Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Possibly-Obvious Philosophical Musings on Plant Cultivation, and the Naturalness Thereof

Lyonara cv. (Schomburgkia undulata x Sophrolaeliocattleya Rojo)

I was reminded a couple weeks ago that there are people out there who have problems with hybrid plants (orchids in particular) just because they're hybrids. (See both the original post by The Phytophactor, and the comment by A. L. Gibson.)

In both cases, the objection seems to be that the plants aren't "real," by which they mean occurring in nature. (Whatever our other differences, I think we can all agree that hybrid orchids are not imaginary.) The Phytophactor calls them "unnatural contrivances," and points out that there's nothing particularly difficult about making a hybrid orchid: what keeps them from interbreeding freely in the wild is their requirement for very specific pollinators, so if people can bypass that requirement and create thousands of peculiar new crosses, it's hardly a surprise, and if I'm reading him correctly, he also considers the whole business unnecessary. We already have lots of pre-made orchids, just lying around on trees and growing in fields and what have you, that look all kinds of different ways and do all kinds of different things: what do we need with more of them?

Gibson is even less charitable, and says he's only interested in "the real, natural and purpose-driven species in our native soil," and thinks "our native species blow anything in your local garden/flower shop out of the water in both beauty and importance."


So okay. I'm going to just roll my eyes at the idea that the beauty of native wild orchids is relevant to the discussion. Beauty is famously subjective, for one thing, and it's really beside the point whether Phytophactor or Gibson see it in hybrid orchids, because thousands (millions?) of other people do. I mean, I don't really see beauty in Megan Fox's body, hear beauty in Rush's music, or find myself moved by the poetry of baseball games,1 but I'm pretty sure I'm outnumbered on all counts, so I conclude that there's something pretty and interesting there that I am just not able to see.

Fredclarkeara After Dark 'SVO Black Pearl' FCC/AOS.

I think "purpose-driven" and "importance" are a bit off-target as well. Hybrid orchids have a purpose. It happens to be more economic than ecological: they have reshuffled their genes to appeal to human beings, to make us say ooooh, I want to buy that. But it's a reason to exist all the same, and by at least some objective measures, I'd say they're resoundingly successful.2 If your primary interest in plants is ecological, I can see how hybrid orchids wouldn't strike you as important, but I submit that that says more about you than it does about them.

The reason for writing this, though, is because I saw The Phytophactor's post while working on the dyed-orchid post that went up on 29 January. And it occurred to me that objecting to the unnaturalness of dyed orchids is not that far from objecting to the unnaturalness of hybrid orchids. Both are creations of commerce, rather than creations of nature, both appeal to some people even if I may not see it myself, and all that. Which is fairly obvious in retrospect, but it's not a connection I'd made before. And I further realized that if I saw a hybrid phal that looked like "Blue Mystique," odds are I'd be pretty excited about it, even with the bizarre electric/toilet-bowl-water blue color. Even a hybrid phal that only bloomed once and then died, like most bromeliads do naturally,3 wouldn't bother me nearly as much as a dyed phal that blooms once in blue and thereafter in white. So clearly I've got some natural/unnatural hangups of my own.

Phalaenopsis WM Yellow.

This then led to the realization that I've seen people get upset about the "unnaturalness" of lots of different aspects of gardening. There are those poor delusional/demented souls who dislike indoor plants because plants are supposed to be planted in the ground, not in containers, not in a house. I've discovered in the course of writing PATSP that some people hate invasive plants so much they'll even yell at you for saying nice things about growing them indoors, where there's no chance of invading anything. Other people get upset with the (outdoor) planting of non-native species, invasive or not. Some want to talk your ear off about the ridiculous artificiality of perfectly-manicured green lawns.4 There's really no end to it. And my big epiphany was that of course everybody's got some kind of natural/unnatural snobbery that gets under their skin, because: plant cultivation is inherently an unnatural thing to do. Even though we have all agreed to treat it as being a part of nature, and talk about bringing a bit of nature indoors or maintaining a little bit of wildlife habitat in the backyard, there's nothing natural about a scenario where a person decides which plants will be planted, where they go, how and whether they reproduce, etc.

