Death by Seeds

Hanson, Thor. The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, & Pips, Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History. New York: Basic, 2015. N. Print.

This week blog for plants and peoples I read chapter 11 Death by Umbrella. In this chapter Hanson talks about seeds and their toxins and he starts with castor bean. Castor beans are part of the Euphorbiaceae family, the Latin name is Ricinus communis. Georgi Markov was assassinated by a umbrella gun with a castor bean pellet. Castor bean have a toxin in the storage protein called ricin. There are other used for caster bean like Castrol Motor Oil Corporation uses castor bean to make their oil for high-performance race cars. So they inadvertently hit on the head with their company motto: “Its More Than Just Oil” (pg 165).

Tho other then been used as toxins ans poison seeds are used and have been used for their medicine properties for riding parasites, or relieving the pain of injury and disease, like: treatments for

  • Parkinson’s disease with vetch and velvet bean
  • HIV with black-bean, pokeweed
  • Alzheimer’s disease with calabar bean
  • Hepatitis with milk thistle
  • Varicose veins with horse chestnuts
  • Psoriasis with bishop’s flower
  • And cardiac arrest with climbing oleander. (pg 169-170)

So these compounds  serve both has poison and cures that why you should know what your type if plant it is before you try eating it.

Seeds have been used to make perfume, caffeine, spices, and lots of other stuff. So how does a plant protect it seeds from animals so there seeds for us to collect but that not the main reason it the plants has built-in protect, the main reason the plant can spread it seeds so it can reproduce cause that the main reason why we are all her is to reproduce the next generation. So how does the plant do that well that why are the seeds are toxic or have a bitter taste, pungency, and burning sensations, with the bitter taste animals learn quick not to eat those plants, if it taste good and the poison doesn’t kick in a for a few days the animal and other animals won’t know which plant cause the death of that animal. But a lot of plants relied on animals to spread the seeds. So like in the castor bean the seed pod explosives and hurls the seeds up to 35 ft away from the mother plant.

So when your out in the wild you need to make sure if the plant is toxic or not before you try to eat them so you don’t get sick or die.


The Potato of Desire

Pollan, M. (2001). The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World. New York: Random House.
This week blog for plants and people is chapter four of The Botany of Desire; The Potato.
In the chapter Pollan starts in his garden planting the new leaf potato by Monsanto corporation. The new leaf potato has been genetically engineered to produce it own insecticide. So they won’t be attacked by the Colorado potato beetle.
Pollen also was growing other types of potatoes in his garden, had half dozen of different types of potatoes,  one type in his garden was ancient heirloom Peruvian blue potatoes. I have had these potatoes before they are yummy and when you cut into them they are blue on the inside. I was shocked the first time I had this I was wondering what my mother was feeding me, you get so used to the same old  all the time so as a kid your wondering should I eat this or be a pain and drive my mom crazy and not eating it but I eat it and it ever good it tasted like a normal potato but just blue.
Pollan also talked about the Irish and how they grew potatoes and they found they could grow these potatoes with minimum of labor or tools. Which they could feed themselves and not worry about the price of English wheat price going up. And when the English wheat harvest failed in 1794. The potato save them from a famine.
I found really neat to find out, I have family that came from Ireland so to learn what they had to go through.

The world of Corn

Pollan, M. (2006). The omnivore’s dilemma: A natural history of four meals. New York: Penguin Press. pages 15-119
For this weeks blog in Plants and Peoples Biology class we are reading Micheal Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. This is the second book from Micheal Pollan we have read in class.

So we are starting in section 1 Industrial Corn. The first chapter is called “The Plant Corn’s Conquest” there is 5 parts to this chapter, for the first part we have; 1. A naturalist in the supermarket. In this part Pollan talks about how supermarkets are teeming with plants and animals, goes on how corn is in everything we don’t think about cause the label doesn’t say corn so we don’t think it in everyday products but we are wrong. Pollan quotes ” Read the ingredients on the label of any processed food and, provided you know the chemical names it travels under, corn is what you will find.” So when you read; modified or unmodified starches, glucose syrup, maltodextrin, crystalline fructose, ascorbic acid, lecithin, dextrose, lactic acid, lysine, maltose, HFCS, MSG, polyols, caramel colour and xanthan gum equal corn. That a bit scary corn in everything from coffee whitener to ketchup to frozen waffles to hot sauce and its in non food items as well liken toothpaste to trash bags even to wax coating on the cardboard that our produce comes in. Its in everything.

