remaining specimens.

Jud honored this recent history in naming the ancient species that this specimen represents. “Potomac refers to the Potomac Group beds where the fossil was found, capnos is a reference to living poppies that are quite similar to the fossil and apeleutheron is the Greek word for freedmen,” he says. “So the new plant will be named Potomacapnos apeleutheron: roughly, ‘freedmen’s poppy of the Potomac.’”

I love that. I want to go see the site in my state where this earliest flowering plant was found. I want to pour a blot for the Freedmen for whom this Potomac poppy was named and for the likely-still-extant mycellium that talked to its roots. Maybe they’ll talk to me.

What’s the gossip in your landbase?