Tropical Kendal

Three hundred million years ago the land on which Kendal now stand was located just south of the equator and was covered by dense tropical forests and swamps dominated by giant fern-like plants and their close relatives. A process known as “plate tectonics” was causing the continents to drift apart, at a rate of only a few centimetres a year, but sufficient to cause the land on which Kendal now stands to move very slowly northwards to its present location.

“Tropical Kendal” existed in what geologists call the “Carboniferous Period”. Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere were much higher than they are today and vast swamp forests began to lock up huge amounts of carbon in decomposing vegetation. Later these formed under-ground deposits of fossil fuels such as coal. The recent use of these fossil fuels, which accelerated during the industrial revolution until modern times, is mainly responsible for the increasing levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and the global climate crisis we are dealing with today.

What’s in the planter and why?

Sorry, there are deliberately no colourful flowers in this planter because 300 million years ago flowering plants had not yet evolved – but there would have been plenty of ferns. At ground level these tropical forests would been moist, dark places with little light penetrating to the ground: ideal for ferns. In this tropical world, ferns and their close relatives (clubmosses and horsetails) dominated the scene. The actual species that were around at that time no longer exist. But in this planter, located in a shady spot in Wainwright’s Yard, we’ve put varieties of soft shield ferns, hart’s tongue ferns and polypodies that are familiar species growing on rocks and trees around Kendal today. We’ve used perennial species that are mainly “wintergreen” in the optimistic hope that during our mild winters we can retain that year-round greenness of a tropical forest.

In Victorian Times, over-zealous collecting of native ferns led to a destruction of some fern habitats in parts of the country. It’s no longer legal to dig up most native plants from the countryside but many species are still decreasing in abundance. Do you think this matters and, if so, what do you think are the main reasons for the continuing declines?

Something to Ponder

We know it’s a real stretch to think that this planter will really look anything like a 300 million year old tropical forest – but give it a try and think about the great job ferns did all that time ago in helping to create today’s climate. And perhaps you can also consider how by reducing your personal carbon footprint you can help avoid dangerous climate change in the future. Note: “Carbon footprint” is a term first used as recently as 1999 which describes the amount of green-house gases (e.g. carbon dioxide) emitted by something (such as a person’s activities or a product’s manu-facture) during a certain time. Simply put, it can be a measure of your contribution to climate change.

Strictly for the Geeks who want to know exactly what we planted

  • References
  • The Three-Legged Society” by Ian D. Hodkinson & Allan Steward (2013). University of Lancaster.
  • “George Whitwell: Lakeland fern collector and caretaker of Serpentine Woods, Kendal” by Richard Wrigley (2018). Kendal Civic Society.