Part 2. Corn Walking.

This part Pollan talks about how the descendants of the Maya living in Mexico still refer to themselves as “the corn people.” But is this statement really true know that we learned everything we eat or use is made from corn. In this part he talks more about carbon part of the corn plant and how carbon testing is done. We learn that most plants during photosynthesis the plant create three carbon atoms, corn makes four that why its nicknames is C-4, while most other plants are C-3. Here is some scientific info from Pollan you’ll need to understand the next few lines cause I sure needed it cause the last time I read about atoms was back in Gr 10 science and I’ll been out of high school for the last 10 years doing the math its been 12 years since I was in Gr 10 so I’m more then rusty on my atoms. “Some carbon atoms are called isotopes, have more than the usual complement of six protons and six neutrons which makes C-12, giving them a slightly different atomic weight. C-13 for example, has six protons and seven neutrons.” So for whatever reason when C-4 plants like corn goes scavenging for its 4 pack of carbons it takes more carbon 13 then normal plants. So scientist have figured out how much carbon is in a human diet by taking a finger nail or hair sample. So the higher the ratio of carbon 13 to carbon 12 in the person hair or nail sample, means the human more corn in their diet then others. So when researchers have compared America and Mexicans we have way more corn in our diet has Pollan said “Americas look like corn chips with legs”making us the corn people.

3. The rise of Zea Mays

What is Zea Mays, is the scientific name for corn Zea is the genus name and Mays being the species names, and corn is the common name for this plants.  Pollan talks the plants world’s success and corn’s triumph. And talks was it really our idea that invention of agriculture or was evolving strategy of the plants and animals to get us advance in their interest. And has Pollan put is “No other group of species gained more from its association with human than the edible grasses, and no grass has reaped more from agriculture than Zea Mays, today the worlds’ most important cereal crop. So how did corn become the world’s most important cereal crop, well it all goes back to the spring of 1621 when Squanto who was a Native American who taught the Pilgrims how to plant maize which we call corn. The colonist recognized the value of this plant, no other plants could produce that much food has the corn plant.

4. Married to Man

In this part is about how the corn plant is dependent on humans, corn would of gone extincted without the aid of humans to removed the husk, separated the seeds and plant them. You can’t just plant a whole corncob in its husk and expect it to grow, it just won’t work. So corn has been come the most domesticated plant, corn became totally dependent on humans when it evolved it husked ears. But what did corn looked like before it evolved into what we call corn now a days, it was weedy grass called Teosinte which we believed that corn descended from. Teosinte it has no ears, bears only a handed full of tiny naked seeds. So how does this weedy grass turn into the stocks of corn we are used to seeing today, mutations is how it happens. Pollan quotes the botanist Hugh Iltis is a “catastrophic sexual transmutation: the transfer of the plant’s female organs from the top of the grass to monstrous sheathed ear in the middle of the stalk.


5. Corn Sex

Corn is self-fertilized and wind-pollinated like most grasses. One corn plants can have 14 million to 18 million pollen grains per plant, that is a lot of pollen. When the male flower release it pollen to pollinate the waiting female flowers by getting it pollen on the silk that emerge from the cobs of corn. The pollen’s nucleus divides into two, then the twin nucleus travel down the silk to the flower ovary and then the magic happens and the flower become germinated and goes to seed.

Chapter two is called The Farm, its broken up into to 7 parts, the first part is called 1. One Farmer, 129 Eaters, 2. Planting the City of Corn,3. Vanishing Species, 4 There goes the Sun, 5. A Plague of Cheap Corn, 6. The Sage of Purdue, and 7. The Naylor Curve.In this chapter Pollan talks to George Naylor who works on his family’s 320 acres farm in Greene County in Iowa. George main crop is corn and soybean but it got it start back in 1919 with George grandfather who had grown corn but it also had fruits and other vegetable as well oats, hay, and alfalfa to be feed to the livestock. Back then the farm only produce enough of food to feed his family and 12 other american families compare to the now there is less then 2 million american farms to feed the rest of us. How did we go from feeding only 12 families to millions of people, to do that the corn and soybeans had to be modified with hybrids corn and soybean. That how GMO was born.

