The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the World

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Random House, 2002 - 271 Seiten
85 Rezensionen
An Idaho farmer cultivates Russet Burbank potatoes so that a customer at a McDonald's half a world away can enjoy a long, golden French fry. A gardener plants tulip bulbs in the fall and, come spring, has a riotous patch of color to admire. Two straightforward examples of how humans act on nature to get what we want. Or are they? What if those potatoes and tulips have evolved to gratify certain human desires so that humans will help them multiply? What if, in other words, these plants are using us just as we use them? Every schoolchild learns about the mutually beneficial dance of honeybees and flowers: The bee collects nectar and pollen to make honey and in the process spreads the flowers' genes far and wide. What Michael Pollan ingeniously demonstrates in The Botany of Desire is that people and domesticated plant species have formed a similarly reciprocal relationship, a relationship that is just as common and essential to the way nature works. In this utterly original narrative that blends history, memoir, and the best science writing, Pollan tells the story of four domesticated species-the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato-from the point of view of the plants. All four species are deeply woven into the fabric of our everyday lives, and Pollan illustrates how each has evolved a survival strategy based on satisfying one of humankind's most basic desires. The apple gratifies our taste for sweetness; the tulip attracts us with its beauty; marijuana offers intoxication; and the genetically modified potato gives us a sense of control over nature. And just as we've benefited from these plants, the plants, in the grand coevolutionary scheme that Pollan so brilliantly evokes, have done remarkably well by us. Take the apple, for example. In nineteenth-century America, frontier dwellers far from the trading posts of the East lacked a source of sweetness in their diet-and sugar with which to make alcohol. So when a man named John Chapman (a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed) floated down the Ohio River with bushels of apple seeds in his canoe, the settlers seized on the opportunity to grow the fruit on their new land. The pioneers' desire for sweetness was satisfied-and the apple was given a whole new continent on which to blossom. So who is really domesticating whom? Weaving fascinating anecdote and accessible science in gorgeous prose, Pollan takes the reader on an absorbing journey through the landscape of botany and desire. It is a journey that will change the way we think about our place in nature. In 1637, one Dutchman paid as much for a single tulip bulb as the going price of a town house in Amsterdam. Three & a half centuries later, Amsterdam is once again the mecca for people who care passionately about one particular plant-though this time the obsession revolves around the intoxicating effects of marijuana rather than the visual beauty of the tulip. How could flowers, of all things, become such objects of desire that they drive men to financial ruin? In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan argues that the answer lies at the heart of the intimately reciprocal relationship between people & plants. In telling the stories of four familiar plant species that are deeply woven into the fabric of our lives, Pollan illustrates how they evolved to satisfy humankind's most basic yearnings- & by doing so made themselves indispensable. For, just as we've benefited from these plants, the plants, in the grand co-evolutionary scheme that Pollan evokes so brilliantly, have done well by us. The sweetness of apples, for example, induced the early Americans to spread the species, giving the tree a whole new continent in which to blossom. So who is really domesticating whom? Weaving fascinating anecdotes & accessible science into gorgeous prose, Pollan takes us on an absorbing journey that will change the way we think about our place in nature.
 

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LibraryThing Review

Nutzerbericht  - JaredOrlando - LibraryThing

I picked up and put down Pollan's Botany of Desire many times. It wasn't because it wasn't filled to the brim with interesting information, or that it was in any way tiresome of boring. The book ... Vollständige Rezension lesen

LibraryThing Review

Nutzerbericht  - JBD1 - LibraryThing

Pollan's take on apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. A good mix of history, reporting, and personal experience as he explores humanity's relationship with plants (using these four to elucidate ... Vollständige Rezension lesen

Inhalt

Beauty Plant The Tulip
59
Intoxication Plant Marijuana
111
Control Plant The Potato
181
Epilogue
239
Sources
247
Index
257
Urheberrecht

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Über den Autor (2002)

Chapter 1
Desire: Sweetness
Plant: The Apple

(Malus domestica)

If you happened to find yourself on the banks of the Ohio River on a particular afternoon in the spring of 1806--somewhere just to the north of Wheeling, West Virginia, say--you would probably have noticed a strange makeshift craft drifting lazily down the river. At the time, this particular stretch of the Ohio, wide and brown and bounded on both sides by steep shoulders of land thick with oaks and hickories, fairly boiled with river traffic, as a ramshackle armada of keelboats and barges ferried settlers from the comparative civilization of Pennsylvania to the wilderness of the Northwest Territory.

