As We Destroy the Environment We Also Lose Languages

The attached article links environmental concerns, biodiversity, seed diversity and human diversity.

by Anna Brones

As we cut down forests and lose biodiversity, there’s something else that we’re also losing: languages.

Since the 1970s, linguistic diversity has been declining as fast as biodiversity — at about a 30 percent decline. That’s according to a new report a by researchers Jonathan Loh at the Zoological Society of London and David Harmon at the George Wright Society, which highlights the link between the world of nature and the world of culture.

“There are extraordinary parallels between linguistic diversity and biodiversity,” Jonathan Loh, a researcher at the Zoological Society of London, told the Guardian. “Both are products of evolution and have evolved in remarkably similar ways, and both are facing an extinction crisis.”

A study by Conservation International in 2012 showed that 70 percent of the world’s languages are found in biodiversity hotspots. Which means that as those hotspots are threatened, so are the languages. The parallels between the loss in biodiversity and language are striking. For example, one in four of the world’s remaining languages are threatened, the exact same ratio as mammals that are endangered.

How many languages are we talking about? Today there are 7,000 languages spoken worldwide. Half of those have fewer than 10,000 speakers, making them spoken by only 0.1 percent of the global population. The rest of us have a much smaller diversity in the languages that we speak. 95 percent of the world’s population speaks one of just 400 languages, and 40 percent of us converse in just one of eight languages: Mandarin, Spanish, English, Hindi, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian and Japanese.

That loss in diversity of language is leading to a kind of cultural homogenization. “We are losing the richness of human diversity, becoming more and more similar. The languages we speak define how we think and understand the world,” Mandana Seyfeddinipur, director of the endangered languages archive at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, told the Guardian.

According to the report, ”Ultimately both biodiversity and linguistic diversity are diminishing as a result of human population growth, increasing consumption and economic globalization which are eroding the differences between one part of the world and another.” That has an effect on conservation, because as we lose languages, we lose local know-how of how to function within a certain environment. Take New Guinea for example, a hotbed of biodiversity and culture. There are 1,000 languages spoken, and it has one of the greatest varieties of life in the world. As deforestation continues, all of those are threatened, and as cultures and languages are destroyed in the process, we lose the knowledge that has been developed over tens of thousands of years. How to use traditional plants for medicine, how to live a symbiotic relationship with the natural world, these are all things that we lose in the process.

To work on conserving nature, we also need to work on conserving culture.

“As we lose rare indigenous languages we lose the cultures and all the knowledge that they contain. The knowledge of indigenous people is phenomenal. Conservationists should make use of it,” says Loh.
When Conservation International released its study two years ago, the sentiment was similar. Dr. Russell A. Mittermeier, President of Conservation International, wrote, ”… at its most basic level this finding further reinforces an ethos that we have at CI: ‘People need nature to thrive.’ It also shows that we can have real win-win approaches in which efforts to conserve nature and ensure the integrity of human cultures can go hand in hand.

Oriental Poppy – Papavar orientale

by Gini Sage

Oriental Poppies are one of the most brilliant herbaceous perennials to grace the early summer garden, blooming during the month of June. The flowers, which appear to be made of crepe paper, can be 6 inches across, on stems usually 2 ½ – 3 feet high, although some varieties are more compact.

The colours of Oriental poppies range from silvery white to rose/pink, peach, salmon and crimson. Plant the poppies to draw the viewer’s eye around the garden, pulling it from one place to another. Red poppies combine well with blue, yellow or dark green backdrops. Pink and white poppies may be mixed with iris for a good colour combination. Plant pastel coloured poppies with asters, phloxes or delphiniums. These flowers provide a beautiful backdrop, and once the hairy, fern-like leaves of the poppies turn brown in early summer and disappear completely, they move in to the area that is left when the poppy goes into dormancy. This ensures that your garden blooms continually.

