The Birth of Domestication

Pollan, M. (2001). The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye view of the World. New York, NY: Random House Inc. Pg. xiii – xxv – (BOD)

Diamond, J. (1997). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York, NY: Norton and Company, Inc. Pg. 114 – 130  – (GGS)

The evolution of the domestication of flowering plants to desired crop species has been ongoing for as long as animals and flowering plants have co-existed. Plants have developed many techniques to deter predation as well as methods of attraction such as plump, sweet smelling fruit surrounding seed. Pollan and Diamond have questioned these fascinating relationships between animals and plants through their books, with a very different style and tone of writing.

“A flowering apple tree that was fairy vibrating with bees” (pg. xii – BOD) and “flowers that seduce honeybees .. to powder their thighs with pollen” (pg. xx – BOD) are just some examples of the imagery that Pollan presents in his writing. His tone in this book is humorous and relatable. Pollan challenges the reader to imagine a completely  different way of examining the historical relationship between people and the plants that sustain us. He states that plants and people have co-evolved not only by the hands of man but due to a thoughtful strategy. “Plants hit on a remarkably clever strategy” (pg. xx – BOD) Pollan exclaims as he suggested that plants have evolved to attract and infatuate humans, and in turn are using humans to act as honeybees that pollinate their flowers or squires that disperse and cache their seeds. While reading this introduction I perceived Pollan’s voice as excited; Pollan’s enthusiasm of the subject matter was expressed through his runoff sentences  such as “from plants come compounds that nourish and heal and poison and delight.. and intoxicate..[and] alter consciousness”. Moreover, I really enjoyed Pollan’s presence in this book.

Although discussing similar concepts such as how animals and humans have played a critical role in the evolution of crop plants, Diamond exploits a very different style of writing. I found Diamonds writing very informative but I didn’t necessarily enjoy this reading. Diamond failed to integrate his personality into his writing; though information content was flourishing, the visualization and relatability was missing throughout this chapter. Moving past that… I did enjoy how Diamond touched on the various ways that humans have altered plants (pg. 122 – GGS) in ways that benefit us such as larger or smaller seeds, or even the absence of seeds all together, as well as larger roots leaves and buds. Additionally, Diamond discuses some theories as to why some plants would have been easier to domesticate than others. It is interesting to think about how some of the most successful crops such as rye, oats, turnips, radishes, beets, leeks and lettuce (pg. 125 – GGS) have been derived from some pesky weeds.


Thanks for your time – Cheers!

Jenna May Kavanagh


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