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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - April 03, 2013

From: Tiffin, OH
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Watering, Deer Resistant, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Resourses that are being taken away - Tiffin OH
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

What are resources that are being taken away from humans and organisms?

ANSWER:

There are a lot of resources necessary to humans and other animals to prosper that we could talk about, but since the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is dedicated to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which those plants grow natively, we will talk about the role of plants in taking away resources.

Some of the resources that both plants and animals need include sunlight, food, water and oxygen. If the planet had no sun, or our sun was too far away for its energy to reach us, the whole planet would be cold, dark and lifeless. Barring an unexpected cosmic occurrence we do not expect the sun to be taken away, but pollutants in the air can cut out a great deal of the sunlight that organisms would ordinarily get.

Let's talk about animals and food; for instance, deer browsing on gardens. One of the most frequent questions to Mr. Smarty Plants involve how to keep wild deer from eating all the beautiful plants in someone's garden. But where did all those deer wandering through the suburbs come from? They were there first. Once upon a time, those deer had themselves been food for native Americans and early settlers.  So, here is the historical cycle: The deer were here, they ate plants that grew naturally in their neighborhood. Then human beings came along and needed food, too, so they killed deer and ate them. The deer learned to keep farther away from the hunters and went on eating plants. The next thing that happened is that people decided those fields and forests were good places to live, so they built homes and schools, and planted gardens. The deer were still around and discovered that there was some really delicious food around those houses, and if the deer came around at night, they could eat it. So, who stole what resource from whom?

How about  plants and food? There are nutrients in the soil that plant roots can draw in to nourish the plant. The  leaves on the plant converts those nutrients to food for the whole plant, using sunlight for energy. In this process, oxygen is produced as a waste product in a process called photosynthesis. Oh, yeah, oxygen is one of the things that animals need to survive. In the same operation, carbon dioxide is taken up into the soil, removing a waste product of civilization for a good cause.  Was a resource stolen in that process?

Perhaps a final word on this, just using those examples, is that resources get used, not necessarily taken away. The plants need sun to manufacture food. Animals, including people, eat those plants for nourishment. Some animals, like cows and chickens, also eat plants and then are used for food by people. Fossil fuels, like oil and coal, are consumed in the process of making electricity for light and heat and running manufacturing plants that make food, cars, fabric for clothes and chemicals. The chemicals are used for making fabric, food, medicine and so on. The real problem with the consumption or “taking away” of natural resources is that they get used up too fast, with too many bad side effects. The chemicals produced pollute the air, some animals become extinct and the space for oxygen-producing plants grows ever smaller.

What does Mr. Smarty Plants have to do with all this? We advocate growing plants in the area of the planet where they evolved. They evolved to tolerate the climate, the amount of rainfall and the soils in which they must live. If we pour tap water, which is needed for drinking, onto non-native lawns, we have shortages of water, which all life needs. If we pour chemical fertilizer on plants we are trying to force to grow, that consumes some of those chemicals we talked about being manufactured and the leftover chemicals drain off into watersheds and some of it ends up in our drinking water. As we said, the resources get used, but not necessarily in the best way for our planet and ourselves.

 

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