Friday, June 5, 2009

An Atheist Grows Plants in Soundview, NY

I am starved for some biological satisfaction, and I am not talking about the type of satisfaction a woman can provide. I am speaking of the type of satisfaction an orchid grower commonly feels when purchasing something they have desired, for a long time. I just read The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean, and immediately afterward I twittered “Finished reading the orchid thief, amazing and disappointing at the same time, like sex.” The entire story built on the amazing potential of one plant, the ghost orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii). However the author failed to see one in bloom in real life, postulating that the idea of one in bloom was sufficient, and when one is actually seen in bloom, it may be disappointing. I disagree. The truth is always more interesting than fiction, or even our preconceived notions of an object, or a plants grandeur. And if for some reason we cannot see how great something is, perhaps we need another person’s perspective to give us a closer look.

But I want to first stress upon you what I mean when I say “biological satisfaction”. Many people reading this, who may be religious, may be asking themselves “what does he mean?” I am pretty sure atheists will have a better idea of the concept. My satisfaction lies in the ability to feel connected to the rest of the world, not as a human, but as a biological entity that shares this planet. This is difficult in NYC where there is an apparent lack of, not only green plants, but also wildlife. In an earlier blog I spoke about finding carnivorous plants in the Botanical Gardens, however this is a special location, and an exception to the rule. Many New Yorkers may argue that there are enough wild pigeons, rats, and roaches to go around, and perhaps someone as educated as me should consider advocating an extermination of wildlife in NYC. However it is difficult to feel connected to the rest of the world, as a neighbor, if you never see your neighbor.

I grow plants to satisfy my need to feel connected. I have been in the Bronx for only a short period of time, but in 3 short weeks, with my limited horticultural supplies, I have had some success. I mainly want to speak about my spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum). This may seem like a common house plant to anyone who knows anything about plants, but as I said earlier, the truth is always more interesting, and perhaps we need another person to bring up the subject to give us a closer look.
Me taking a closer look at my spider plant

At first glance it looks like just a regular plant, but I would ask that you look at the picture above again. If you don’t see what I see, then perhaps I am blocking your view. Here is a better angle:
I must admit, even after taking a class called the Biology of Ferns at UVM, that flowering plants inspire me most. The ability of a sexual organ to look so sexy might not give you appreciation, but if your sexual organ was like this flower, you might be reconsidering your opinion (if anyone, after reading this is considering dressing their sexual organ up like a flower during “play time” I would love to hear your stories – And all the way to the left, we see the result of vegetative propagation. The spider plant is creating small plantlets. These plantlets can be potted up once they have rooted, or placed in water to induce quicker rooting.

If this were the only baby on my spider plant, then I would have nothing to write about, but as these next pictures show, the plant has been asexually active (let the science nerds laugh at that one).I took it upon myself to clean my newly acquired spider plant; to cut off all the parasitic plantlets and set them up to root in water. If anyone is looking for cheap (50 cents a plant) spider plants let me know, I will promptly mail them to you after receiving 2 quarters. At last count I had about 26 of them. Just for the record, I placed them in bottled water containers with the tops cut off.
While they may seem small and helpless, as you can see, the parent plant has greatly improved (in the sense that it is more manageable and less cluttered).

I doubt the flowers will set seed. I am uncertain as to whether this is a self-seeding species. I know the flowers have both pollen, and a stigma, but I am unable to tell if the stigma is receptive (although large amounts of plant sperm has been deposited on my finger). I tried to self the plant manually (for what it is worth).

For spider plants, self-seeding would seem un-advantageous, since they have such an uncanny ability to produce clones of themselves. It would appear to me, to be more favorable for the stigma to be receptive on the flower before the pollen is released since it would seem redundant, and a waste of energy to produce seeds when clones are so easily produced along the plants stolons. If anyone with knowledge on a spider plants sexual organs can give their input, email me at, and I will quickly feature you and your email in the next post to my blog (pictures are also appreciated). You may also email me if you’re interested in obtaining some of the baby plants I have for sale. Don’t worry, my munny is heavily guarding them.
Of course, small pleasures such as a plant in flower is common to someone who grows plants. (Not to mention other pleasures common to people who grow plants for purposes other than their flower). However plants are the gifts that keep on giving.

Speaking of gifts, my girlfriend took a plant from the Alana banquet awards at the University of Vermont. While I have not been able to give her back her plant after the move, I have been able to get it to flower again (this plant flowers too easily if you ask me).

Notice it’s trumpet shape, or it’s shade of pink. These things not only bring color into my room, but also an appreciation for life that hardly anything else can give. It is something that is not often taught in science classrooms (or in religious sermons). However I believe it is important for anyone who is campaigning to reduce greenhouse emissions, save endangered species, and protect our environment. People do need to care for something other than the human race to be able to save the world. I have written previously about people who only consider humans in their pro-life arguments, but have no emotion when it comes to slitting a cow’s throat for dinner. I am not a vegetarian, but I am also not pro-life. I am pro-world, pro-wild, and anti-human influence on every living species on earth.

How should I end this? Well another picture of a flower may be nice:
But I really want to end off by saying 3 things:
1. I am still looking for a job (click for resume)
2. The plant madness is addicting, I shall proceed with caution!
3. The Orchid Thief was a great story, but not on my top ten list. Read it if your wondering how something natural can inspire you.

1 comment:

  1. Good post, I can certainly relate! If your looking for more plants, you are always welcome to come get some more--they are filling the backyard as they come home for the summer. As for Chlorophytum self compatibility, yes, they do sometimes self. Naturally I don't grow C. comosum anymore(too common) but I have others from Africa, they generally do not produce runners but do have nicer flowers (also white) in spikes. Many die back to fleshy roots for the winter. They produce seeds freely. The petunias from Donna won't do well indoors for long, once the spider mites or whiteflies find them. They do best in the ground or a windowbox. --E