Thank God for the Wildflower

The piece below is by Efren Gerardino, who occasionally writes about the commons in the Philippines when he is not working as the plant manager of a muscovado, or soft brown sugar mill.  I met Efren via my late friend Jonathan Rowe, who periodically visited the Philippines.  It is a pleasure to hear Efren's perspectives on the commonsfromanother part of the world.

“All things bright and beautiful/ All creatures great and small/ All things wise and wonderful/ The Lord God made them all”.  These are the opening lines of a poem I learned from my Grade 3 teacher who also filled my childhood with  nature-themed music.  In the same year, I joined a Baptist Sunday School where my fondest memory is nature walks that kindled my interest on clouds, birds, bees, butterflies and wildflowers.   I guess that year was the starting point of my environmental education.

I am now involved in the review of our town’s Environment and Natural Resources Management Plan, with focus on climate change adaptation. At this stage, much of my time is spent on field reconnaissance, interview and photo-documentation.  I walked across forests and croplands and along the way I rediscovered my fascination for wildflowers.

Photo by Elliot Margolies via Flicker, under a CC BY-NC-ND license.

Wildflowers are hardly ever appreciated because they are too small to be noticed from afar. Besides, they are mostly found in fallow fields, road shoulders, steep slopes and other places not usually frequented.  But if you look closely, you will marvel at their beauty, especially the shapes and colors of their flowers. Wildflowers are mostly species of the hibiscus, sunflower, ginger and legume families and like grasses, they are gregarious growers but have no commercial value to speak of that's why they are considered as “weeds” by farmers. I was also ignorant of the true worth of wildflowers until I became an enthusiast

A wildflower thicket is a hub of biodiversity. Aside from attractive flowers, one can readily observe the abundance of small creatures such as sunbirds, warblers, butterflies, bumble bees, dragonflies and lady bugs at the canopy; earthworms, snails, ants, termites and other crawlers on the ground.  I surmise that many of these creatures avoided the poisoned farms and seek refuge in wildflowers. Advocates of biodiversity and ecological pest management should probe this finding.

Many, if not most, of the wildflowers are legumes, a family of plants known to be good soil builders and nitrogen fixers.  The massive leaf litters, the depth of the humus layer, the earthworm castings and the abundance of crawling and burrowing insects are some of the indicators of natural soil fertility of the wildflower land.  I think this is good news for the promoters of natural farming.

In one of my nature treks, I met an old woman in a wildflower field.  She was searching for “tawa-tawa”, a plant believed to cure “dengue” – a serious disease triggered by mosquito bites.  Health authorities discredit this practice but local folks continue using the “tawa-tawa” simply because they get cured.  I asked the woman if she knows other wildflowers with medicinal value.  She identified a dozen or so and described the uses of each (for wounds, boils, coughs, fever, sore eyes, toothache and dysentery) as if she was just sorting out a drugstore shelf.  Some of the plant species that she enumerated are not found in herbal medicine books that I knew.  The potential of wildflowers as source of raw materials for medicines should be high on the research agenda of the health and science agencies.

Now, who says that wildflowers are just “weeds”?  Wildflowers are practically unwanted in the farms but offer boundless ecological and social benefits as commons of nature.  Thank God for creating wildflowers, too.

Photo by Elliot Margolies via Flickr, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivatives license.