The peculiar craft you''d have caught sight of that afternoon consisted of a pair of hollowed-out logs that had been lashed together to form a rough catamaran, a sort of canoe plus sidecar. In one of the dugouts lounged the figure of a skinny man of about thirty, who may or may not have been wearing a burlap coffee sack for a shirt and a tin pot for a hat. According to the man in Jefferson County who deemed the scene worth recording, the fellow in the canoe appeared to be snoozing without a care in the world, evidently trusting in the river to take him wherever it was he wanted to go. The other hull, his sidecar, was riding low in the water under the weight of a small mountain of seeds that had been carefully blanketed with moss and mud to keep them from drying out in the sun.

The fellow snoozing in the canoe was John Chapman, already well known to people in Ohio by his nickname: Johnny Appleseed. He was on his way to Marietta, where the Muskingum River pokes a big hole into the Ohio''s northern bank, pointing straight into the heart of the Northwest Territory. Chapman''s plan was to plant a tree nursery along one of that river''s as-yet-unsettled tributaries, which drain the fertile, thickly forested hills of central Ohio as far north as Mansfield. In all likelihood, Chapman was coming from Allegheny County in western Pennsylvania, to which he returned each year to collect apple seeds, separating them out from the fragrant mounds of pomace that rose by the back door of every cider mill. A single bushel of apple seeds would have been enough to plant more than three hundred thousand trees; there''s no way of telling how many bushels of seed Chapman had in tow that day, but it''s safe to say his catamaran was bearing several whole orchards into the wilderness.

The image of John Chapman and his heap of apple seeds riding together down the Ohio has stayed with me since I first came across it a few years ago in an out-of-print biography. The scene, for me, has the resonance of myth--a myth about how plants and people learned to use each other, each doing for the other things they could not do for themselves, in the bargain changing each other and improving their common lot.

Henry David Thoreau once wrote that "it is remarkable how closely the history of the apple tree is connected with that of man," and much of the American chapter of that story can be teased out of Chapman''s story. It''s the story of how pioneers like him helped domesticate the frontier by seeding it with Old World plants. "Exotics," we''re apt to call these species today in disparagement, yet without them the American wilderness might never have become a home. What did the apple get in return? A golden age: untold new varieties and half a world of new habitat.

As an emblem of the marriage between people and plants, the design of Chapman''s peculiar craft strikes me as just right, implying as it does a relation of parity and reciprocal exchange between its two passengers. More than most of us do, Chapman seems to have had a knack for looking at the world from the plants'' point of view--"pomocentrically," you might say. He understood he was working for the apples as much as they were working for him. Perhaps that''s why he sometimes likened himself to a bumblebee, and why he would rig up his boat the way he did. Instead of towing his shipment of seeds behind him, Chapman lashed the two hulls together so they would travel down the river side by side.

We give ourselves altogether too much credit in our dealings with other species. Even the power over nature that domestication supposedly represents is overstated. It takes two to perform that particular dance, after all, and plenty of plants and animals have elected to sit it out. Try as they might, people have never been able to domesticate the oak tree, whose highly nutritious acorns remain far too bitter for humans to eat. Evidently the oak has such a satisfactory arrangement with the squirrel--which obligingly forgets where it has buried every fourth acorn or so (admittedly, the estimate is Beatrix Potter''s)--that the tree has never needed to enter into any kind of formal arrangement with us.

The apple has been far more eager to do business with humans, and perhaps nowhere more so than in America. Like generations of other immigrants before and after, the apple has made itself at home here. In fact, the apple did such a convincing job of this that most of us wrongly assume the plant is a native. (Even Ralph Waldo Emerson, who knew a thing or two about natural history, called it "the American fruit.") Yet there is a sense--a biological, not just metaphorical sense--in which this is, or has become, true, for the apple transformed itself when it came to America. Bringing boatloads of seed onto the frontier, Johnny Appleseed had a lot to do with that process, but so did the apple itself. No mere passenger or dependent, the apple is the hero of its own story.

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