Originally published in the Kent Patch, on July 3rd, 2012.
In part of my research life, I study Phragmites australis and Typha angustifolia (common reed grass and narrow leaf cattail, respectively), and how they impact native frogs. These are invasive plants, plants that don’t come from North America and have been introduced here. Normally, my research isn’t focused on the benefits of plants, but they’re detrimental affects. In fact, my dissertation could easily be titled “Death, death, deathidy death of frogs, caused by plants.” Invasive plants aren’t cool, in general; they don’t have diseases or predators here many times, they often use resources that native plants don’t or they out-compete native plants. Think of kudzu as a prime example of an invasive plant.
Coming from this background, it’s sometimes easy to forget how absolutely amazing plants can be and how many great traits plants have. Rationally speaking, plants do so much for our landscape, other animals, and us. Our atmosphere- the air we breathe- is what it is today because of plants, which take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. This complements our consumption of oxygen and expelling of carbon dioxide pretty well, if you ask me. Plants can alter the soil around their roots by exuding various chemicals that inhibit or encourage different plants and microbes; they prevent soil erosion; they can transport materials up or down as needed within their systems; and can alter humidity and temperatures below them through evapotranspiration and shading.
We use many different plants as our own food crops and as feed for our livestock and pets. We landscape our yards with plants attractive to us. We enjoy natural areas filled with plants, bird-watching and feeding around various plants, and picking or buying flowers grown for their beauty after cutting. Part of the beauty of plants is their diversity, from the minuscule lesser duckweed to the mighty sequoias, and everything in between, plants have covered a huge portion of the earth’s surface. They’ve provided the whole planet with a vast array of products and performed a multitude of functions. There may even be as much diversity found in the plants in Kent as there is diversity in people. If variety is the spice of life, Kent has quite a complex flavor.
On Saturday, at Kent’s annual Heritage Festival, there may not be fireworks that night unless something with the weather drastically gives, but you can come see the spark of life at Kent Environmental Council’s booth. As last year, we’ll be creating a small oasis on East Main Street, with plants, shade, water, a place to sit, and books and information to peruse. As always, there will be fresh fruits and vegetables at Haymaker Farmers’ Market and Kent Natural Foods Co-op (even more if the weather breaks), flowers blooming in the hanging baskets and Adopt-A-Spots around town, trees growing alongside the river at Franklin Mills Riveredge park, and lawns and private gardens around town where friends and family will be celebrating our nation’s independence.
This Saturday, come rain or shine, grab a beverage at one of our downtown spots, check out the local artists and vendors of all sorts, enjoy all the various plants and what they provide us, see a little of Kent’s history all around us, and enjoy the unique culture that Kent has to offer. Gordon Vars won’t be representing the bog this year, and Bob Wood won’t be selling his prints, but there’s still plenty to see. Time moves on, the seasons change, but the spirit found in this northeast Ohio town will always be here, and will ever welcome misfits and eccentrics, as well as all the locals. It’s a small town, but we’ve got huge heart here in Kent, no matter how much we might disagree at times.