The plastic rant. You’ve been warned!
Plastic. It’s everywhere. The perfect compactable bag so relished by most the stores in Oklahoma. We don’t care how plastic impacts the environment. We just want our stuff sacked and out the door we go. We are so important. When we have emptied our little fossil-fuel derived sacks, we simply toss them out, be it in the garbage bin or out the car window.

The plastic rant. You’ve been warned!

Plastic. It’s everywhere. The perfect compactable bag so relished by most the stores in Oklahoma. We don’t care how plastic impacts the environment. We just want our stuff sacked and out the door we go. We are so important. When we have emptied our little fossil-fuel derived sacks, we simply toss them out, be it in the garbage bin or out the car window.

Our Oklahoma state legislature feels their constituency must be too poor to pay a tax on plastic bags people can afford to fill with dollars of stuff. We’re talking 5 cents a bag. The legislature also wants to cripple communities from imposing their own local taxes in an effort to curb pollution. Apparently, Okies love their litter. The voters can’t remember to bring their own canvas bags with them when they shop? Too inconvenient? Are we stupid, lazy, apathetic or totally unconcerned about the mounting levels of plastic on land and in the ocean? Communities along both the Atlantic and Pacific have banned plastics that have now formed huge Texas-size oceanic garbage patches. As the plastics swirl around, they break into tiny toxic bits consumed by marine life. Tuna fish. Cod. Future speculation: there will soon be one pound of plastic for three pounds of fish in the ocean.

What is happening to all those plastic bags here in Oklahoma? Many join the feed sacks that blow out of truck beds and litter the roadside. Plastic bags take anywhere from 10 to 1000 years to decompose. They too break down into tiny pieces in the soil where…… what now happens? Plants, insects, wildlife all depend on the soil, water and other basic elements of nature where plastic becomes intimately connected. It easily enters into the web of life. Our life. Your life.

I don’t know about you, but when the time comes to go to the store, a collection of canvas bags sits in the car at the ready. The clerk begins to drop my things into plastic wonder bags either torn off from a thick oily batch or whirled around on the ever-so-handy efficient rotating racks. “I brought my own bags” I say. My eyes usually meet a blank stare before confusion sets in. The reaction can be priceless. Interesting to know how many stores justify the trashing of the earth just to keep their thoughtless customers happy.

There are others out there like me. We do care. Carry your own canvas sacks and set the example. Earth day is every day and plastic does not go away.

Plastic pollution is an on-going problem at the Japanese Peace Garden. From stores to the south it blows into the garden and assembles along the airport fence. Some who walk the track do trash sweeps and periodically clean the fence line. Our Sister Cities delegates collect debris throughout the garden when performing their community service.

The Japanese Peace Garden is quite lovely during the spring before drought and heat cracks commence. Near the parking area, the newly expanded circle has been planted in big bluestem. The rains have come at a good time to settle the root balls into the ground.

Shawnee city coordinator Jim Van Antwerp has worked feverously at the Murrah Memorial to complete the first phase of hardscape design before the earth becomes too soggy. A large cross now surrounds the inscribed granite monument. The edging of treated timber is filled with crushed granite. It took time, effort and looks awesome.

On the natural side, both native honeysuckles at each side of the entrance to the Bridge of Understanding are blooming. The larger vine has a daffodil within it, adding yellow and white to the red. Hardy native honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) goes by a multitude of names: coral honeysuckle, trumpet honeysuckle, woodbine, scarlet trumpet or red honeysuckle. This honeysuckle keeps many of its leaves throughout the winter on vines that can travel 15 to 18 feet in trees or along fences. In spring (sometimes fall) it produces striking masses of coral and red tubes with yellow stamens projecting outward covered in pollen. A draw for butterflies and hummingbirds that have just migrated into our area. The flowers form red berries, a good food source for wildlife.

Native honeysuckle is a tough plant. Not only can it tolerate heavy clay soils, it withstands munching deer and black walnut trees, notorious for creating juglone, a chemical that makes the black walnut roots, buds and nut husks quite toxic to other plants. Ordinarily this is a great defensive move for the plant. Along a related vein, the Monarch butterfly caterpillar dines on milkweed brimming with cardiac glycosides. If an animal takes a bite, it really wishes it had eaten a pork chop and, if lucky, learned not to ever again touch a black, yellow and white striped caterpillar.

Speaking of milkweed, my tropical Hibiscus has a little friend which was discovered when the plant was moved from the greenhouse to the outdoors for this season. The tropical milkweed used the Hibiscus stems for support and stood four feet tall within the framework. The go-getter had several clusters of red/orange and yellow flowers, quite similar in color to native honeysuckle. Come Monarchs.

At ground level in the Japanese Peace Garden are popping up large bright, yellow flowers, each with 4 petals. These cheerful drought tolerant guys are Common Evening Primroses (Oenothera biennis). The blooms have a lemon scent, but catch them at dusk when they first open. These night bloomers go down as the sun comes up. Does this give you a clue as to what the pollinators might be? Moths, but hummingbirds also hit these flowers. The seeds are later eaten by birds and animals graze on the greens.

A few low-growing pinkish evening primroses were present. Each of their four petals were pale pink. The Showy Evening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa) is also called Pink Lady. A slight problem with this common name. There seem to be lots of Pink Ladies: Pink Lady Amaryllis, Pink Lady Hibiscus, Phlox Pink Lady and Pink Lady Hydrangea. I’ve known some pink ladies, but they ate biscuits and drank tea. Pink Lady Evening Primroses were Lady Bird Johnson’s favorite flower. The taproots of both the yellow and pink evening primrose are edible, as are the leaves, but it is an acquired taste. The seeds can remain alive for 70 years. These flowers are ever so popular and visited by butterflies, skippers and bees. Hummingbirds locate the nectar. Later, goldfinches discover the seeds.

For a splash of color, or just quiet for your soul, come visit the Japanese Peace Garden. Pick up a few plastic bags while you’re there!

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.