These types of themes usually run in just one direction, tied to a vendor claiming that their tea is “wild sourced” from naturally-growing plants in the jungle. Sometimes it really is. Monsoon Tea in the North of Thailand specializes in that theme, and has worked with a Russian researcher, Alexey Reshchikov, who is doing research on assessing biodiversity and forest health based out of China.
I just attended a talk by Alexey at a Monsoon location in Bangkok, with a video of that presentation here. I won’t get far in covering what he said, and it’s easy enough to watch it, but a bit of summary will make a start. Just bear in mind that I won’t do the fine points justice – this only comments on some parts.
Alexey does research into the health of ecosystems. It’s possible to assess this by trapping insects and evaluating which ones are present. Of course that would mean a lot more to a very specifically-trained ecologist – which he is. The idea is that the health of a forest depends upon the balanced diversity of all forms of life present: The plants, the insects, and everything else living there; but the insects can provide a window into how the rest is going.
As an interesting, related tangent, one particular kind of lack of health in a forested environment can occur when a new species is introduced into an ecosystem that isn’t already in balance with that species (insect, animal, or plant). The US sees this happen from time to time. There was a type of silk worm (gypsy moth) spread that destroyed a lot of Pennsylvania forests when I was younger; with that being a not-uncommon event, per this reference:
Collectively, oak, elm, ash, hemlock, butternut, dogwood, redbud, and chestnut trees died at a rate several times greater than that of unimpacted tree species. From 1991 to 2013, trees attacked by invasives accounted for about 25% of all tree death, measured by the amount of tree biomass lost…
A trap system to collect insects
Alexey mentioned a case in which a novel form of resolution for this had been utilized: Researchers introduced an insect that disrupted the invading insect’s life cycle, stalling the progress of destruction of entire forest areas. In discussing a similar theme with Kenneth Rimdahl of Monsoon, related to Alexey’s research, he covered how one type of insect is actually a sort of guardian of the tea plants (trees). It feeds on other insects that would feed on the leaves — protecting the plants — when present in significant numbers.
Truly natural environments find their own balance. The role pesticides play in monoculture farming — moderating impact of insects — is replaced by naturally-established relationships between organisms. Alexey described how in evaluating the role pesticide plays in monoculture farming, it is helpful to understand what that not-as-natural environment is like: What insects can live under such circumstances. That would mostly be relevant to organic farming, since enough pesticide use strips the environment of most types of insects. Such study is occurring through the Dali University that Alexey is a part of.
To be concluded in Biodiversity Research and Wild Origin Teas – Part 2
Image 1 provided by and copyright held by author
Image 2 copyright to Alexey Reshchikov of Tea Fauna and used with permission