Oriental poppies are easy to grow and require a limited amount of care as long as they are planted in any area that has rich, loamy soil and full sun. Prepare the soil to a depth of 1 ½ to 2 feet and space plants 15 to 18 inches apart. Spread the roots down and out, over a hill in the centre of the hole, and cover the crown of the plant with 3 inches of soil – deeper than you would plant most perennials. They require very little water; however, if spring is unusually dry, water them occasionally. When Oriental poppies reach the dormant stage, they require no water. They seem to thrive when their roots are baking under the hot, summer sun. In the fall, the plants will show some signs of growth, which is the best time to divide them. To divide poppies, cut a piece of root approximately 2 inches in length and plant in sandy soil. Or, they may be started from seeds; however, the seed must be exposed to frost to germinate.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, June 2007

Pinks or Carnations – Dianthus

by Gini Sage

Gardeners have been growing dianthus for hundreds of years, and it is a mainstay perennial in the English cottage border. The name pinks is often attributed to the colour of the flowers; however, it may also be a description of the edges of the petals, which appear to have been cut with pinking shears. The smallest form, Dianthus deltoides, or maiden pinks, are only inches tall, and come in a variety of colours from white to intense magenta.

Intermediate height (12 – 15 inches) forms of dianthus include Cheddar Pinks (Dianthus gratianopolitanus), Cottage Pinks (Dianthus caryophyllus) and Hybrid Pinks (Dianthus hybrida). All come in a similar colour range, some with two-toned flowers. Hybrid pinks are also the classification for Clove Pinks, which have an intense sweet smelling flower. The largest form of Dianthus is D. caryophyllus, or Carnations, which grow to 2 feet in height. As these are hardy only to zone 6, they will not survive the winters in our area.

All dianthus prefer full sun in a well-drained alkaline soil. The soil may be sweetened with a mixture of wood ashes mixed with compost, dug in around the plants in the early spring. Ensure the plants receive plenty of light and air movement to prevent disease and slug infestations. Division is not recommended, so propagate through vegetative stem cuttings in mid-summer. Keep the cuttings moist and partially shaded until the roots form, and then plant them out in the garden.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, April 2008

Soil Structure – The Foundation for Growing Success

by Sherry Dodson

Whether it is growing vegetables or growing ornamental plants, your garden is an investment in both time and money. The structure of the soil that your plants are growing in is one of the key ingredients in a successful garden, and one that is often overlooked.

Just as the ability to breathe air is vital for our survival, it is also important for the vitality of the plants in your garden. It is necessary for nutrients to be dissolved in water and transported through the soil in order for a plant’s roots to absorb them. Without sufficient air in the soil, plants lose the ability to absorb water and nutrients. If the roots do not have sufficient air to absorb nutrients, adding fertilizer and water to your garden is of little value.

Think of well-structured soil as a well-designed building with ample hallways, living spaces, storage spaces, and doorways where its occupants can move freely without congestion. In soil, these spaces, or pores, are shared by water and air. When soil is saturated with water, gravity causes the water to move fairly quickly through large pores. When the soil is not saturated the forces governing movement of water are cohesion (the attraction of water molecules to each other) and adhesion (the attraction of water molecules to other substances). At this point, the movement of water will be fairly equal in all directions, with gravity having only a slight effect.

Whether your garden consists of clay, silt, sand, or some combination of these three, you can improve your soil’s structure to create an environment that is conducive to healthy root development, resulting in healthy plants. Adding large amounts of organic matter to the soil is the best way to improve your soil structure.

This can be done most easily with the addition of commercially available compost. Adding compost to a clay soil chemically alters the clay and allows aggregates, or clumps of matter, to form, creating airways that allow water and nutrients to flow.

Sandy soils drain freely, but they can allow water and nutrients to flow away too quickly from the plant’s roots. Adding composted material to sandy soil also creates clumps of material which improve the water-holding capacity of the soil.

You can work compost into the top layer of your soil, or it can be added as a mulch, which allows earthworms to eat and disperse the compost throughout the soil. Add about a 3” layer, being careful to keep the compost away from the plant’s main stem. This should be done annually to enhance your soil’s structure.

Just like a well-designed building, well-structured soil will enhance your garden’s growth and your enjoyment of it.