During my 2011 North American lecture tour, when hosted overnight in a fine New England home with a delightful woodland garden, I came across a book, on loan from the library of the local chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society, in the guest bedroom which caught my eye: THE FORESTS OF LILLIPUT The Realm of Mosses and Lichens by John Bland (published in 1971 by Prentice-Hall, New Jersey). I found the Introduction by Carlton B. Lees, encapsulated important points about a lack of understanding of the basics of ecology - without which neither plants nor animals can actually be conserved. I recently purchased a copy, so after re-reading, am reproducing the first three paragraphs here; what is extraordinary is that it was a book about some of the smallest and seemingly insignificant plant life which most people barely notice, which contained such an insight:
"If you are trained in botany, horticulture, wildlife management, or any other pure or applied biological science, it is much too easy to assume that everyone else has at least some understanding of living organisms, plant and animal. The whole web of their interdependence is so complex as to be awesome, yet in total concept so logical that anyone and everyone should be able to comprehend it. The problem is that not everyone does; otherwise, we human beings would not have reached the state of environmental danger in which we find ourselves today.
Until recently, man has been only a minor factor in the total picture of plants, animals, water, soil, and air. In the very beginning, his environment contained so many hostile elements that he not only developed an attitude of being on guard, but took pride in overcoming and subduing the natural world. We cannot blame him for giving more attention and effort to the hostile elements than to the helpful ones: indeed, many of the latter were so unspectacular that he hardly knew they existed. Why should he have to realize that the carbon dioxide he exhaled was used by plants which then returned the oxygen he needed; that with the help of sunlight, plants could combine this same carbon dioxide with water to manufacture the starches and sugars which satisfied his hunger; that the cover of forest absorbed the rains, cooled the soil, and provided a rich habitat which he could enjoy with relative ease and comfort? There was so much of everything, everywhere. Why should he have to think about it?
And yet here we were, approaching the dawn of the twenty-first century, and suddenly we are aware that our inborn attitudes of overcoming and using the natural world are now the very things which endanger us. Man is not the superior animal he thought he was - at least not so superior as to consume and destroy the earth's other organisms without concern for the eventual effect upon himself. He does not exist alone: his is only one factor in the total web. Only by recognizing this fact and applying it intelligently can he survive."
I also found the Preface perceptive, so am reproducing this as well:
"IDENTIFICATION of mosses and lichens by families is a relatively simple matter. There is a widespread notion, however, that to master a thing, all that is needed to do is to name it. In my opinion, the fallacy that makes naming an end in itself is one of the things that is wrong with education today. It is to go beyond mere naming and to deal with mosses and lichens as objects of interest both in themselves and as part of the scheme of nature, that this book has been prepared.
My object is to present mosses and lichens in such a simple, easily understood way that you can recognize most of them without botanical training or use of a microscope. Their common names - as well as their scientific names - are emphasized. The many aspects - historical, scientific, romantic and practical - of this small bit of the everyday out-of-doors are brought out. My hope is to present them freshly, to show their unsung, unnoticed role in the economy of nature, their ubiquitous occurrence, occasional role in the rise and fall of industry - indeed, rise and fall of civilization - and to engender a deep respect for nature's way of doing business. In the mosses and lichens, strength is mingled is mingled with humility, gentleness and charm, with elemental essence reflecting the gladness of wind, sun and rain. They hide earth's scars. To know them is to feel and nearness to the texture of nature, a love of the lovely, and a sadness, too, as with an old Welsh poet: "Oh Lord, thou wert a little unkind to make these dales and vales so beautiful and the days of the shepherd so few".
I recommend you purchase a copy of this charming and little book. A quick search on the internet will find copies for sale, principally in the US but also the UK. As with searching for mosses and lichens in the flesh, whether in your garden, on the street or in the wild, this book allows one to "escape" to another world, something which applies to gardening and botanizing in general. I live on a busy, noisy street, with too many people and much pollution, only having a modestly-sized garden (which one American visitor described as postage-stamp-sized) so cannot escape visually but by cultivating plants originating in the Himalaya, I can dream of pleasanter things - just as when I am found taking close-up photos of road-side weeds, with dozens of vehicles passing by, some of the occupants no doubt mystified by what I am up to! I recollect botanizing in a churchyard (often the best place in towns and cities, being a refuge for wild flowers) during my time studying botany at the University of Southampton in the late 1970s, when I bumped into two young police officers on patrol, who were suspicious as to what I, as a young person had been doing there. My answer that I had been looking at the wild flowers caused much hilarity and no little disbelief - these strange students....