The Botany of Desire


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The Botany of Desire

  1. 1. The Botany of Desire What do plants think of us? 1 Bertolino-Botany of Desire-Mosaic 852
  2. 2. What Does the Title Mean?• botany bot·a·ny [bot-n-ee]• noun, plural bot·a·nies.• 1.the science of plants; the branch of biology that deals with plant life.• 2.the plant life of a region: the botany of Alaska.• 3.the biology of a plant or plant group: the botany of deciduous trees.• Botany is the study of plants. One does not have to be a scientist to study plants. Gardeners, cooks, herbalists and florists all take a great interest in plants. Plants serve a function for them. Other people just enjoy plants. Feng shui design encourages people to have certain plants in their homes and offices. 2 Bertolino-Botany of Desire-Mosaic 852
  3. 3. DesireDesire de·sire [dih-zahyuhr] verb (used with object)• wish or long for; crave; want.• express a wish to obtain; ask for; request: The mayor desires your presence at the next meeting.• Noun 3.a longing or craving, as for something that brings satisfaction or enjoyment: a desire for fame.• expressed wish; request.• 5.something desired.• Desire is often innate; we may not even be in touch with what we think we want.• Listen to some pop songs and notice how many use the word desire, usually rhyming it with fire, higher, mire, liar. Why does pop music focus so much on desire? Bertolino-Botany of Desire-Mosaic 852 3
  4. 4. Apples=SweetnessTulips=Beauty 4 Bertolino-Botany of Desire-Mosaic 852
  5. 5. Marijuana=Intoxication Potato =Control 5 Bertolino-Botany of Desire-Mosaic 852
  6. 6. Introduction: The Human Bumblebee• The author, Michael Pollan, also serves as the narrator.• The narrator wonders about his relationship to his garden: who is in control?• He decided that he coexists with his plants in a “coevolutionary bargain ”similar to the one between the bee and the apple tree. As he explains: “the two parties act on each other to advance their individual interests but wind up trading favors.” The bee takes the nectar from the apple blossoms, and the apple pollinates other trees through the bee. Both the species continue through mutual design and unconscious agreement.(xiv)• Pollan wonders if he shares a similar role to plants: did he decide to plant them in his garden or did they his choice by appealing to his desire for sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control?• He decides to write the book from the plant‟s point of view as a way to determine how they continued to survive. He sees each study as a journey of evolutionary triumph for eachBertolino-Botany of Desire-Mosaic 852 6 type of plant.
  7. 7. What is Coevolution?• Coevolution: a process in which two or more different species reciprocally effect each other‟s evolution. For example, species A evolves, which causes species B to evolve, which causes species A to evolve, which causes species B to evolve and so on.• Coevolution is likely to happen when different species have close ecological interactions with one another. These ecological relationships include:• 1. Predator/prey and parasite/host• 2.Competitive species (when both are struggling to dominate)• 3. Mutualistic species (a species interaction in which both of the interacting species profit from the interaction)• Plants and insects represent a classic case of coevolution—one that is often, but not always, mutualistic. Many plants and their pollinators are so reliant on one another and their relationships are so exclusive that biologists have good reason to think that the “match” between the two is the result of a coevolutionary process. ( 7 Bertolino-Botany of Desire-Mosaic 852
  8. 8. Chapter 1: Desire-Sweetness, Plant-- Apple• Why do we desire sweetness in our lives?• It is not the same as intoxication in which we want to forget our problems: sweetness is something innate to our survival. Once it was a way for us to generate enough calories to survive when food was difficult to find.• Apples were not always sweet. Their taste varied from acidic to tart to bitter to nutlike.• Pollan believes we have lost our sense of sweetness by latching onto fake tastes that resemble what our ancestors might have called sweet.• Chemicals in food have taken away our ability to recognize a sweet taste. Sweetness has been domesticated just like the apple. 8 Bertolino-Botany of Desire-Mosaic 852
  9. 9. John Chapman/Johnny Appleseed• He traveled from Pennsylvania through central Ohio to Indiana by foot, planting apple trees• Originally from Longmeadow, Massachusetts.• He planted apple trees on the frontier so that settlers would be drawn to live there. He sold the trees to the settlers, then moved on.• He was selling something everyone needed by law: „a land grant in the Northwest Territory specifically required a settler to set out at least 50 apple or pear trees…for his deed. The purpose was to dampen real estate speculation by encouraging homesteaders to put down roots.” (16)• Since so many of the apples were bitter, they became hard cider. Johnny Appleseed brought alcohol to the frontier. 9 Bertolino-Botany of Desire-Mosaic 852