Before it was seas of corn and soybeans there was more diversity. Corn was only the fourth most common crop first it was horse because there wasn’t tracker everything was horse drawn, then came cattle, chicken then it was corn followed but the rest of the livestock and fruits and vegetables. There where fences everywhere and everyone had livestock, but now Greene Country is black now, people stop farming, livestock became more industrial and move inside. And instead of fields of different food crops you had seas of corn and soybeans.

To grow these seas of corn we need to figured out a way to unlock growing more of this plants and growing it every year. Before you could only grow corn twice in five years’ cause it would the suck out all the nutrition out of the soil and if you grew corn to often the land would be come “corn sick” and you couldn’t grow as many. Until 1947 after the world war 2 we started using chemical fertilizer, made from synthetic nitrogen. Which feed the corn crops letting the farmers grow more at one time and grow corn crops every year. But sometimes a lot of one thing isn’t a good thing with the being so much corn the corn prices drop because it flooding the market. Today corn sell as a dollar cheaper then the cost of growing it. How is this well back in the 20s and 30s corn had fallen to zero, because there was so much of it and we couldn’t eat it fast enough to keep up with how much was coming in. So the government came up with a farm policy a grain reserve. So for food that could be stored like corn, the government came up with a “target price” and when corn drop below this target price the farmer would go to the government and take out a loan and use their crop has collateral and the farmer pays off the loan when he sells the corn or if the price stays low he can give the corn to pay off the loan. Times have changes so have the farm policy but the farmers are subsidized and the farmer will take the cheaper cost cause the government will pay the rest.

In the other chapter he talks about the elevator, the feedlot, the processing plant, the consumer and the meal. Pollan talks about each stage of the corn goes through in detail. This book was sure an eye opener for me.





The Origins of Food Production

J, Diamond. (1999). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. Chapter 4, 5, 6, and 8

So for this week blog for Plants and People Biology class we were to read Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond. I talked about in my last blog but it was chapter 7 and I did’t have a problem getting into the book that time but this week it was a bit harder maybe cause I had this horrible cold, but I found that National Geographic made a documentary about it, So I watch some and that when I got more interested into the book and I picked it up and started to read it, and it got a lot more in-depth, but watch the documentary help understand where in the world the areas Jared was talking about.

So in Chapter 4 and its called Farmer Power and its starts with Jared telling a story about when he was a teenager working on a farm in summer in Montana for a man named Fred Hirschy from Switzerland. We met a Native American from the tribe Blackfoot named Levi, the first feeling we get from him that he is polite, gentle, responsible, sober, and well spoken, but this image get shattered when Levi shows up on Sunday morning drunk and cursing and what he cursed stood out in Jared mind “Damn you, Fred Hirschy and damn the ship that brought you from Switzerland!”. So in the USA Jared and other white school-children had been taught in school it was heroic conquest of the American wild west, in Canada when I went to school it was a different story it could of been the new time, I learn it wasn’t has heroic as the states made it out to be. So we get into the topic “How did the farmers win out over the famous warriors?”, So to answer this question we have to go back 7 million years to the start.

So 7 million years ago, all human fed themselves by hunting wild animals and gathering wild plants, that was the way of life back then, it was only in the last 11,000 years we start to feed ourselves by farming and herding wild animals, so how did we go about this? So in chapter 5 History’s haves and have-nots we start to answer this question. So farming and herding didn’t happen over night, and it didn’t happen everywhere at the same time either. Some areas still now to this day there isn’t any farming even with all the new technology out there. Some places don’t have the right climates, either being to cold or to dry with no water sources to irrigate. So how did people thousand years ago make a go at this. The earliest known area where initial domestication of wheat was in the Fertile Crescent around 8500 B.C. soon after that crops appears to start to move to other areas like Greece, Germany, Israel, western Iran and Turkey. For herding animals it was in different areas like India, western Eurasian.

So the raise of food production where, when and how did develop globally? In the picture below is from the book and its a picture of the centers of origin of food production.

Since this book was publish they have discover more areas of the origin of food production. The 5 areas that origin domesticated animals are Southwest Asia (sheep, goat), China (pig,silkworm), Mesoamerica (turkey), Andes and Amazonia (llama, guinea pig) and Sahel (guinea fowl). So it started in a few areas and now almost everywhere.

