A Plants’ Point of View in “The Botany of Desire”

Pollan M. The Botany of Desire: A plants’ eye view of the world. 2001. Random House Inc. New York, N.Y. (Pg. xiii – xxv).

I have only read the introduction of this book and I can already tell that I am going to love it. In fact, given more time last night, I probably would have read the whole thing start to finish right then and there. Pollan calls the introduction to his book “The Human Bumblebee,” he proposes that what if, although it may sound absurd, what if humans were the exact same as the bumblebee. The bee has a desire for sweet nectar, which certain plants takes advantage of and provide for the bee, but meanwhile the bee is providing motility and seed dispersal for the plant. While planting a potato, Pollan wonders whether or not the potato itself is in charge and thus manipulating him into spreading its’ genes. He calls the plants “subjects,” “acting on [him], getting [him] to do things for them they couldn’t do for themselves” (pg xv). Basically what Pollan is talking about is the concept of “coevolution” and the following chapters look from a plant’s perspective of four widely grown plants having coevolved with humans: Apples, Tulips, Cannabis and Potatoes.

What got me so hot and bothered to read more was how Pollan managed to move the reader “into” nature. Of course, as mammals, we are already a part of nature, but we are  conscious creatures and we have the ability to domesticate other living things consciously; sometimes our minds are removed from that fact. “”Domestic” implies that these species have come in or been brought under civilization’s roof, which is true enough; yet the house-y metaphor encourages us to think that by doing so they have, like us, somehow left nature, as if nature were something that only happens outside” (pg. xxiv). As a biology student, mainly studying animal biology, it is not the first time I have tried to think from a different perspective, the first time from the view of a potato maybe, but I am not completely naive to think that humans do not hugely impact the world in which we live. Pollan defines “fitness” as “the ability to get along in a world in which humankind has become the most powerful evolutionary force” (pg. xxiii). However, while every day being stuffed full with ideas of natural selection and sexual selection and other “natural” and “wild” processes living organisms evolve through, I have failed to stop and think about “artificial selection” and how its’ force may be greater than Darwin even could have imagined when he wrote about it in his Origin of Species. “It has become much harder…to tell where the garden leaves off and pure nature begins” (pg. xxii).

One other thought Pollan throws out there has to do with conscious vs unconscious desires that lead to coevolution and artificial selection. What is the difference? I am not sure where the boundary lies between conscious and unconscious needs when it comes to species distinction since I have never been a potato, or a bee or a panda bear. How Pollan attempts to explain and discuss these strange concepts is ingenious. Sometimes I wish I was a bee, “ingenious, sometimes reckless, and remarkably unselfconscious” (pg. xxv).

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