Lyonara cv. (Schomburgkia undulata x Sophrolaeliocattleya Rojo)

Now there's a whole big discussion to be had about whether the word "unnatural" can actually refer to anything, ever, which I will skip because that's headed toward stoned-college-sophomore territory.5 And I don't mean to suggest that because all plant cultivation is inherently unnatural, it necessarily follows that all the ways of cultivating plants are equally desirable. I'm just saying that calling something "unnatural" is not a good enough reason to disapprove of a practice, and maybe we should worry less about natural/unnatural and more about harmful/benign.

Which, honestly, hybrid orchids aren't harmful. And neither are dyed orchids. (Probably.6)

Fredclarkeara After Dark 'SVO Black Pearl' FCC/AOS.

It may be that none of the above is particularly revelatory for you, or that you disagree with it, or that you just can't bring yourself to give a shit one way or the other. Which is fine. But the above train of thought has given me a slightly different perspective about what I find distasteful and why.

I'll miss the stone-throwing, but hey, this is a pretty sweet glass house.

-

Photo credits:
Lyonara and Phalaenopsis: mr_subjunctive, taken at the Illowa Orchid Show, last March at Wallace's Garden Center in Bettendorf, IA.
Fredclarkeara: Taylor Holzer, at the Phipps Conservatory. Used by permission.

1 Or, for the most part, by the poetry of poetry, as far as that goes, though there are occasional exceptions. I think this is mostly due to Sturgeon's Law, and not because there's anything wrong with poetry as an art form.
2 Possible objective measurements of orchid "success:" amount of money generated from their production and sales, total biomass, total number of described species vs. named hybrids. I don't know that hybrids would beat species on all three (I'm not even sure where one would begin trying to estimate numbers for each), but I'm pretty sure they'd win the first.
3 (and like the majority of dyed Phalaenopsis do unnaturally)
4 (Which in fact are pretty ridiculous.)
5 But if you are a stoned college sophomore:
My position is that nothing human beings do is ever really "unnatural:" we're as much a product of nature as anything else. (This is one of the few things you can say that's true whether you're an evolutionist or creationist: either we evolved like everything else, or we were created like everything else. I understand that there used to be a middle ground of sorts, where people believed that everything evolved except humans, who were zapped into existence, but the fossil record shows plenty of progressively more human-like apes, and the Bible, taken literally, is pretty unambiguous about the zapping, so I don't know how anyone ever justified the middle position.a)
Granted, even if the words "natural" and "unnatural" don't actually refer to anything when you look at them from a certain perspective, they're still useful in everyday conversation, and we generally all know what we're talking about when we use them, so I'm not saying the whole concept needs to be thrown out, just that I'm not sure it's a reason to object to anything, unless you're also prepared to dislike whiskers on kittens (animal domestication), bright copper kettles (copper mining, metalworking, fire), warm woolen mittens (animal domestication, knitting, possibly dyeing of yarn), brown paper packages tied up with strings (logging, paper mills, plant domestication), crisp apple streudels (domestication of plants and animals both, plus fire, plus international trade), doorbells (metalworking, mining), sleigh bells (ditto), schnitzel with noodles (plant and animal domestication), or girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes (plant or animal domestication, dyeing, weaving).

a Also, while we're talking about Genesis, I'd just like to point out that according to the Bible, not only is the world's oldest profession not prostitution, as is commonly said, but a good argument could be made for it being taxonomy.
Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. (-Gen. 2:19)
The sad part is that taxonomists still haven't managed to sort all this out yet even though they've had thousands of years to work on it. Tsk tsk.
(I kid the taxonomists! Ha!)
6 Except possibly to the extent that the extra production of dye (or the waste products thereof) might be an environmental hazard. Silver Vase's website says only "This technique has been perfected after many years of research and testing, using naturally derived elements and remaining environmentally conscious." Given that "using naturally derived elements" could be a modified version of anything that occurs on the planet, i.e., any chemical at all, and given that being conscious of the environment, as phrased, just means being aware that an environment exists, I'm not particularly reassured by this statement.
Not that I think Silver Vase is ruining the environment, necessarily: I just don't think we should necessarily take their word for it that they're not. Of course they're going to say they're not.
I have a theory about the exact identity of the blue dye Silver Vase is using for "Blue Mystique," based on the particular shade of blue and the length of time it persists before the plant breaks it down, but am hesitant to say so on the blog without more evidence. Suffice it to say that I suspect I could confirm its identity with materials I already have on-hand (except for the orchid: I'd need a "Blue Mystique"), and that the similarity of "Blue Mystique's" hue to toilet water may not be coincidental. Let me know if this is an experiment you feel like sponsoring; I'm sure I'll see another one for sale relatively soon.