In chapter 6 To farm or Not to farm, why did the hunter-gatherers choose to adopt farming. There had to be a reason but what it that reason and why did they wait until 8500 B.C to do so? Hunter-gatherers where a mobile group cause they had to go where the food was and move with the different season, with farming you had to stay in one area so you can watch your crop and have food storage. Also hunter-gatherer only had children only every 4 years cause a mother of a hunter-gatherer can only carry one child and still be able to gather while a farmer mother where having children every 2 years that half the time of the hunter-gatherer. While a hunter-gatherer can only carry what they can eat and farmer have food storage, and the farmer get more product from animal like milk and fertilize compare to the hunter-gatherer only get the meat and the skins for clothes they don’t get any of the by products of the animals. So slowly the farming got adopted by the hunter-gatherer and all around the world.

In chapter 8 Apples or Indians Jared talks about there 200,000 wild plants species only a few thousand are eaten by humans, and only few hundred crops have been domesticated for crops. Not all of these crops have enough supplements in our diet to support the rise of civilization. Only about a dozen that we call blockbuster and they are the cereals wheat, corn, rice, barley, and sorghum; the pulse soybean; the root or tubers potato, manioc and sweet potato; the sugar sources sugarcane and sugar beet: and the fruit banana. Cereal crops now a days account for more then half of calories consumed worldwide by humans. So why did we only domesticated a few hundred crops, and our failure of domesticate of any new crops even with modern technology tells us that ancient people really did explored virtually all useful wild plants and domesticated all of the ones worth domesticating.

So the question “Apples or Indians”, so apples where first domesticated in Eurasia but there was many wild apples in North America. So why didn’t the Native Americans domesticate the for there use. We will never know the true answer but we can for sure take educated guesses, one popular guess would be the apple would of been a great crop for the natives but the natives would have to settle in one spot and cultivated them, but that wasn’t the traditional way of life for the hunter-gatherers. And Native American are very traditional race of humans.

I found the book to be very interesting when I finally got into the book. Tho a lot of my classmates found it dry. It helps to know the background of the book and where everything is located so you can picture the scene that Jared Diamond paints for you.





How to domesticate a plant

M, Pollan. The Botany of Desire xiii – xxv, J,Diamond. Guns, Germs, and Steel 114-130

After waking up to a very snowy morning I decide it was a good time to get cozy  with a book or two, and my dog Kong who is a old Boston bulldog cross with a pug. The two books that I grab were The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan and Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. In The Botany of Desire Michael is in his garden and talking about the “domesticated species”. In Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared talks about how wild plants became crops.


In The Botany of Desire the introduction chapter The Human Bumblebee, Micheal talks about “What existential difference is there between the human being’s role in this (or any) garden and the bumblebee’s?”. Did I or you choose to plant this particular plant or did this plant make me or you plant it. Now that a great question. Both us and the plant rely on each other, known as “coevolution”. We need the plant as food and the plant needs us or Bumblebee to pollinate and to give it a ride so the genes of that plant can survive since the plant can’t move on its own. Both bees and humans have similar criteria for what attracts us to that particular plants its sweeter and bigger, makes you want to take that once and not the smaller plant beside it.


Micheal also talks about what four plants he choose to tell their story; the apple for sweetness, the tulip for beauty, cannabis for intoxication and the potato for control. These plants represent the four main class  of what we call “domesticated species” a fruit, a flower, a drug plant and a staple food. We have spend the last ten thousand year or more trying to figure out whats the best way to feed, heal, clothe, intoxicate and delight us with plants. How did these plant become domesticated from their wild cousin at where bitter and toxic to the flavorful plants that they are today.

Micheal calls the book “The Botany of Desire”  he says and I agree with him, “it’s because it is as much about the human desires that connect us to these plants as it about the plants themselves”. Humans have the desire and need to learn about everything on how a car runs to what can we grow to feed ourselves.

Chapter 7 , How to make an almond in Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond talks about our crops today came from its wild ancestors. How did our crops turn into crops in the first place, cause a lot of the wild species where bitter with toxic like cyanide, or smaller in size and not looking desirable like the wild corn cobs where only a inch to the 1 to 1.5 feet they are today. So Jared ask the question “What caveman or caveman ever got the idea of “domesticating” a plant, and how was it accomplished?”. So starting what does plant domesticating mean? Plant domesticating means growing a plant consciously or unconsciously, to change it from its wild ancestor to a safer and more useful to human consumers. So how would we go about doing that? By starting going into the wild and collecting seeds from plant that looks like the wild one but this one might be sweeter or that it bigger. Which makes this plant a mutant plant cause it not like the others which for the plants survival rate isn’t great for the plant, but the plant had aspect that attract these ancestor farmer. In the picture above on the left is a domesticated almond and on the right is a wild almond you can see some differences between the two the wild one has a hairy shell while the domesticated one has a smooth shell.

