Your Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah, excellencies, fellow ecologists, gardeners and botanists, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen: It is an exceptional honor and privilege to be here on the auspicious occasion of the public launch of the book Jordan in Bloom-Wildflowers of the Holy Land. Your Majesty, as a botanist who has worked many places in Bilad al Sham and who loves the plants of Jordan, I want to thank you for your vision for this project, a work which increases appreciation for native plants and their protection. And to Jordan River Foundation, for executing the project, and all those who helped edit, grateful thanks.
Jordan in Bloom is an art gallery between covers, an exhibit of botanical accuracy passionately displayed. If these flowers could speak, they would say they were flattered by their presentation.
Today is the premier Earth Day of a new millennium. Thirty one years ago, my wife and I were involved in the very first Earth Day. Much has changed since then. Species have been wiped out and natural habitats destroyed. On the positive side, understanding and protecting our natural heritage has grown.
In his famous play, Uncle Vanya, the Russian writer Anton Chekhov portrays a country doctor who is an environmentalist. The words of Dr. Astrov are pertinent on Earth Day.
The world is different since this was penned about one hundred years ago. Chekhov would not know the term ecology, although he understood the concept. Today ecology and biodiversity are everyday words-words I often hear in Jordan.
Jordan is a very small country; it would fit into my state of Virginia with 15,000 square kilometers to spare. Yet Jordan's location at the axis of three continents creates extraordinary ecological diversity with a richer flora than all of Virginia. So many species in a small country reminds me of a library with its many volumes.
Thankfully, there are efforts to preserve the library and catalog its contents-- and just in time, considering the population growth and increased mechanization of agriculture. We need to cherish and protect the heritage God has given to Jordan, to not destroy what only God can create.
Chekhov's ecologist, later in the play, displays maps on which he has charted the decline of natural areas. I want to chart the opposite, environmental progress in Jordan.
There are many examples, but I will mention four where Jordan is a world leader in natural heritage: preserving the germplasm of some of the world's most important crops; conserving wetland resources; protecting forests; and addressing the issue of environmental ethics. Let me begin with Jordan's contribution to global food crops.
Jordan is at the extreme southwest of the Fertile Crescent, that incredible arc of land that birthed crops sustaining millions of people. Because of its location, Jordan's distinct habitats contain plants that can provide genetic material adapted to low rainfall and different soil conditions. These native relatives of agricultural species can be used to breed desirable traits into crops for arid regions. In the book analogy, these genes are the words on the pages which can be translated and incorporated into new and different pages.
Water is scarce in the Kingdom; perennial rivers are few. Though relatively small in area, freshwater ecosystems contain almost one quarter of the world's species. With increased demand for water, their future is precarious. Azraq Oasis is now protected and being restored. Streams and wetlands at Wadi Mujib are conserved, important because of the diversity of stream types-cold, hot, and brackish.
Wadi Mujib is an excellent example of meaningful diversity surveys being done in Jordan. Plants and animals previously unknown in the country have been found. Such surveys need to be extended to microorganisms. In a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park, the world's first national park, the bacterium providing the basis of rapid DNA analysis was discovered. What other treasures remain in the hot springs of Ma'in and elsewhere?
Much different in character, Dibbeen is one of the crown jewels of Jordan's vegetation. It is a place of exceptional beauty. Many of the plants in the book grow there. The Dibbeen pine forest is of especial ecological value because it is an island at the edge of the range of species at home more than two thousand kilometers to the west. This "island effect" is evident when standing on a ridge at Dibbeen and looking to the treeless badia. Living at the edge of their ranges means these plants are adapted to conditions different from those further west. Thankfully, much of the pine forest is preserved.
Effective conservation efforts must have a sound philosophical and ethical basis. Jordan is the leader in the Middle East in considering the ethical framework for ecological care. Within the past several years, workshops have been convened exploring the relationship between religion and the environment. Understanding this relationship is essential to develop a broad-based respect for our natural world including plants. Ultimately it will not be the tenets of secular humanism, nor scientific literacy, nor the practical utility of plants as possible cures for cancer and AIDS that will empower local people to care for the environment. Rather, people of Faith will want to preserve the handiwork of the Creator.
Jordan should be proud of these accomplishments. However, what first captures attention and speaks most clearly is the breathless beauty of Jordan. My family and I love Jordan and are moved by its natural splendor.
It was a cool December day. My son and I were hiking up a narrow valley at Wadi Mujib. Multicolored rocks soared above us, sharply framing the brilliant blue of the Jordanian sky. We followed a clear, rapid stream singing on its route to the Dead Sea. Ahead was a hot spring with warm mist rising in the cold air. Beyond, high on a ledge, was a small stand of date palms tenaciously clinging to a bit of soil between rocks. Water sparkled as it dripped on the moss, past boulders adorned with green ferns. The high cliffs, numerous springs, ferns, and flowers all combined to raise our spirits to joy in God's creation.
I am thankful we can rejoice this Earth Day 2001. God's handiwork is valued, many are working hard to preserve it. And, Your Majesty, because of the wisdom and foresight of Jordan's leaders, other parents and children will stand in awe at Jordan in Bloom. And now, may I invite Your Majesty to sign copies of Jordan in Bloom.
Lytton John Musselman
22 April 2001