  10. 10. Chapter 2: Desire: Beauty/Plant: Tulip• The tulip was the first flower Pollan ever planted.• He believes that beauty is part of an evolutionary design for survival.• Psychiatrists regard a patient’s indifference to flowers as a symptom of clinical depression. (64)• Flowers may indicate the nearby presence of food, which is why they figure prominently as an evolutionary component of survival for man.• The beauty of the flower makes it attractive to bees for pollination. Flowers have gender roles, male and female, but do not reproduce among themselves. They need others for reproduction, so that their species will continue.• Symmetry in a plant is an extravagance and nature would not take the time for it if it didn’t garner a result, which is luring bees to the flowers for pollination. So even the shape of the flower is by design.• Pollan calls roses, peonies, orchids and tulips “our canonical flowers, the Shakespeares, Miltons and Tolstoys of the plant Bertolino-Botany of Desire-Mosaic 852 world.”(78) 10
  11. 11. Chapter 3: Desire: Intoxication/Plant: Marijuana• Pollan begins the chapter with a brief discussion of the forbidden plant, referring to Genesis.• He is not speaking in metaphor: some plants are poisonous and important to avoid. Others may cause undesirable reactions in the body(medicinal plants) as well as alter consciousness.• Taste is generally the first clue: plants that shouldn‟t be eaten have a bitter taste. Plants that are appropriate for consumption like the apple have a pleasant taste.• Pollan discusses the variety of reactions from noxious chemicals: nicotine paralyzes pests, caffeine unhinge the nervous system. Hallucinogens in plants like datura and henbane can drive plant predator‟s insane.• We can ask: why are we attracted to forbidden plants? We can also ask: why do we desire to change our consciousness? These two questions may explain our interest in marijuana. 11 Bertolino-Botany of Desire-Mosaic 852
  12. 12. Marijuana• Until the government cracked down through the war on drugs, most American-smoked marijuana was grown in Mexico.• Americans who planted the seeds spouted plants poorly adapted for northern survival.• Growers found one strain, indica, that flourished farther north. They hybridized it with the another strain, sativa, This changed the genetic pattern in cannabis, by bringing the two strains of cannabis together .• Reagan‟s drug war pushed growers indoors, where they perfected the hybrid under grow lights.• In the ‟60s a neuroscientist identified THC, the chemical compound responsible for the psychoactive effects of marijuana.• In 1988,researcher discovered the brain‟s receptor for THC. Scientists explained the receptors by theorizing that the brain must manufacture its own THC-like chemical.• In ‟92 they found it: anandamide, the brain‟s own version of cannabis . Its effects include pain relief, short-term memory loss, sedation, and mild cognitive impairment.• There seems to be an evolutionary impulse for man to find chemicals to help him endure his pain and forget misery, despite the cost to memory and motor skills. 12 Bertolino-Botany of Desire-Mosaic 852
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  16. 16. Chapter 4: Desire: Control/Plant: The Potato• Much of this chapter deals with genetic engineering, genetic modification and the company Monsanto.• The potato is a staple of our diet. One can survive with potatoes and milk.• Our concern with control of the potato echoes our need to control the environment for our benefit and our survival. One could argue that it is a result of natural selection.• Yet our need to control our food supply for our survival may backfire and lead to contamination of food by tainting the nutrients and possibly causing long term harm. If control is the concern, do people have the right to refuse genetically modified food if they do not trust it? 16 Bertolino-Botany of Desire-Mosaic 852
  17. 17. GMOS and the Potato• Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which have had their genome changed by scientists, are transforming the food system.• Already, tens of millions of acres of American farmland have been planted in corn, soybeans, cotton and potatoes genetically modified to produce their own insecticide (insect killer) or to survive herbicide (plant killer).• Industry touts GMOs as revolutionary enough to be patented, yet they balk at requirements for labeling or further study as they insist the changes are minimal.• Genetic modification can add a gene or remove a gene from a certain crop. The short and long-term effects of these procedures are unknown. It also invites a question of ethics: do we have the right to alter nature‟s design?• Monsanto is the corporation that is known for genetic modification of food. 17 Bertolino-Botany of Desire-Mosaic 852
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