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304 pages, Kindle Edition
First published May 8, 2001
In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan ingeniously demonstrates how people and domesticated plants have formed a similarly reciprocal relationship. He masterfully links four fundamental human desires—sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control—with the plants that satisfy them: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. In telling the stories of four familiar species, Pollan illustrates how the plants have evolved to satisfy humankind’s most basic yearnings. And just as we’ve benefited from these plants, we have also done well by them. So who is really domesticating whom?What the author did in the book is to address the hybridizing of plant species to fit our needs. Although domesticated plants have been multiplied at a much greater rate than in nature, they also stand to disappear due to over-hybridization. This is highlighted in this book.
According to Jack Goody, an English anthropologist ...who has studied the role of flowers in most of the world’s cultures—East and West, past and present—the love of flowers is almost, but not quite, universal. The “not quite” refers to Africa, where, Goody writes in 'The Culture of Flowers', flowers play almost no part in religious observance or everyday social ritual. (The exceptions are those parts of Africa that came into early contact with other civilizations—the Islamic north, for example.) Africans seldom grow domesticated flowers, and flower imagery seldom shows up in African art or religion. Apparently when Africans speak or write about flowers, it is usually with an eye to the promise of fruit rather than the thing itself.That is certainly an interesting, and true statement. However, the next paragraph had us all gasping for air. Dumbfounded!
... the ecology of Africa doesn’t offer a lot of flowers, or at least not a lot of showy ones. Relatively few of the world’s domesticated flowers have come from Africa, and the range of flower species on the continent is nowhere near as extensive as it is in, say, Asia or even North America. What flowers one does encounter on the savanna, for example, tend to bloom briefly and then vanish for the duration of the dry season.My first thought was that an anthropologist won't know that more than 80% of the ± 2400 Pelargonium species originate in southern Africa; numerous orchards, too many to list here, horde of proteas, ericas, lilies, flowering trees, and hundreds of highly sought-after succulents come from dear mother Africa.
All domesticated plants are in some sense artifical, living archives of both cultural and natural information that people have helped to "design". Any given type of potato reflects the human desires that have been bred into it.There is sadly not enough space left on earth to allow people each a piece of land and enough water to produce their own food. We cannot go back to wearing natural fibers, since there are not enough grazing or space, once again, to keep the animals on that land which will produce those needed fibers. That's the bottom line. Too many people, too little natural resources. For instance, if we allow 7 billion people to strip mine plants in trying to return to natural medicines, there will be nothing left of nature. It is therefore essential that everything we use be produced commercially in particular agricultural zones all over the world, and to protect natural fauna and flora in designated protected zones.
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