Saturday, October 15, 2011

Gone To Seed

I used to think that plants make provisions for their young, that the mother plant takes every measure to ensure that her offspring will take root and live as robustly as she has.  And in some senses this is true.  What's changed is the extent to which I am willing to anthropomorphize plants, to compare in earnest an aster laden with seeds to a human  mother pregnant with triplets.  The biological comparison is an apt one: both are pregnant; both are fulfilling their role in the continuation of the species.  The difference is that humans generally produce one offspring at a time, whereas most plants, as we all know, attempt to make hundreds, hundreds of thousands, even millions of offspring each season.  Behind this fact there is a dreadful conclusion: the infant mortality rate for plants is very high.  This formula holds true across the kingdoms of life: the more direct care a parent can provide to its offspring, to ensure its survival, the fewer offspring it needs to create.  There is nothing sad, however, about an aster laden with hundreds of thousands of seeds that will not become adults.  It's a numbers game, and it looks pretty. 

Last night my friend and I were sitting at the bar at the Dirty Truth.  We'd asked a couple to shift over one seat to their right, thus freeing up two stools to the left of them.  In return, the male half of the couple asked us if we'd pick up their check, which was lying face down on the bar, a position that I have known once or twice.  The man then put a ten dollar bill down on the check and asked me if I'd pick it up now.  I told him that it was still not a good gamble.  Beers at the Dirty Truth average about 6.5 dollars a pint.  I told him that I'd be willing to pick it up if he'd put down a twenty.  He didn't put down a twenty.  The point of this diversion into bar etiquette is amiss, but I think it has something to do with numbers.  Humans tend to choose their mates with the same calculating minds with which they decide if an investment is a good one.  I don't mean to take all the romance out of it, but merely to suggest that our minds, even subconsciously, are constantly evaluating situations, constantly computing outcomes.  Plants don't exactly have this capacity, though the abundance of seeds they create testifies to the fact their odds are very low.  Eons upon eons ago, there may have been plants who showed up at the table without a big enough purse.  Those plants are gone.  I am terribly mixing metaphors here, but there is one thread: those creatures that exist today, i.e. all creatures, can be said to have equally effective strategies for the continuation of their kind.  If I do not father a child, some other human will.  Same with the aster.  

This zinnia is a member of the aster family, Asteraceae.  There are currently 22,750 accepted species of aster.  It's a huge family, and clearly a very successful family.  This pink zinnia, however, is a very civilized member of the family.  Much like a domesticated dog, this zinnia exists because humans involved themselves and continue to involve themselves in its livelihood.  It's a cultivated plant whose enormous pink blooms probably would not have occurred in the wild.  And unlike its wild cousin (top photo), this zinnia does not produce seeds that can be carried off by the wind and dropped around the world.  This zinnia requires me to choose, each year, the most handsome flowers and save their seeds.  Furthermore, I must then manually extract the biggest and strongest seeds from the flower head and plant them in the late spring.  If a seed head is left out all winter, it will produce some seedlings in the spring, but it may produce them too early, encouraged by a warm spell, and because the seed head will not break apart and disperse the seeds, all of the seedlings will grow up in very close quarters, choking one another, much like the children of large families who fight over the last scoop of tuna casserole. 


Seth Landman said...

Jono, you are on some kind of a role here, friend.

BettyZade said...

I like the way your mind ponders things. It's a lot like the way I think to myself. I just never thought one could get away with putting it in a blog so that it would be an interesting read! Kudos to you. And btw... those douchebags wouldn't make room for you at the bar? How rude!