Nature Notes

Success Stories

By Boak Wiesner

Though the clouds of a refreshingly cool and rainy day, inserted dramatically into this summer of record-breaking heat and intensifying drought, limit how much of the annual Perseid Meteor Shower we can see overhead, it provides a time to reflect on life and such, especially with far fewer folks than normal around the Arboretum today. Too bad, as the highway work curtailed all traffic – it was nicely quiet. The quick flashes of light in the sky these nights are caused by specks released by the melting of Comet Swift-Tuttle, which last swung through our parts in 1992. It will come again in 2126. I wonder: what will the Earth be like then?

This summer’s Olympics drawing to a close got me thinking about success and what that means, biologically speaking. Consider  Homo sapiens. In just 4000 short generations, we have spread out from Africa and became very abundant, very abundant indeed.  In fact, in the span of my life, our numbers have more than doubled. What is the impact of so many humans?

Sandhill Cranes – Grus canadensis

On the way, I passed a couple of colts, that is, young Sandhill Cranes. Here’s a success story! Just recently, they were rarely seen around here; now they are fairly common in the right habitat. Even though their spring stopover area along the Platte River has been reduced to just a tenth of what it had been, they are increasing in numbers.


Among the crabapples, I came across two young turkeys.  I clearly

Turkey – Meleagris gallopavo

Comparing these success stories, the latter due to human intervention and the former not, is it too much to hope that humans can turn things around?

Purple loosestrife – Lythrum salicaria


Purple loosestrife has also been successful, when it comes to expanding its range, too much so, of course, crowding out native plants that offer wildlife better food and cover. Its impact has been mitigated by new methods of control. Can other invasive species also be controlled?

Cottonwood – Populus tremuloides

Among the collection of aspens and cottonwoods is where my musings began. A couple of small trees emerged this year from the graded waste of a parking lot, not seeds that grew but more likely a new tree from the root of an existing tree. A whole copse of aspens may actually be just one big plant. The petioles of Quaking Aspen have a flattened shape and the merest whisper of wind sets them in motion. From whence the name of the genus – Populus – because the rustlings of the leaves sound like the murmurings of a crowd. Of humans.

Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist volunteer.




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