So for the plants to become domesticated they had to evolve over time, this didn’t happen over night. Like the famous saying goes “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. So how did plants mange this? Well like every living thing plants need to spread their offspring where the offspring can thrive so they can repeat the cycle. But plants can’t move so how is this done in the first place? So the plant need to adapted because the strongest one will survive, so some plants made their seed float on the water or be carried by the wind or have burs so the get attached to an animal. When humans started collecting seeds and start planting themselves in gardens this jump started the evolution of the plants now they aren’t fighting with other plant seeds for what little resources to be putting in a plowed, fertilized and water garden. Then to have the farmer weed out the other weeds so that plant had the greatest chance to survive and evolve into the crops that they are now today.





The Triumph of Seeds

Hanson, T. 2015. The Triumph of Seeds. New York: Basic Books. p xiii-18; p55-80.

This book is about Thor Hanson who is a seed biologist. Thor share stories from his trips into Central America, to his trip in New Mexico to a coal bed looking for fossil seeds. This book has open my eyes on how a seed turns into a plant.

In the first part of the book he talks about  about going to Central America looking for new seeding or seed of the almendro tree Dipteryx panamensis.

 downloadThis is an almendro tree if your wondering, cause I was for sure wanted to know that the little seeding from pg 5 would grow into. The almendro tree can grow up to 150 ft tall and 10 ft around the trunk when matured. Also he talks about the avocados and how to grow them with tooth picks and in a glass of water. I have tried this has child with my dad, but mine always seem to rot. But reading this book makes me want to try my luck again with the avocado seed. Cause who wouldn’t want fresh avocado all year around mmm all the guacamole I could make and eat.


The next adventure with Thor we are in New Mexico at a coal bed, with Bill DiMichele.  Bill DiMichele is the curator of fossil plants for the Smithsonian. Coal beds are made of carbonized remains of an ancient swamp forest, all the plants from them where spore based plants. I couldn’t believe that one time spore based plants where as all the pines outside that you see every day driving to work or school. If you are wondering what what would of look like Thor say “Carboniferous: a steamy swamp festooned with huge, mossy-topped trees like something from a Dr.Seuss book, and populated by newt like amphibians larges as horse.” Now that would of been a sight to see.

I enjoyed how Thor talked about his experiences, on how a seed turns into a tree and the humor he puts into the book. I unfortunately didn’t get the last chapter read, but I will be finishing this book on my spare time and I believe others would enjoy this book as well.

100 Mile Diet

MacKinnon. JB., Smith. A., 2007. The 100-Mile Diet. Vintage Canada Edition, Toronto, Canada.

This book is call the 100 mile diet a year of local eating by Alisa Smith and J.B Mackinnon. Alisa and J.B take turns writing a different month each so you get both of their views. The book is broken up into 12 chapter one chapter for each month, and with each month you get a recipe from herb tea to poached salmon with cream sauce. The book cover Alisa and J.B experiences on their struggle with not finding much local food in their supermarkets, having to rely on farmer’s markets, local farm and the fisherman’s market.

I have read months March to October so far and I plan to read the rest of the book. I find the book very interesting, I’m learning new facts every time I pick the book up and read a chapter. I was shocked to learn month June about how that most of seafood that caught on North American coast are being shipped to China to be processed then its imported back to USA and Canada, I can’t believe that it’s cheaper to ship our seafood to get processed then to have it processed in our country.

What I didn’t like about when everyone asked if they where getting bored yet. It’s not that hard to come up with different recipes even when you have a limited local diet. People are getting stuck in routine and to scared to try something new and different. We have become brainwashed by the big brand companies cause they don’t to lose you has a customer. So you go to a supermarket and by produce that comes from other parts of the world when you have it growing down the road from you locally.

This is a great story I would suggest friends and family to read this book. You learn a lot about the local farms around Vancouver that I had no that were there. The goal to get people to eat local, it doesn’t mean you have to do the 100 mile diet but it not that hard to eat local and support your farming neighbors.