Who's Evolving Whom? PBS Examines 'The Botany of Desire'

Tonight's cuppa: peppermint tea

TheBotanyofDesire_Tulip.jpgWhen I'm not watching TV for fun and profit, I'm a gardener. I wasn't always one. When I was young, I was very good at killing plants, until I realized that I didn't know anything and started reading books on the subject and then doing what the books told me to do.

Of course, like any gardener, every now I and then I get puffed up with confidence about my ability to beat nature at her own game, and need a harsh reminder (as chronicled in this blog post) to go with the natural flow.

We humans may think we're the kings and queens of Earth, and that we make the natural world bend to our will, but as often as not, the reverse is probably true.

If you look at the criteria of abundance and distribution of a species as marks of evolutionary success, then we've been at least as good for dogs, cats, horses, cows, chickens, hamsters, camels, pigs, corn, wheat and soybeans as they've been for us, and we definitely come out on the short end of the stick with cockroaches, rats, crabgrass and bedbugs.

We evolved on Planet Earth too, and as far as we try to remove ourselves from nature, it's Thumbnail image for TheBotanyofDesire_MichaelPollan.jpg temporary at best and usually just an illusion.

On Wednesday, Oct. 28, PBS premieres "The Botany of Desire," based on the book of the same name by author and avid gardener Michael Pollan (BTW, it's an absorbing, thoughtful and entertaining read, and I recommend it whether or not you watch the special).

The two-hour documentary looks at four of our favorite plants -- apples, tulips, cannabis and potatoes -- and examines how their natural histories have become entwined with our desires for, respectively, sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control.

As it turns out, the familiar apple is an honest-to-goodness wild thing, made to breed true only by cloning; our housing boom and bust are nothing compared to the Dutch tulip mania of 1637; cannabis' complex molecules have a surprising relationship to our brains; and potatoes are a whole lot more than a McDonald's french fry.

TheBotanyofDesire_Apples.jpgEven watched on my laptop screen earlier tonight because of a power outage in windy Los Angeles (I understand it hit CBS' Craig Ferguson during taping of his show), "The Botany of Desire" is a gorgeous piece of filmmaking, and Pollan is an engaging and non-stuffy guide to a world he evidently loves (honestly, read the book for the bit on the, to put it mildly, eccentric John "Johnny Appleseed" Chapman, if nothing else).

I guarantee that if you read, watch or both, you may never look at plants quite the same way again. I'm not talking about a "Little Shop of Horrors" man-eating plant moment or anything like that, but you may rethink who's evolving whom, here.

After all, you don't fool with Mother Nature -- she fools with you.