In the Northern Hemisphere, we have just entered the period we call autumn or fall. Summer has ended. Earth’s axis tilt and its path around the Sun cause the Sun to be directly overhead at the equator. We refer to this as the equinox, which is Latin for “equal nights.” Thus, at this time, we have approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. As a new season begins, we see God’s design of fall.
For those living in the northern hemisphere, this time brings amazing things to see among the plants and animals around us. Tree leaves turn from green to a cascade of colors. They don’t all turn at the same time because of their system design. Some measure the length of the day and start turning colors when the equinox occurs. Others depend on temperature to change colors. In addition, we see fruits and nuts come to full maturity at this time, providing food for animals and ensuring the future growth of new plants.
We see God’s design of fall as animals prepare for winter. With the temperature change, some animals migrate to warmer areas. This movement coincides with the abundance of fruits and nuts, allowing nutrition for the journey. Some animals, such as hummingbirds, leave well ahead of freezing temperatures. Other animals change their color in preparation for winter camouflage in the snow. Still others retreat into a place underground where the temperatures will not drop below freezing.
The question is, how do all these plants and animals know when to do that? It cannot be a conscious, planned adjustment by the animals to the local situation. Many of the changes happen even before the cold weather arrives. Certainly, plants don’t think about cold weather coming and their need to prepare for freezing conditions. Some of the changes seem to be designed to provide humans with a sensation of beauty. A sea of green becomes a splendor of color as the plants eliminate chlorophyll “A” (which gives them their green color) to reveal various colored chemicals in the leaves.
Fall is not just about beauty, but it also brings amazing and beneficial changes. Plants that survive the winter are able to free themselves of insects and bacteria that can damage them. Some animals prepare for winter by fattening up to go into hibernation. Bears give birth during this period. God’s design of fall is a functional system that speaks of God’s wisdom.
We can see God’s wisdom and design in a unique way at this time of year.Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” To those of us who listen, fall speaks of the purposes of God in His living things.
One area of constant scientific investigation is the involvement of magnetism in living things. Studies have shown that cattle can align themselves with Earth’s magnetic field. Magnetism seems to be used by some animals in migrations. The presence of magnetism in the human brain has led to research into what that magnetism does and how medical science can use it to treat certain diseases. In addition to animals, plants use magnetism.
Scientists have found that magnetism plays a role in the survival of some plants. For example, the Venus flytrap uses jaw-like leaves to trap insects. Scientists have been mystified by what causes the “jaws” to close. However, it appears that stimulation from prey produces a small magnetic field which triggers the “jaws” to snap shut.
Studies have shown that other plants use magnetism by generating magnetic fields, including a bean and a single-celled alga and bacteria. This magnetic ability seems to be built into the plants for highly specialized functions. Thus, God’s design for every living thing is both subtle and complex.
Science is just beginning to understand how plants use magnetism. As we have said before, that Earth’s magnetic field has reversed in the past. We are far from understanding the many ways such a reversal could have affected life on this planet.
Realize that magnetism in a living plant requires ferromagnetic materials to be built into the plant. Those magnetic materials would serve no other purpose than to allow the plant to use magnetism somehow. Everywhere we look in the natural world, we see that a wonder-working hand has gone before.
A giant wetland called the Pantanal is located mostly in Brazil and partly in Bolivia and Paraguay. It’s the world’s largest tropical wetland covering as much as 75,000 square miles (195,000 sq km). You might think that such a vast area is a lot of wasted space that should be drained and used for other purposes. Why do we need wetlands anyway?
The Pantanal is located in a depression in the Earth’s crust surrounded by highlands. Several rivers flow into the Pantanal, bringing sediment and making it an inland river delta. In the rainy season, up to eighty-percent of the floodplain is covered with water. In the dry season, the floodplain becomes dry. Forests of trees grow in the higher areas of the Pantanal. In the lower seasonally inundated areas, grasslands are growing.
The area’s topography creates various biome regions supporting plants that are native to rainforests, savannahs, and semi-arid lands. There are 3,500 plant species in the Pantanal, 1000 bird species, 480 reptile species, 400 fish species, and 300 mammal species. In other words, the Pantanal supports an incredible variety of aquatic plants and a very diverse menagerie of animals.
Some of the animals living in the Pantanal are rare or endangered. We need wetlands like the Pantanal to support these various plants and animals, plus thousands of invertebrate species. More than that, wetlands are natural water treatment systems that remove pollutants and chemicals, purifying and replenishing the groundwater. Wetlands also provide a buffer against flooding in other areas.
Why do we need wetlands? They are an essential part of the hydraulic system God created for planet Earth described thousands of years ago in Job 36:27, 28, “He draws up the drops of water, which distill as rain to the streams; the clouds pour down their moisture, and abundant showers fall on mankind.” That ancient book describes the water cycle with scientific accuracy.
We need wetlands for what they do for our water supply and the support they provide for plants and animals essential to the balance of nature. Human activity threatens the Pantanal, as well as many other wetlands. We must become better stewards of the blessings God has placed in our care.
