Living with the Anthropocene: Love, loss and hope in the face of the environmental crisis
edited by Cameron Muir, Kirsten Wehner, and Jenny Newell
NewSouth, $34.99 pb, 384 pp
Last month I was volunteering with a group of botanists surveying coastal heathland in the Tarkine Forest Reserve in North-West Tasmania when one of them cried out, ‘Orchid!’ We all rushed over excitedly, our phones and pocket magnifiers at the ready. It was a Green-comb Spider-orchid (Caladenia dilatata), with long, delicate-green limbs and a reddish-purply face, hovering like a ballet dancer in mid-leap. The first thing that astonished me was how tiny it was – no bigger than a human eye – and then, how solitary. Like many orchids, C. dilatata uses sexual deception to mimic the shape of a female wasp; when males attempt to mate with it, they accidentally collect pollen, fertilising the next orchid they visit. Millions of seeds scatter on the wind, but only a few will land on a sunny patch of soil where the correct mycorrhizal fungus is present for it to germinate. Given the myriad chance events needed to complete this symbiotic dance between plant, insect, and fungus, it’s remarkable there are any orchids at all. A fractional two-week shift between the plant blooming and the pollinating insect developing to maturity can threaten an entire species.