28 comments:

Ginny Burton said...

Another superb post! Excellent arguments and rebuttals, in addition to being really funny. What a great way to begin my morning. Thank you!

But I'm dying to know what was in you comment that was "removed by the author" on the Phytophactor post. (And does "the author" refer to you, or the Phytophactor?)

Also, you omitted "have" from the fourth line from the bottom of the last footnote: "I'd to buy a Blue Mystique"

Otherwise, your post is perfection itself.

Pat said...

Don't encourage the orchid tinters by paying them money, I am happy to believe it is toilet blue.

We just coppiced a straggly and unproductive hazel in the community garden. Immediately someone (who never works on the garden) complained that it was v. ugly. From previous comments we know she would like it to be untouched wilderness. After helping with the cutting of the hazel I thought it looked lovely, tree rings are always fascinating.

Even "wilderness" is often managed by the people who live there. The BBC had a wonderful series called "Unnatural Histories" which detailed the human input to three landscapes; the Amazon, Yellowstone and the Serengeti. Might as well call them gardens.

The reason the Amazon and Serengeti were thought to be romantic wildernesses was that the majority of the people who lived there died at about the time Europeans moved in. In the Amazon it was disease brought by the first explorers that killed more than 90% of the population. In the Serengeti a plague of rinderpest had killed the cattle and therefore the people.

Unnatural Histories

Pat said...

Oh, I am no stoned college sophomore but footnote 5 was hilarious.

mr_subjunctive said...

Ginny Burton:

The "removed by author" was removed by me (had The Phytophactor done it, it would have read "removed by a blog administrator" or something similar, I think). I don't remember precisely what was in it, but I removed it because I realized that I could turn it into the above post, so there was probably nothing there that didn't make it into this.

Joseph Tychonievich said...

Terrific post! I keep thinking I have a lot of stuff to say about it, but then I start typing things like "art requires restriction" and it sounds silly, so I'll leave it in my head.

Ed Kramer said...

Wouldn't agriculture be "unnatural"? Is The Phytophactor a hunter/gatherer? Aren't there natural hybrids? Do he/she object to those too?

Kenneth Moore said...

I don't have such adequate mental filters like Joseph has, so I'm probably going to blather a bit.

It's probably not very shocking that I'm pretty much in whatever camp you'd claim, Mr. S, at least on beauty/naturalness of hybridization. I, too, find lawns to be unappealing, but I enjoy the prospect of "creating" or "discovering" a new plant through crossing what I have growing in my apartment--under fluorescent lights; watered with city-filtered Potomac water, not fresh rain water; roots in pots with a mix of soil amendments (and often very little actual soil) that probably wouldn't be found together in nature.

I have a friend who is a trained horticulturalist and works at the National Arboretum--he usually says something about how I'm a plant torturer, because my indoor plants don't have the optimum environment for growth. So I throw back in his face that he uses perennials as annuals, which die through a normal winter (not this one, though). He lobs back at me that he saves all of those plants in the greenhouse during the winter, but I'm all like "You work for the government and have money to do that professionally, I'm just a poor boy from a poor family." Growing plants in perhaps unideal conditions, although still perfectly acceptable to the plant, is the best I can do--and part of it is experimentation. I want to see what things I can grow that probably shouldn't do well inside, although I'm now at a point where I'm more picky in my selection of plants to things that either stay small or that sprawl and will do well in my environment (not because my opinion has changed, but because it has become necessary due to space concerns).

Anyway, so the point is, as you made but I wanted to share more about, that "natural" and "unnatural" can mean a bunch of different things, and no one will be happy with anyone else's definition at all--and even fellow unnatural-plant-haters may not realize that others find their leather jacket to be quite the object to despise.

