Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Photosynthesis Like Colour

I'm in the midst of writing (and grading) finals, so I haven't a lot of free time to spend posting. One of those finals, the one that is currently stressing me, is about Thomson's The Seasons and Erasmus Darwin's Loves of the Plants. This means that I am writing about nature and botanical literature. In the spirit of that, I thought I would type out a passage from Wade Davis' One River, in which talking botany becomes something like aesthetic mysticism. I will warn you that there's a swear (gasp) in it, as well as something that reads, when out of context, like pantheistic psychedalia near the end, but otherwise it's quite fascinating:

As the afternoon wore on, the conversation turned to botany and in particular a new book that made a great fuss about house plants responding to music and human voices. For Tim the very idea was ridiculous.
"Why would a plant give a shit about Mozart?" I remember him saying. "And even if it did, why should that impress us? I mean, they can eat light. Isn't that enough?"
He went on to speak of photosynthesis the way an artist might describe color. He said that at dusk the process is reversed and that plants actually emit small amounts of light. He referred to sap as the green blood of plants, explaining that chlorophyll is structurally almost the same as the pigment of our blood, only the iron in hemoglobin is replaced by magnesium in plants. He spoke of the way plants grow, a seed of grass producing sixty miles of root hairs in a day, six thousand miles over the course of a season; a field of hay exhaling five hundred tons of water into the air each day; a flower pushing its blossom through three inches of pavement; a single catkin of a birch tree producing five million grains of pollen; a tree living for four thousand years. Unlike every other botanist I had known, he was not obsessed with classification. For him Latin names were like koans or lines of verse. He remembered them effortlessly, taking particular delight in their origins. "When you say the names of the plants," he said at one point, "you say the names of the gods."

Photograph © 2010 Christian H

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