on your next visit to a flower
shop or the produce section of a grocery store, remind yourself
that what you see there are actually plants. Those green beans?
The seed pods of a plant. Those long-stemmed roses? Recently clipped
from a living, growing bush. Then ask yourself whether you’ve
ever seen plants exactly like these growing in nature. With very
few exceptions, the answer will be “no.”
How do growers create these transformations? There
are a variety of ways to finagle nature, but most of them fit into
these three categories:
Takes advantage of how trees heal their wounds
to create trees that wouldn’t
exist in nature.
Uses nature’s way of creating diversity
to produce plants with traits that work to our advantage.
Capitalizes on the universality of DNA as the
molecule behind life’s
processes to bestow new traits on existing plant varieties.
You may well have seen wild roses, with their
small flowers brightening shrubs, or the seed pods of trees scattered
on the ground. All of the plants we eat and decorate our surroundings
with have precursors in nature. Over millennia, though, these plants
have been bred to exhibit traits that we desire—long stems,
hardiness, large fruits. The genes of a modern rose or green bean
reflect the choices of thousands of farmers, gardeners, and plant
breeders. For centuries, they’ve capitalized on nature’s
own reproductive and regenerative mechanisms, and manipulated the
plants to suit human desires. In many cases, the resulting plants
wouldn’t be found in nature because they can’t reproduce
effectively. Sometimes the traits that benefit our survival are
detrimental to their own. In effect, we have created a cycle
of mutual dependence: the plants we need to sustain ourselves would
fade into history if we did not, in return, sustain them.