Yesterday morning I rode my bicycle about a mile to buy some food at a supermarket.
This time of year racks of potted ‘mums are on display, a sure sign of impending autumn. I was putting down my bike’s kick-stand when I saw a glimmer of green from the corner of my eye. Supermarket entrances aren’t usually notable for native plants, but lurking in a niche between a brick pillar and the wall of the store was a yearling redbud tree. It was thriving, partially due to the intermittent drip of water from a white plastic heating vent pipe.
Indulge me, kind readers, while I exercise my imagination in a decidedly anthropomorphic manner:
The summer before last there was a windy night which whirled all sorts of vegetative debris into new pockets and corners. A papery, flat redbud seed-pod tumbled across the asphalt and ended up in a pocket of rotted leaves which had accumulated over the years in a pavement crack right next to a grocery store facade.
The pod opened as fall rains soaked the pocket of new soil. The small, hard oval seeds experienced their first soaking. Their dim vegetative awareness took note, then fell back asleep for the winter. Every redbud seed knows that a winter season with freezing and thawing is necessary to break dormancy! Thus has it been for many millennia, a hoary leguminous tradition.
Spring arrives and the pavement and soil-pocket become warm. A few of the redbud seeds tentatively germinate. These are the advance guard, fearlessly braving random late frosts. They are willing to be sacrificed to the exigencies of weather. This just might be one of those rare years with an early frostless spring, but if not, the other seeds are waiting their turn.
A freakish late and hard frost cuts down that first echelon of redbud seeds. The month of May arrives with a higher and warmer sun. Most of the remaining seeds germinate, all but a few stubborn seeds which decide to wait for another year, another spring.
One June morning last year a rabbit, its fur bejeweled by early-morning dew, ventures across the vast grocery store parking lot. Nose twitching, alert for any predator movement, the small mammal makes the rounds, looking for morning food. It comes across the cluster of redbud seedlings and makes short work of them, green and succulent sustenance for a rabbit’s early summer day.
The rabbit missed one seedling. It was concealed beneath a large pin oak leaf. The seedling became aware of its surroundings as it grew last summer and through this past summer of 2011.
“Hmm… partially shaded and with a steady supply of moisture! I must be part of a forest’s understory. There must be a spring seeping nearby; perhaps I’m growing up against a mossy limestone cliff!”
Redbuds can’t see, of course, and the young tree’s guesses are reasonable but false assumptions. We all need our illusions, don’t we?
The little tree is most likely doomed. Some supermarket employee will eventually be ordered to “patrol the lot”. Armed with a broom and a sprayer loaded with herbicide, the employee will notice the hopeful redbud and spray it into oblivion.
“Damn weeds!”, he mutters as he walks away.