The War of the Worlds

School is back in session for my master gardener’s class and this week’s lesson is about plant pathology. For the less academic among us that is the study of plant diseases. Plants, trees and shrubs – like their human counterparts – get sick too. And just like us the culprits causing their many illnesses are the same; the microscopic world of fungi, mold, viruses, bacteria, nematodes, and phytoplasmas plus such adverse environmental conditions as drought, flood, excessive heat and body numbing cold.

Reading through the materials and watching the video on plant pathology brought to mind a frightening sci-fi thriller of my childhood, The War of the Worlds. Based on the 1897 serialized story by H. G. Wells, the 1953 movie starred Gene Barry as the handsome but ineffectual hero, who could only watch the destruction taking place as the superior invaders from another planet plundered the earth at will. That vintage attempt at bringing Wells’ vision to life lacked the technological wonder of the 2005 Spielberg remake, but the ending of the book and both movies proved to be the same. The seemingly invincible illegal aliens of this intergalactic migration eventually succumb to the same infectious influence, which undermines us all. We call the ultimate victors germs.

The science of today, like the movies that entertain us, can boast of similar technological marvels as in Spielberg’s lavish creation. Its depth and breadth of scope now allows us to know and better understand our common enemy far beyond anything Wells or any other sci-fi pioneer could ever conceive. And the treatments we have at our disposal, if you can afford them, are far more effective at confronting our microbial adversaries than the military was at combating the space invaders of Wells’ imagination. But our victories are only minor ones, merely delaying the inevitable. For the final outcome of the war between our own world and that of the vast array of the pathogens (disease causing organisms) capable of infiltrating every plant, animal and human is the germ community’s eventual success.

Our class sessions are not as macabre as my private musings. Good information is provided to help insure the health and beauty of our gardens by knowing the needs of each type of plant we hope to nurture to maturity and the conditions, which best provide the environment for our plants’ and our own peace and freedom. We are masters, for a time, within the confines of our gardens. And we find solace in our success during the time we are allowed to be gods in the Edens of our own making. However ….

Wells concluded his story with the observation that his Martians were “slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.” We, however, are more likely to be skeptical of such wisdom. For we and the plants we care for are inescapably vulnerable in the presence of our enemies. But somehow we remain resolute in the confidence we continue to place in the efficacy of our own devices to win the war between interdependent worlds.

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