More on lacewing eggs and mystical flowers

A friend of mine commented on my previous post regarding the lacewing eggs mistaken for a “rare Buddhist flower” by referring me to this article on EnvironmentalGraffiti.com, which unfortunately demonstrates some bad journalism. The article purports to “dig deeper” into the issue, but it merely muddles it with some incorrect assertions. My take on it: they want to keep all their readers happy, including those who believe in miracles–an unfortunate trait for an environmental publication.

Ficus racemosa, one of the plants traditionally considered an udumbara flower.

First, the article does little to debunk the idea that tiny flowers can grow on nun’s washing machines. It proposes several types of real flowers that are traditionally called udumbara, all of which are trees or lotuses (see above photo). Somehow, however, the author misses that that small “flowers” growing off of metal surfaces or Buddha statues could not be any of these udumbara. The bottom line: plants need accessible nutrients to grow. Washing machines are not generally a good place to grow roots and absorb nitrogen. To believe otherwise demonstrates, in my mind, a lack of any sort of desire to use rational thought. The Hindu concept of Maya applies here–humans’ fundamental illusion is that we are somehow separate from the universe (and nature). This separation, reinforced by a lack of education, is what makes us believe in the necessity of miracles. The irony is the world is plenty fabulous without magical thinking.

Second, the author’s assertion that lacewings are not common in China is simply not true. There are at least two lineages, each with multiple species, that occur in China. For instance, the Chinese green lacewing (Chrysopa sinica) is an important predator for aphids affecting the Chinese cotton crop.

OK, enough of my rant. For your reading pleasure, here’s a link to some interesting lacewing information, including more about the properties of the egg stalks and research about whether they could be used to produce silk: http://biocontrolbeat.wordpress.com/2009/09/28/lacewing-silk/ . Cool, huh?

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5 Responses

  1. Indeed, a cool blog. But don’t underestimate the abilities of the plant world (esp. fungi, bacteria) to grow on unusual substrates (e.g. undersea hot water vents) and even metabolize metallic compounds.

    • Hi Joel. Point well taken. Even outside the fungi and bacteria, there are plants that grow in strange places, without roots–bryophytes easily come to mind (http://www.anbg.gov.au/bryophyte/ecology.html). I’m unaware of any plants that grow on metal, though. Are you? I would love to hear about them.

      • Hi Erika. It all depends on how you conceptualize “metal.” Not solid metal, like a chunk of pure crystalline iron (though on the surface it may react with oxygen, airborne sulfates and other compounds that on the surface might be utilized by bacteria and fungi that sporulate and look like flowers).
        For that matter I do not know of any plant that can grow on pure crystalline carbon in the form of a diamond. Yet carbon compounds are the basis of life and plants utilize carbon from carbon dioxide in the air.
        Rather, think “metals” and “carbon” as part of other compounds (like in hemoglobin, many enzymes, catalysts). Which is why fungi, bacteria metabolic abilities are being harnessed for bioremediation and “cleaning up” of toxic wastes.
        Anyway, that is how I “think” of metals. More like alloys and compounds, not refined or 100% pure.

  2. Lacewing eggs in China are about as rare as an annual flower that blooms just once every year or graffiti that magically appears overnight or a ranting blog comment. So, rather than mess up your blog with a rant about the disconnect between current ‘environmentalism’ and scientists, I’ll just agree they probably didn’t want to offend any Buddhists.

    Probably also they don’t care to promote any inconvenient facts nor have any real interest or knowledge in cauliflory or figs. But if Ficus racemosa (see the Wikipedia entry) did bloom so rarely, then its fig wasps would be extinct and not a culinary dilemma for vegetarians.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ficus_racemosa

    Although caution and Wikipedia should always go together, this entry claims using lacewing eggs for fortune-telling has a long history.

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