The Power of Plants Has Influence over Us All

I have often written about the power of plants. Knowing I'm due to give a horticultural update, I thought I'd approach it from that point of view. Most of what follows is recent news. Plants from their beginnings have had the power to survive. In addition they have the power to sustain, heal or kill, alter our consciousness and inspire us. The direction we take is our choice.

Two nurserymen (father and son) in Ohio were taken to task recently for having some marijuana plants irrigated by a bordering stream. This wasn't just a few seeds thrown around. The plant count was over a hundred. Charges are pending, until the dried weight of the herb is determined. Motivation? Greed? Personal use? Who knows?

Two creative British artists, Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey, used grass (not as above) as the canvas for an organic photograph that measures 10 feet by 28 feet. Instead of black and white, it's yellow and green. It's complicated science and artistry. Chlorophyll and, of course, light are the main players in this bio-chemistry experiment first discovered by chance. If you'd like to read more about this and see for yourself, visit the Chicago Cultural Center on your computer. The exhibit opened July 10th. That's inspired stuff.

The Morel Diffusion Company of France has come up with a very clever marketing tool for their cyclamen plant sales. It is called the "Happy Cyclamen Thermo Label". Cyclamens are happiest and likely to perform with a long bloom period when their temperature stays between 5 and 20 C (42 and 68 F). The label features a sad blue face with a neck muffler, a white perspiring face, and a pink happy face. A flower on the card changes color to indicate how happy or unhappy the cyclamen plant is: blue, white, or just right, pink. That's consumer friendly.

A few columns back I mentioned that garden centers were having a hard time finding qualified employees with sufficient training and knowledge. Some northwestern Ohio nurseries and garden centers had this problem and partnered with a community college. By making their concern known, Cuyahoga Community College responded with a Plant Science and Landscape Technology Program to train professionals for the "green industry. An "Associate of Applied Science Degree, Garden Center" can be earned in four semesters. Total credits = 69. The course sequence is impressive. Meeting new needs through cooperation!

The pros and cons of genetic engineering and modification are still hotly debated, and we read about extremists on both sides of the argument. Biotechnology and GM foods, new definitions for "organic", violent acts claimed by the Earth Liberation Front, and labs operating in secrecy for fear of attack from opponents.

Trees are the next vanguard. Forest trees and orchard trees. Did you know that a virus claimed 40% of Hawaii's papaya industry, and biotechnology saved it by introducing seeds that were resistant to the virus in 1998? We're talking $ 14 million a year. Pros claim the industry is back on track; cons maintain the new papaya needs more pesticide and fertilizer inputs. The papaya is the only GE tree approved for market, but at least 230 GE tree experiments have been filed with the USDA. There is clearly value in this research as well as risk.

To feed the world's starving is a highly desirable goal. Last year 100 million acres of GM food crops were planted. Trees grow much more slowly and the depth and complexity of the modifications remains unknown. The answer to what might come from cross-pollination and our cherished genetic diversity is years into the future. Extreme caution is called for in the field where there are countless variables. Progress, but not at any cost!

The Horticultural gardening institute and the American Horticultural Society have joined forces to offer online "The Art and Science of Container Gardening". It is a 12-week self-paced program and costs $ 70. It includes a one-year membership in the American Horticulture Society and a one-year subscription to its publication, The American Gardener. Beautification onward!

Almost like an echo from the first paragraph, USA Today (6/23/03) reported our federal DEA's concern about another herb that has slipped through the cracks, but not for long. Its name says a lot: Salvia divinorum. This native from Mexico has been employed for many years by those- perhaps- in the know, those seeking to have "divine" experiences. It may be dangerous and the feds are working to make it illegal. Some businesses are fighting the new legislation as an intrusion on their rights. Their claim, "It's a plant, after all!"

"Fungus Set to Fight Insect Pests" is a little misleading, but nonetheless signals a major breakthrough in this headline in the Aug. 2003 issue of Agriculture Research. Misleading is that the material is probably two years away from being available. Breakthrough is that this new bio-insecticide, employing the beneficial fungus 'Paecilomyces fumosoroseus', can now be produce in only a few days using a new fermentation process patented by the USDA.

Spider mites, white flies, thrips and aphids are some of the insect pests it can control with no danger to people or animals. This new cost-effective production process will provide an inexpensive control that should result in multimillion-dollar savings in greenhouse, field crops, organic and home pest control applications. Saving money and the environment!

A few years ago I was called to offer a positive identification of a plant. It seems a local Sullivan County school encountered some students who had ingested some seeds from a plant found growing locally. Inspired by a popular TV show, they were seeking to get high. The plant, 'Datura stramonium', aka , Jimsonweed, among many other names, is highly toxic and all parts can produce convulsions and death. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

Fast forward to Sept. 2, 2003. The New York Times reported 14 teens, seeking hallucinations, consumed seeds of a close relative. Doctors reported the consensus was the hallucinations coincided with the illness and nausea. All were released within forty-eight hours, fortunately. Even in Ohio, be careful what you wish for. "Out of this world" may be closer than you think.

Plants. Their power and influence is often unimagined. They are the foundation of all existence, human and animal.


From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on September 10,2003

© 2003 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.