Monday, April 30, 2012

Cabbages Grow in the Night

It was Thoreau who wrote "Corn grows in the night," a statement both foolish and profound. Writing about Thoreau, the head of Amherst College's famous freshman English program, Theodore Baird, had some fun with this sentence. Corn grows in the night--well, of course, and so what of it? To Baird, who terrorized students and untenured English faculty at Amherst for more than four decades, a sentence like this was too close to the kind of themewriting drivel he despised. My own freshman English teacher, Bill Coles, would also have disliked it, had it occurred in a freshman English paper. He'd have called that kind of sentence "bulletproof." 

But if you are a farmer, or a naturalist, the fact that corn grows in the night is meaningful. In the daylight on one particular day, this stalk, this ear of corn looks this big; next day you look at it and it's bigger. It must have grown in the night. You may think that because of the darkness you can't see it growing then. But you can't see it grow in the day either. You can only mark a difference in size; it grows too slowly for you to see the process, day or night. 

Skunk cabbages grow in the night as well. The leaves are pushing up fast in the night, and day, and all I can do is mark the difference. Last Saturday I was out to visit them pushing their leaves up in the swampy area by the road well back of the house. If you look at the photo above closely you can see dozens of them. And the leaves on the one I've been following this spring are much larger now, dwarfing the spaethes and spadixes. It the first photo below, the relative size of its leaves now is clear; in the second, at the lower right the spadix can be seen still inside the spaethe. Soon the leaves will unfurl and move horizontal to the ground as they grow upward and outward.

Creative Commons License
This work (all photos) by Jeff Titon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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