But I'm curious--what's your stance on GMOs, Mr. S? I almost feel uncomfortable voicing mine for fear of ostracization (which is one of the weirdest words I've had trouble with trying to pronounce--I don't think I've ever heard it said before, and I had to Google it just to make sure I had it right).

Bee tee dubs: the Fredclarkeara?

Beautiful.

mr_subjunctive said...

Ed Kramer:

Well, the thrust of The Phytophactor's post is really more "I don't see why people bother with these; they're so dull and pointless" than "hybrids are bad and the people who make them should be shot." So I'm pretty sure he would be okay with agriculture, as agriculture serves the useful purpose of keeping him alive. And natural hybrids would still be of interest, I'm assuming, mainly insofar as their intermediate characteristics would affect how and by whom they are pollinated.

Diana said...

Here's where I draw the line between OK but (potentially) ugly and not OK. If you fool me or a large number of people what you are doing is not OK.

This can be injecting dye to change the color of a plant that I stand a chance (even if it's a slim chance) of getting to rebloom. This includes putting annuals in the perennial section at the garden center (or vice versa), putting the wrong culture information on a tag to encourage me to buy something that will basically not grow well in my garden or not telling me that a plant has the potential to become horribly invasive in either my garden or in the wild area behind my house.

It's the DECEPTION that bothers me most.

But the blue color just looks wrong.

Justin said...

Great post, although I admit that I'm 100 percent behind the Phytophactor on this. I understand the aesthetics of hybridization, but find it uninteresting. Utility to human beings isn't the only thing to be interested in. A hybrid may be pretty, but a species opens up a world of information about the ecosystem in which it evolved.

mr_subjunctive said...

Justin:

In fairness, I never said that utility to human beings was the only thing to be interested in, just that I consider it as legitimate an interest as anything else.

mr_subjunctive said...

Kenneth Moore:

My opinion of GMOs is complex, but overall I come down on the pro-GMO side. (I've tried a couple times to write posts about genetic engineering, but topics where I expect substantial disagreement are always harder to write, because I feel obliged to imagine and respond to every possible objection in the post itself, which means that the posts become monstrous and huge, and I generally run out of enthusiasm for the topic before I get a first draft completed.)

The issues I have with GMOs have very little to do with them being genetically engineered, and everything to do with who's doing the engineering, and to what end. Like, I'm pretty damn contemptuous of Monsanto. I think Roundup-Ready Corn (corn with a gene for resistance to the herbicide glyphosate) is an abomination, not because it's genetically modified, but because its whole raison d'etre is to increase the amount of herbicide being sprayed around. The corn itself is probably fine.

I don't really see a GMO apocalypse happening, as in Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake. (I find some of the creatures she imagines comically unrealistic, as far as that goes.)

I'm not sure whether GMOs pose a greater risk of allergic reactions than, say, hybrids of naturally-occurring species, and expect the increased risk is probably pretty small if it exists. Introducing protein-based toxins is obviously possible with GM tech, but I don't see any incentive for a company to do so in a product aimed for human consumption, so this isn't something I worry about either.

I strongly doubt that GMOs are going to cure world hunger or save entire populations from blindness (as is implied in the promotional stuff for "golden rice"). In fact, I strongly doubt that anybody in the developing world is going to benefit much from GM technology at all. There's no profit in helping people who don't have any money.

I'm puzzled as to why people seem to be concerned about herbicide-resistance genes escaping domesticated plants and appearing in weed species. (The people who object to GMOs also tend to object to herbicides -- if you don't support spraying weeds with herbicides in the first place, then what difference does it make if the weeds would be resistant?)

I strongly support laws requiring that GMO-derived foods be labeled as such. In fact, I'd expand that to include medicines (e.g. insulin), fibers, and anything else. Secrecy benefits the corporations, but not so much the citizens.

I think GM technology, and the possibilities it offers for rapidly introducing novel traits into organisms, may be the only way we're going to continue to have agriculture and climate change at the same time. And since everything seems to indicate that climate change has already happened and is going to continue to get worse, GMOs seem preferable to mass starvation.

