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Design Under Sky discusses landscape architecture, the utilitarian but leaning towards the conceptual, thinking on modern occurrences and peripheral boundaries.  

DUS is the blog and personal design studio of Adam E. Anderson, a designer based out of the East Coast, currently a Critic at the Rhode Island School of Design, and a designer at Landworks Studio.

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December 2011
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« Nature Becomes Eclectic | Main | A 1940's View of the Future American City »

Genetic Necessities of Wilderness

Through modern science, man attempts to flex his dominion over nature. Bioengineering of agricultural products and domestication of plant material is our current solution to the creation of “healthy” pest-free vegetation and landscapes. But to what extent can science be pushed to continuously produce plants able to survive unsustainable levels of constantly evolving nuances, and their displacement from natural ecosystems into high density urbanism.

Does it make sense to think of agriculture as something the grasses did to people as a way to conquer the trees? Could dogs, who’s numbers shadow the wolf, their ancestral brethren, be considered more fit for survival despite weaker predatory skills, because a few wolves once allowed themselves to rest at the foot of man?

In Michael Pollan’s book The Botany of Desire, he theorizes that the story and power of evolution, specifically plants, has paralleled that of animal. It all breaks down to basic Darwinism’s “survival of the fittest”, and more often the not the “fittest” referring to organisms with the greatest capability of spreading their genetic code. Plants being immobile creatures, evolved in a way to directly benefit from the existence and evolvement of animals. Plants began to produce burrs specifically designed to attach to fur, and fruits such as the apple, entice would be seed spreaders with their sweetness.

The apple, a fruit whose origins have been traced back to forests of vast varieties in Kazakhstan, traveled to Europe by Silk trade routes, and eventually made its way to America with the settlers.

The contrast in shapes, colors, textures, and tastes found in the apples of this Kazakh forest make it hard to believe that they share the same species. But it is this multitude of genetic complexities that enabled exotic seedlings to be spread and grow on continents throughout the world.

John Chapman (a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed) was only able to produce hundreds of orchards throughout Ohio because of these complexities. Being an exotic species would otherwise hinder its existence, but the deep history of the built-in genetic bio-diversity crammed into these tiny seedlings he spread allowed them to resource parts of this code to adapt to life in America.

Apparently, apples grown from seeds are far too bitter for eating and better suited for cider, or also know as applejack, which may attest to Johnny Appleseed’s popularity amongst the Ohio frontiersmen. Prohibition and competition with new found accessibility of sugar products forced growers to genetically alter apple trees through grafting in order to produce the sweeter fruits we’re familiar with today, which has drastically minimized production of species variations.

The problem with genetically altering plants, a practice ol’ Johnny deemed “wicked”, is you take away the sex, which is nature’s way of creating fresh genetic combinations. In the wilderness plants and pests continuously co-evolve so that neither become victorious over the other. Because natural evolution is essentially stopped, pests and bacteria can find weaknesses in the apple’s defense mechanisms, eventually killing the plant. That is, unless we again intervene with technology and pesticides.

But again, as Pruned once asked us, “How deeply are we willing to go into the wilderness”? It could be said that at this point, nothing is natural, even the weather itself is in some sense an artifact now, its temperatures and storms the reflections of our actions. Our human predisposition to artifice all things wild creates a continuous unbalance and unsustainable juggling act with nature and science, which is unnecessary if we’d learn to let the wild in. Modern assumptions are that somehow a divide exists between man and nature, and that we must somehow alter it in a way to meet our desires to preserve our existence. When actually, as Thoreau stated, “In wilderness is the preservation of the world”.

They question remains whether we can trust natural evolution to adapt to our growing urbanism? Is it possible for genetic varieties of plants to evolve in a way in which they thrive under these conditions, even aiding us in becoming extreme Co2 and heat absorbers? Perhaps by providing fruit or other food sources, plants will be able to use us as much as we use them, using our extreme densities to continuously spread their seed through the urban wilderness as we co-evolve together.

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