We often take plants for granted, but their design has allowed animal and human life to exist and offers great hope for the future. We are amazed at the incredible diversity of plants.
Plants not only sustain life on the land but also in the oceans.Seagrass meadows exist all over the planet. Studies in England have shown that 92% of seagrass meadows have disappeared due to pollution, industrial development, and other threats. That has led to a decline in fish and shellfish populations. Yesterday we talked about seahorses, which depend on seagrass for food and protection. The World Wildlife Federation has begun a project called Seagrass Ocean Rescue to reverse the damage by collecting seeds and replanting them in huge plots. The project has protected shorelines and provided nursing grounds for countless species in the hope that coastal life will rebound.
The redwood and sequoia trees that grow in California are very different plant designs. Those giant trees bring water into what would otherwise be a very dry area. The redwoods and sequoias can extract water from fog and rain because of their size, providing a rich soil ecology for other plants. A giant sequoia will weigh around 640 tons – equal to about 107 elephants. They can grow to heights over 300 feet and live for well over 3000 years. You can find information about California’s 1.6 million acres of redwoods and the 48,000 acres that depend on the giant sequoias at www.savetheredwoods.org.
Because of the incredible diversity of plants, we find them growing underwater and in deserts, but some plants known as epiphytes grow in the air. They have exposed roots that pick up moisture and nutrients from the perspective, and they are a food source for many organisms. Closely related are water plants that don’t need soil but can use the nutrients released by fish and other animals that live in oceans and lakes.
Science has developed new aquaponics and hydroponics methods to grow plants in water to produce food for people. In aquaponics, the plants receive their nutrients from the waste products of fish living in the water. In hydroponics, the plants receive their nutrients artificially.
We find plants of all kinds growing everywhere, and because of that, animals can live everywhere. With creative agricultural practices, we can produce enough food to feed the growing human population. Our geologic studies show us that, from the beginning, plants have provided the oxygen that we breathe while removing the carbon dioxide we produce. The plant diversity God has given us makes it possible to produce food, remove pollutants, and recycle carbon. Without the incredible diversity of plants, animal and human life would not be possible.
Many years ago in Alaska, I had a discussion with a biologist who was studying the Alaskan soils. His study revolved around the fact that Alaska has very little soil and what it does have is developing. The lack of soil in Alaska has limited plant growth and made the ecology dependent on migrating salmon. Soils are complex mixtures of organic matter, minerals, water, air, and billions of organisms that form over hundreds of years. Good soils are vital for survival. President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself.”
Research has shown that plants are designed to “call” for nutrients from the soil. A plant will release molecules called flavonoids, which cause bacteria in the soil to migrate into the plant and form nitrogen nodules on the roots. The nitrogen nodules generate food for the plant. If ample nitrogen is already available for the plant, it will not release the flavonoids.
This “hunger” by plants is vital to understand because many natural and human-caused processes can deplete the soil. Forest and brush fires, hurricanes, pollution, and climate change can deplete soils’ nitrogen content and kill plants. Studies of the giant sequoias in California have shown that the soil under them has twice as many bacteria as the soil under nearby sugar pines. We all know that bacteria influence human health, but bacteria also affect plant health and growth.
As our population increases and world climates change, it will become increasingly important to understand how soil allows us to feed our growing population. God’s design of the Earth includes providing the soils necessary to produce food. Good soils are vital for survival.
We mentioned yesterday that plants use scents to attract friendly and helpful insects and animals. They also use fragrances to protect against unfriendly visitors. Seemingly passive plants have secret weapons against insect invasions. We call it chemical warfare in the plant world.
A good example is the lima bean. Spider mites attack lima bean plants, but other predatory mites eat spider mites. When spider mites attack a lima bean plant, it floods the area with a chemical signal that attracts the predatory mites. This chemical odor also causes other lima bean plants to emit the same chemical. When the spider mites are gone, the plants stop secreting the chemical.
Some plants, such as tobacco and corn, protect themselves from destructive caterpillars by sending off a signal to attract wasps. Research has shown that plants customize the signal to attract a particular species of wasp. The wasps can tell the difference between the chemical signal of plants attacked by tobacco budworms and corn earworms, and different chemicals attract a different wasp species. So far, cotton, corn, and beets have been shown to have different emissions as they call for protection.
We previously mentioned wasps that kill and eat the caterpillars of certain butterflies. In that instance, ants have a symbiotic relationship with the caterpillars to protect them from the wasps in exchange for food. The U. S. Department of Agriculture is looking to find ways to cause one insect to combat another. This research is necessary because it can help us find ways to protect crops.
Chemical warfare in the plant world shows that God has equipped plants to protect themselves against different insect scourges. Because of that, we can survive on a planet where insectshopelessly outnumber us. The design that the Creator put into living systems is truly amazing.