Plus GM has the potential to produce all kinds of cool ornamental plants. I realize that shouldn't be my focus, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to what people were going to come up with.

So I guess overall, my take is: I don't have a problem with the technology; I think it has the potential to do all kinds of amazing things. Which is why the last "people" we should be trusting with it are our corporations.

Diane said...

Great post! My knee-jerk reaction against the blue orchids has always been to clutch my hair and moan "No no no it's wrong!!" but maybe I should lighten up. I've bought plenty of plants that flowered once and then died (some because they were annuals, some because I forgot to water them). A blue orchid should be no different. And as a botanist, I'm all for tinkering to see what plants can do, and as an evolutionary biologist I'm all for experimentation via hybridization, introgression, selection, etc. Yes, even GMOs, on a case-by-case basis.
I'm not a huge orchid fan or black flower fan, but that Black Pearl orchid is *incredible*!

Anonymous said...

I loved this post! Thanks for re-considering the whole dyed=abomination thing. I don't normally play devil's advocate, and it was getting pretty lonely trying to defend it. If you thought the blue phals were bad, just wait til you see the ones that have been dyed blood red. They're in a black ceramic pot, staked with black (painted) curly willow.. and they are stunning! Would I buy one for myself? No. But other people see them, and gasp and coo and snap them the eff up. It's all good.

As for orchid hybrids - they most certainly do hybridize naturally, which is why we have at least 25,000 different species of orchids. During the late Cretaceous, as the dinosaurs perished in a mass extinction (along with 80% of plant species), orchids went into a cross-breeding reproductive frenzy, mixing and mingling like it was a 70's Key Party, until they had colonized almost every inch of Earth. Orchid growers creating new hybrids are just capitalizing on what those free wheeling floozies are more than willing to do ... naturally.

Jenny

Anonymous said...

"Dogs are unnatural and unreal, and therefore uninteresting. And don't you dare pet one!"

Really, there's only one place I'd like to offer an objection to your otherwise exquisitely rigorous logic, and it's on a tangential opinion:

"I've discovered in the course of writing PATSP that some people hate invasive plants so much they'll even yell at you for saying nice things about growing them indoors, where there's no chance of invading anything."

It's that "no chance" that's not true. Never underestimate the power or probability of the unanticipated SNAFU.

I've twice used invasive plants in decorating clients' home interiors. In both cases, they were highly motivated to dispose of them properly, and were informed about how to do so. And in BOTH cases viable propagules STILL wound up in the landscape, creating new maintenance headaches for them and their neighbors.

Never again.

Don

Justin said...

Mr Subjunctive:

I understand your point, which is why I enjoyed the post.

The late Eric Christenson said (I'm paraphrasing) that communication is the key between bridging the divergent worlds of horticulture and botany.

I was going to expound on how I feel about hybridization and species, but my thought process quickly devolved into a philosophical treatise on the meaning and purpose of art...

Suffice it to say, hybrids feel very one dimensional to me; beauty for beauty's sake.

mr_subjunctive said...

Jenny:

I suppose I'd have to see one, but blood red doesn't sound nearly as bad as toilet-bowl blue. I mean, red is at least in the general neighborhood of orchid colors. (More of a purple-red than orange-red, but still.)

Don:

Perhaps "minimal" chance, then? (In context, I was referring to Ardisia elliptica, in Iowa: even if propagules made it into the environment, they wouldn't last more than seven months before being killed by a freeze. Which I think qualifies as no chance. But point taken.)

Which plants were you talking about in your situation? Was one of them Hedera helix?

Paul said...

It has come up as topic for conjecture on a couple of forums I frequent about how successful plants are in seducing animals to play a vital role in the plant's reproduction. In some cases, the plant's seductive techniques are so developed that the pollinator gains little to nothing in the way of compensation for the vital role it has played. (Exhibit A: The various carrion flowers pollinated by flies.)

This sexual seduction is so powerful that even humans -- who should be far too intelligent to fall for such blatant schemes -- often merrily go along pollinating plants, as well as sometimes going to great lengths to provide plants with "happy" homes the plant would normally never be able to inhabit. (Exhibit B: African violets living in Montana and North Dakota. Heck, ANYTHING surviving a Montana or ND winter! brrrr!)

