I came across title of The Botany of Desire in another book I was reading about introverts. It struck me as odd that they compared introverted humans to tulips, but I didn’t much of a thought past that. Just after finishing the book on introversion, I was browsing my favorite secondhand bookstore at the bottom of Pike Place Market, looking for stocking stuffers for John and came across the book, sitting at the top of a precarious stack, waiting for me to take it home.
Needless to say, everything about the book was not what I expected. The book wasn’t about gardening, or food really. It was split into 4 sections, Apple, Tulip, Marijuana and Potato, so the book wasn’t even really about flowers either.
I was most curious about the tulip section, but I was also interested in the apple portion too. Now that I live in Washington, supposedly one of the most prominent “apple states”, I haven’t experienced any change on my knowledge/desire for apples. (The Potato section was the most boring, but important.) Most surprising though, was that I found the marijuana section so absorbing. Though I grew up in northern California, I stayed away from the stuff and never really hung out with the typical potheads. My knowledge of marijuana was basically that it was a plant, and that it was stinky!
I found the unending stream of information to be fascinating, so I wanted to share a handful of my favorite tidbits below. Enjoy!
-Apple seeds contain a small dose of cyanide
-Every seed in an apple has completely new genetic instructions for a completely different apple tree (also called “heterozygosity”, humans have this trait as well)
-Grafting is when a slip of wood from one tree is notched into a truck of another tree, giving the new apples the best traits of both trees
-Anthropoligists have found that different cultures greatly vary in their preferences for bitter, sour and salty tastes, but the taste for sweetness is universal. Almost all humans are first introduced to sweetness with their mother’s milk
-The fruit in the garden of Eden was presumed to be an apple, but was most likely a pomegranate
-Allowed to ferment for a few weeks, pressed apple juice yields something about half the strength of wine. Cider can then be distilled into brandy or frozen to create applejack. Applejack is the part of the cider that refuses to freeze, and is about 66 proof.
-In the past, people drank cider more frequently than other alcohol, coffee, milk and even water, because it was more sanitary!
-Apples are one of the only fruits, vegetables.. well, foods really, that we know by name. Think about it: Granny Smith, Red Delicious, Macintosh, Jazz, Pink Lady, Gala, Fuji… the list goes on!
-For the most part, Granny Smith apples (my favorite) are an anomaly. Because of America’s sweet tooth, most popular apples have strains of Red Delicious or Golden Delicious for their sticky sweetness that people crave. Granny Smith is believed to have stuck around for so long because they are great for baking and almost indestructible when shipped.
-Psychriatrists consider a patient’s indifference to flowers to be a sign of clinical depression.
-Our brains developed to help us become better foragers. Flowers tend to equal food. Natural selection favors those who recognize plants, can classify them, and then remembers where they are.
-During Tulipmania in Holland, land was so scarce and expensive that gardens were measured in square feet and augmented with mirrors. The Dutch thought of these little gardens as a jewel box and proudly displayed their wealth this way. Up until the Renaissance, most flowers were used for dual purposes, mostly medicinal, but also for perfume and food. Tulips can’t be useful for any of these, they exist purely for beauty.
-The tulips lack of scent was a plus for the Dutch, who saw this as chasteness and purity. Petals also hide the sexual organs, making it an “introvert” and not an “extrovert”. Tulips are also considered to be the most masculine flower, the bulb called a “testiculate”.
-When a tulip contains a random color, it’s called “broken”. This made the prices higher, but was actually caused by a virus that weakened the flower and eventually died out.
-The word “tulip” stems from the word “turban” because of it’s resemblance to a head. For this reason, many tulips are named after a person and like the apple, have memorable names.
-Until the early 1980’s, most marijuana was grown in northern CA and in the farm belt (because pot and corn grown in similar conditions). The government started to realize that there was more pot being grown than they realized and started a crack down. Soon after people started growing marijuana indoors, they realized that the plant did better than outdoors, much better. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen plants that looked more enthusiastic, this despite the fact that they were being forced to grow in an utterly unnatural, even perverted manner: overbred, overfed, overstimulated sped up and pygmied all at once.”
-As farmers played around with their crops year to year, they were able to cultivate a higher potency. 2-3% THC used to be the norm, now that number is around 20%.
-Male plants are useless, but female plants that remain unpollinated steadily increase the size of their flower over time.
-Historically, only the Eskimos didn’t use psychoactive plants. Later, it was found that it was just because those plants couldn’t grow in Arctic climates.
-Coffee and chocolate were taboo in Western culture until the Industrial Revolution. Some suggest that they were accepted more readily at that time because they helped humans into labor roles.
-There is a specific receptor in the brain, immune and reproductive systems for THC. These cannabinoid receptors are found in the areas for higher-order thought, emotions, memory and movement, but not in the part of the brain that controls respiration and circulation. They believe that this it’s rare to hear of a marijuana overdose, because the drug doesn’t slow down during the movement through the body.
-The receptors are found to be more dense in the uterus, which might explain why women “forget” the pain of childbirth (pain is the hardest sensation to remember).
-Another way to think about it: “Do you want to remember all the faces that you saw on the train this morning?” The act of forgetting is overlooked and underrated and being a large part of our life, a healthy way of life. We forget more than we remember.
-Gardens and agriculture are reductive. Nature doesn’t limit species to just a few. Nature doesn’t plant rows. Nature doesn’t weed. These are all our attempts to control.
-American farmers grow enough food each year to feed 100, but this typically requires machinery, fuel, pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
-The Incas grew incredibly diverse potatoes (even blue ones!) because their climate was almost entirely vertical and on very steep mountains. Microclimates made a plot just yards from other entirely different. Rather than trying to make one species work, they just created species for each climate.