September 1, 2010

SCRATCH A DARWINIST (OR DARWIN, FOR THAT MATTER) FIND A DESIGNIST:

Island holds Darwin's best-kept secret: Cloud forest now forms a damp oasis on Ascension's highest peak (Howard Falcon-Lang, 9/01/10, BBC News)

Back in 1836, the young Charles Darwin was coming to the end of his five-year mission to explore strange new worlds and boldly go where no naturalist had gone before.

Aboard HMS Beagle, he called in at Ascension. En route from another remote volcanic island, St Helena, Darwin's wasn't expecting much.

"We know we live on a rock, but the poor people of Ascension live on a cinder", the residents of St Helena had joked before his departure. [...]

Ascension was an arid island, buffeted by dry trade winds from southern Africa. Devoid of trees at the time of Darwin and Hooker's visits, the little rain that did fall quickly evaporated away.

Egged on by Darwin, in 1847 Hooker advised the Royal Navy to set in motion an elaborate plan. With the help of Kew Gardens - where Hooker's dad was director - shipments of trees were to be sent to Ascension.

The idea was breathtakingly simple. Trees would capture more rain, reduce evaporation and create rich loamy soils. The "cinder" would become a garden.

So, beginning in 1850 and continuing year after year, ships started to come. Each deposited a motley assortment of plants from botanical gardens in Europe, South Africa and Argentina.

Soon, on the highest peak at 859m (2,817ft), great changes were afoot. By the late 1870s, eucalyptus, norfolk island pine, bamboo, and banana had all run riot.

Back in England, Charles Darwin and his theory of evolutionary was busily uprooting the Garden of Eden.

But on a green hill far away, a new "island Eden" was being created.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 1, 2010 6:26 AM
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