Of these talented seducers, many have opined, few match the capabilities of the members of the orchid family. Such is their talent for persuasion, that they have successfully duped many a human into going to great lengths to provide the plants with 'suitable' accomodations. (Exhibit C: Many of the orchid enthusiasts who grow the chilly temperature loving members of the Pleurothallid Alliance such as Masdevallias & Draculas.) Or we can look at the humans lured into be sexual accomplices -- even when the sexual act is incredibly awkward for the hulking biped. (Exhibit D: People who pollinate Paphiopedilums or Phragmidiums)

Now, we can submit the following philosophical bone upon which to exercise our maxillae & mandibles ... is this diabolocal seduction of humanity by a family of the plant kingdom "natural"? We obviously gain nothing tangible in the basic sense -- no building materials, textiles, nor food (disregarding a few exceptions). Yet orchids have managed to insinuate themselves into many aspects of humanity's day to day life. Witness their ubiquitous presence in markets, or how frequently they can be seen demurely striking a seductive pose in the background of many tv and movie sets. "Natural"? ....

Having said this, I would still have to say the blue dyed abominations -- like a bunch of cheaply painted trollops -- would fit the bill of "unnatural". While the hybrids man has developed are typically not found in nature that is true, they are still within the bounds of what genetics will naturally allow. Injections with blue dye are certainly not within such "natural" perimeters.

Btw Mr.S, I also enjoyed your footnote #5 but have babbled long enough without going into that. Could be a fun topic over an alcoholic beverage though.

mr_subjunctive said...

Paul:

I'd say the manipulation by orchids on humans is natural. I mean, if orchids trading favors with bees is natural, then it seems to me like the only way to call orchids trading favors with humans[1] unnatural is if everything humans do is just automatically unnatural.[2]

-

[1] (and I consider esthetic appreciation a "favor," however intangible: people are willing to pay for otherwise useless flowers; when we make things we find pretty, we won't shut up about how great they are; we'll pay other people to make things pretty for us -- painting walls, landscaping, interior decorating, etc. It's clearly got value.)
[2] Which might seem reasonable until you think about sex, childbirth, breastfeeding, and the like.

davelybob said...

+1 for the Theodore Sturgeon reference.

Derek said...

I agree with you, as always, but I just wanted to add one thing: Orchids (and many other plant species) DO in fact hybridize in the wild. And many orchids that are now considered species started out as hybrids. So there is nothing "unnatural" about hybrids. It's all just pollen, baby. Sexy, sexy pollen.

Tom said...

I loved this post. I pretty much spot on agree with you on all counts (including the things you don't see beauty in). I just hate how the plant communities feel the need to attack every other plant community because CLEARLY they're right and everyone else is wrong. God dammit I will grow my (invasive in places Ficus altissima next to my (invasive in places) Hibiscus tiliaceous and have plantlets of Kalanchoe growing EVERYWHERE because you know what? I grow them inside, none of them are hardy and quite frankly I love the look of my jungle of plants. If Cindy Lou Native Ass-Face wants my indoor garden dead because of it's unnaturalness she can just kiss my ass. I hate turf grass but I don't go around telling everyone to rip it out.

Andrew Abl─Śnas said...

I have absolutely no problem with all these "un-natural hybrids". *rolls eyes* I do however hate that they dye those orchids blue and don't clearly say so. It more bothers me as being misleading to the customer. Some people do take care of their plants enough to have them for years. A consumer would generally expect the plant to bloom blue again. That's the reason for purchase. If they clearly label their product as dyed I have no complaints. I'll never buy one because it won't last but other people are free too.

Thomas said...

Great post, and great comments.

Most indoor plants are selected for indoor growing from vigorous seedlings or sports. Indoors is where many of us because of climate, work, physical ability, or inclination will spend much of our time. And many people will never have access to land or a greenhouse for gardening. Bums me out to hear anyone who works with plants discouraging others from growing and learning about plants because they're doing it the "wrong way", or it's "unnatural".