Plants have a unique problem that animals don’t have. That problem is a lack of mobility. Since plants are unable to move, they manufacture chemical toxins to kill bacteria, alkaloids to ward off herbivores, and sweetness or color to draw in pollinators and animals that will disperse their seeds. They use plant chemistry for survival.
Crocus and gardenia flowers produce a chemical compound known as crocin. It gives the color to the gardenia’s red-orange fruit. Crocin is also the chemical that gives the stigmas of saffron flowers, commonly called “threads,” their bright hue. Researchers at the University of Buffalo have sequenced the genome of the gardenia and examined how it makes crocin. By duplicating those processes, they have produced crocin in the lab and made it available for use in medical and nutritional applications. Crocin has antioxidant properties and may help in the suppression of cancer cells. The plants use crocin to attract pollinators, and we use it for medical purposes.
Research shows that plants get the power to produce a whole arsenal of genetic tools to help them survive by a process called tandem gene duplication. Dr. Victor Albert, a co-author of a study published on BMC Biology, says that plants can duplicate some parts of their genetic toolkit and tinker with the functions.
Many of the processes and tools we have came from studying the design built into the living things around us. That is why the writer of Romans 1:20 says, “..the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made…” The chemistry seen in the botanical world is an excellent demonstration of the wisdom of their design.
There is much more to God’s amazing design in the plant world. Tomorrow, we will bring you more on plant chemistry for survival.
Brown marmorated stink bugs (Halyomorpha halys) have become a significant pest in areas of the United States. They are native to Asia, but humans accidentally introduced them into the USA in 1998. Since they have no natural predators in North America, their numbers have grown dramatically. We can learn a lesson from stink bugs and human mistakes.
Brown marmorated stink bugs are commonly known to Americans simply as “stink bugs.” The “stink” is because they give off a foul smell when disturbed. “Marmorated” refers to their marbled coloration. You can distinguish brown marmorated stink bugs from similar-looking beetles by the alternating light and dark colors on their antennae and the edges of their abdomen.
When the weather turns cold, these pests find ways to get into homes through small openings, and there they hibernate. Sometimes the heat in the house causes them to become active and annoy the residents during the cold months. The real problem arises when warm weather arrives. That’s when they come out in force.
Halyomorpha halys is a major agricultural problem in some areas because they feed on a wide variety of fruit and vegetable crops. They pierce the plants or the fruits with their needle-like beaks and suck out the fluids. At the same time, they inject saliva, which causes shriveling and rotting.
In their native countries, there is a wasp that feeds on these stink bugs. The US Department of Agriculture has looked into importing those wasps into the United States to bring the bugs under control. The problem with that idea is the wasps might become new pests because they don’t have native predators. Traps remove only some of the bugs, and pesticides can have harmful side-effects. Pesticides are also not very effective because they stay on plant surfaces. The stink bugs don’t eat the surface of the plants. They pierce through the surface and drink the juices from inside. Perhaps the best hope, for now, is that some of our native birds and insects start to develop a taste for stink bugs as their population increases.
All life forms on planet Earth need nitrates to build proteins and DNA. We get our nitrates from the plants and seeds that we eat. Plants absorb nitrates from the soil through their roots. The nitrates in the soil come from rain that has absorbed nitrates from the air through which it falls. The nitrates in the air come from the action of lightning. Our atmosphere is 78% nitrogen, and lightning takes some of the nitrogen and catalyzes it into a bond with oxygen to make nitrates. That is why we need lightning.
A surprising thing about this complex system is that the lightning is far more abundant than we realize. Lightning strikes the Earth around 1000 times every second. Above the clouds, in the upper atmosphere, there are continuous lightning types that we don’t see from Earth’s surface. They are called elves, sprites, blue jets, and gigantic jets, depending on their color and shape. There is a voltage difference between the ground and the ionosphere, which varies from 200,000 volts to 500,000 volts. Even in fair weather, there is a constant flow of current, which scientists believe is caused by the spinning of Earth’s core. All of this adds up to a total of over three million lightning strikes a day, and each produces nitrates to sustain life. The jet stream carries these nitrates around the planet, providing a natural fertilizer in places where electrical storms rarely occur.
One of our gardener friends sent us these interesting facts about plant design:
Seeds may be dropped into the ground upside down or sideways, yet the plants always come up to the surface.
One grain of corn will produce a stalk on which there may be two ears, with perhaps 742 grains on each ear.
A light crop of wheat will produce approximately 30 grains on each stalk. A good crop of wheat will produce approximately 60 grains on each stalk. There will always be an even number of grains.
Beans grow up a pole from left to right. Morning glories grow up a pole from right to left. If turned upside down, “twining” plants will uncoil and recircle their support. Guide a twiner in the “wrong” direction, and the plant will rewind itself. The higher the twiner grows, the more tightly it clasps its support.
Dandelions will grow above their surroundings whether the grass is two, ten, or twenty inches, for it must grow up into the sunlight.
An average watermelon will have ten stripes on it. Larger ones may have 12 to 16 stripes, but they always an even number.