Saturday, February 25, 2023

Ideas are like Grass

Osage Plains Prairie in Missouri, by Pat Whalen. To learn more about the importance of protecting original prairie in Missouri, and how you can get involved, please visit

I was scrolling through some posts about the Disney Plus TV show Willow when I came upon a quote that immediately resonated with me.

It is seemingly a direct quote from a novel by the well known author Ursula K. Le Guin, in her 1974 novel The Dispossessed.

I admit that I have never read any of her novels, although perhaps I now should, but the quote went thus:

It is of the nature of idea to be communicated: written, spoken, done. 

The idea is like grass. It craves light, likes crowds, thrives on crossbreeding, grows better for being stepped on.

I like the analogy, and her science is mostly correct as well.

Grasses are creatures of open habitats. Most despise the low lit interiors of forests. Grasses crave light, much as we do.

Grasses also tend to exist in numberless crowds. There are of course times when individual shoots are the norm, such as when environments are not ideal, or the flow of a species' history channel it into a solitary existence. But for the most part, grasses thrive in crowds.

Grasses share. Not only via the usual hybridizations, but also through fascinating processes like lateral gene transfer.

Her contention that a grass "grows better for being stepped on" is a bit more complicated. Trampling on first look is not that good for individual grasses. However, when viewed from the perspective of entire populations or grassland ecosystems, trampling can be very beneficial.

This is because some grasses and their ecosystems have evolved to benefit from grazing. For example, trampling by herds of animals can maintain grasslands by removing weeds (such as tree saplings). Herds can also help mulch the soil through the trampling of vegetation into the soil, and break hard soil crusts. So in that sense, Ursula K. Le Guin's contention that ideas and grasses benefit from trampling is quite tenable.

 Now, excuse me while I go and see whether I should buy one of her novels...

No comments:

Post a Comment