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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Desire for Tulips

Needing a book for a sunny read-walk today, I grabbed Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire. Knowing I would be purchasing flowers later in the day for a friend's birthday tea and wishing those could be tulips, I revisited the chapter about tulips. Subtitled "A Plant's-Eye View of the World," the book discusses apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes and how those plants became essential to human society. Various evolutionary changes have shaped each of their developments, ensuring their longevity and necessity.

Apples are desired for their sweetness. Marijuana is desired for its intoxicating powers. Potatoes are desired for the gardener's ability to control their growth. Tulips, though, are desired for their beauty alone. Pollan tells of their history in the world and how eventually the Dutch demand for them was so incredible that people paid exorbitant prices for tulip bulbs...or even pieces of paper that claimed a share. He waxes for several pages about the Queen of Night tulip on his desk, noting all its parts and how each functions. The tulip I photographed in spring has those same six petals (3 inner, 3 outer), the six stamens, the single style/pedestal, and the three lips on that style. Biological variations occur, of course.

The Botany of Desire taught me so much about plant history, a topic I admittedly would never have professed to enjoy. It is another book that makes me look at the world differently.


  1. and in this post you present a winning argument for reading, reading, reading.

  2. I admire how you stretch your reading choices and read beyond your usual ken. I would benefit from doing that more often.