Keep Learning: 5 Ways to Wellbeing

I’ve not blogged for a while, and I thought today would be a good day to talk about the Keep Learning element of 5 Ways to Wellbeing. One of the things I have wanted to know more about in my adult life, is evolution. It was the 160th anniversary of the publication of, On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin earlier this week. I purchased a copy of the book a few years ago, but never got round to reading it. I have decided to start reading it this week as part of my Keep Learning. I would then like to read other books on more advanced studies of evolution, but without the need for a PhD in Biology to understand them!

Although I didn’t realise it at the time, the first seed of interest on the topic of evolution started when I was a boy. I had a school friend who had a houseplant terrarium. Within the terrarium was a Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea muscipula). This is probably the one carnivorous plant that most people will recognise, with its distinctive shaped leaves and trapping mechanism. It utterly fascinated me. We did what you’re not supposed to do, and set off the trap by touching the trigger hairs with a stick or something (I can’t quite remember now). I was desperate to have one of my own, but back then, they were quite expensive.

Dionea muscipula

But evolution and plants, never cross my mind. As a child, I was indoctrinated into the High Church arm of Anglican Christianity (it’s like Catholicism, but without the smells of incense wafting around). The church I attended saw the book of Genesis as literal truth. Therefore, I was brought up believing that Yahweh/God did his magic in 6 days, and then needed a rest. All life was created within an instant, and then most of it was wiped out in the great flood. As I only ever socialised with people from the church, or in my school which was next door to my church, I never questions the authority of the vicar or my family. My primary school didn’t really teach science at all, so it wasn’t until I was around 11, that my eyes slowly but surely opened, when I went to high school. Therefore, up to this point, my only explanation was that “God created the Venus flytrap”, and I never gave too much thought to the plant for a good few years. I certainly didn’t make any connection with evolution, as my teeny tiny knowledge of the subject at that point was how “man came from monkeys“, which had been ridiculed by my church and family. However, for lots of different reasons and over a period of several years, I stopped believing in Christianity, and then all religions. Once I had left school, I had also started to train in horticulture, and I soon became interested in the breeding of of different plants. Where I worked, the head gardener was always trying to create new varieties of various plants (and so I was introduced to artificial selection or selective breeding).

It was around this time, that I got my first carnivorous plant. I was given a Venus flytrap, and, before long, I had purchased several more. Eventually, I bought Carnivorous Plants by Adrian Slack. Although the book has over 200 pages, it only has a couple of pages on the evolution of carnivorous plants. It was these two pages that started me to think more widely about evolutionary biology. No more “man came from monkeys” for me! I still grow a handful of carnivorous plants to this day. I particularly like the Nepenthes genius of plants, commonly known as tropical pitcher or monkey pitcher plants.

The two pages in Slack’s book was enough to whet my appetite to learn more, but over the years, I have kept finding other things to do and read. However, I have now made the conscious decision, and have started to read Darwin’s book, along with other sources of evolution. It feels good to be learning for pleasure!

One great educational resource has been OneZoom which is an interactive map of the evolutionary relationship of over 2,000,000 species of life on our planet.It’s a non-profit charity based in London. You can even sponsor a leaf on the tree, which I have done.I have opted for “leaf” containing one of the endangered carnivorous plants that I now learning about, Nepenthes rajah.

It’s never too late to learn something new, or update your knowledge on something you think you know.