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.






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