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Aww, Aren't They Cute?

The first plant in the garden I noticed coming up this spring, was the chives. The sight of a tight clump of bright new green stems, three inches tall, pushing up a couple of dead gray tree leaves ... made my heart thump. I let out a squeal: ooh, look at you!

So much feeling, for such a prosaic plant. Not even flower buds. (Though chive flowers are actually quite pretty, they come in June.) What made me excited?

It’s babies. Little things growing, the mystery of possibilities unfolding. Humans — and I bet other animals, too — are genetically programmed to respond to babies with attraction, protectiveness, the impulse to cuddle. Tests show we’re responding to specific aspects of a baby’s appearance: rounder body, small nose and mouth, big eyes, head bigger in proportion to the body.

Not only human babies. Think of puppies and kittens. Also I remember baby chicks my parents bought one Easter. It’s easy to understand us humans feeling this instinct toward other animals, because their babies’ physical aspects are similar: even the chicks’ beaks were smaller, proportionately, than adults chickens’.

But the chives? Not much body fat or short nose there: maybe I’m just sensitized to plants, from all my relationships with them; maybe I’m anthromorphizing.

What could be the evolutionary advantage for a human instinct to protect baby plants? Well, it would have helped learn agriculture, and therefore supplied food.

But studies show more: humans simply thrive better in natural surroundings, in relationship to plants and animals. Entomologist Edward O. Wilson talks about “biophilia”: our feeling of connection to all of life, a natural empathy. The evolutionary advantage of biophilia is the inspiration to conserve the natural environment that nourishes us — in many ways, not just food.

The second plant I saw sprouting, was a tiny, single, round, shiny, dark green cotyledon (seed-leaf), out behind the compost pile where invading lamiastrum got pulled out last year.

Cotyledons may have some characterstics of the true leaves of the plant, but they’re still quite different, since they’re mainly the contents of the seed, a food bank for the plant. This looked a little like the leaves of partridgeberry — which I’d love to see growing there! But though that plant is growing nearby, it didn’t fruit much last year. It’s more likely to be a baby lamiastrum. But I’m glad I can’t tell yet, it’s so cute.

What are you going to become, little plant?

© Copyright 2005 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 15 April 2005

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