Friday, April 9, 2010

The Consequences of Our Actions ...

In northern Florida, in a favorite park, we once found beautiful carnivorous plants growing wild ... Pitcher plants (pictured), Venus Flytrap, and my favorite ... the small Sundew. It's illegal to take these plants ... their numbers have declined because of habitat loss and illegal poaching. They are also susceptible to pollution.

In a recent Scientific American article, I learned that carnivorous plants are on the decline for another reason ... the insects which they "eat" are contaminated with cadmium ... and the cadmium is killing the plants.

Cadmium is a metal and occurs naturally, in small quantities, in soil, water and air. As a metal, it doesn't break down and can accumulate over time. It's the build-up of cadmium that can be a problem ... in humans it can cause lung and kidney disease and make one's bones weak. In plants it appears to prevent growth, preventing any new shoots from developing.

So, how do the insects become contaminated? Cadmium is released into the environment through the burning of fuel, making and using phosphate fertilizers, mining and metal processing operations, and disposing of metal products. When we burn fuel, cadmium is released into the air and eventually settles to the ground as a dust. Phosphate fertilizers contain cadmium which is transferred to plants through the soil. Through mining and metal processing, it is released into both air and water ... and disposing of products containing cadmium (some rechargeable batteries, paints, plastics, Ceramic ware, etc.) causes air, water and soil contamination. Once it gets into the environment, insects ingest it.

And that brings us back to the carnivorous plants.

It may seem like a small thing ... many people have never even seen a carnivorous plant. But as I've said before, what happens to us when plants and animals become extinct? And if plants, out in nature, are showing a build-up of a metal like cadmium, how long will it be before we are suffering the affects of cadmium contamination?

The struggling plant population is another wake-up that our actions have consequences. When we are next tempted to just toss a recyclable battery into the garbage or burn household waste ... when we feel like driving long distances or fertilizing our yards ... let us remember the plight of the carnivorous plant and remember that our actions matter.

As always ... I would love to hear from you!