My issue with dyed, spray painted, glittered and glue gunned-straw flowered plants is the message that they're just spontaneous decorative touches (i.e., disposable crap). Why bother learning how to keep it alive when your going to toss it?

Anonymous said...

The dyed blue orchid vs human created hybrid is exactly like the Grapple vs the Honey Crisp apple.

The Honey Crisp apple was hybridized by a University but is extremely popular because it is sweet and crispy. The Grapple is an apple infused with artificial grape flavoring. It is sold in a plastic container with other fresh fruit at your local supermarket. It seems almost like a joke.

Anonymous said...

I'll concede that growing Ardisia elliptica in Iowa is completely unobjectionable. Invasiveness isn't an inherent property of the plant, but a matter of how the plant acts in a particular ecological context. I read your statement as implying that if a plant's in someone's house anyone can guarantee that propagules aren't going to wind up in the surrounding landscape.

In my case, I was talking about Celastrus orbiculatus (cut branches, in fruit) and Lysimachia nummularia (live plants in pots). In the Massachusetts landscape they're huge problems. Actually, the sale of both is now illegal here, and I'll go on record here with my approval.

Hedera helix isn't an invasive problem in the Northeast. It IS a HUGE problem in the Pacific Northwest.

Don

NotSoAngryRedHead said...

I've yet to see a good argument for why something is inherently "wrong" or "bad" due to it being "unnatural". I'm sure you can think of a few other examples where the old "But it's just not natural" argument is used beyond gardening-related topics.

Your dislike of dyed orchids reminds me of this idea of being "fooled". For instance, if you see a dinosaur exhibit, you want the bones to be real, not fake even if the fake ones are exact replicas of the real thing and you would never know the difference as a museum guest unless you knew they were fake. The fake dinosaur bones don't feel the same as seeing real bones even if you rationally know it doesn't really make a difference as far as a museum exhibit goes. It's the same with a dyed orchid. This is a real phenomenon, but I forget what it's called.

Wade said...

I do have to say that I come down against hybrids. This is to say, I have no problem with other people growing them and enjoying them, but you will never find a hybrid in my personal collection. The main reason is that my interest in plants is very much based in botany and environmental studies, not commercial horticultural motivators. I enjoy growing plants that are unusual, bizarre, unique, and sometimes plain ugly (well, according to what the industry seems to think).

I'm glad that people in my local orchid society bring in quadrageneric Frankensteinian monstrosities like Brassosophrolaeliocatley. They are pretty to look at during the meetings, and then I never have to see it again. I, on the other hand, am likely to bring in a Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis if ever I can find and bloom one. To me the unique (and foul smelling) characteristics of that plant are more interesting.

What this comes down to is a question of function. What is the reason a particular person grows plants? I grow them because I'm constantly amazed and fascinated by the ingenious variety that nature has produced, and I want to teach other people about how awesome it is. Other people grow complex Oncidium alliance intergenerics because they want a beautiful spray of purple flowers and they want their house to smell nice. I have no problem with this latter approach, but it is certainly not one I would ever be interested in. Understanding that people growing indoor plants come from very different places horticulturally is important in a topic like this.

I would also like to point out that underlying this discussion is an unexamined set of terms and concepts which we must not let ourselves passively accept. A "species" is a concept created by humans. It is a linguistic structure applied to a population of individuals which we have decided ought to be grouped with one another. The plants themselves do not recognize the concept of "species" or "genus," etc. This is illustrated by the fact that taxonimists (whom I love dearly) constantly vacillate on what they deem an independent species, and what is a subspecies, variety, color form, isolated mutation, etc. There is a great deal of constant traffic among genera within the orchid family. If genera appear and disappear with regularity, why is it that we continue to insist that a term like "species" denotes a stable and discrete category?

The other major term I would take issue with is "purity," which I believe haunts this debate, even if it was never actually used. Nature does not have an originary "purity" which we humans have despoiled. People seem to think that somewhere out there there exists the Platonic ideal of Dendrochilum magnum, that somewhere in the tropical jungle one could stumble across the perfect, complete, whole, and pure specimen, the template off which all others are based. There is no true, originary, pure ideal, only a finite number of individuals.

Yet, I must reiterate the fact that I am personally much in favor of cultivating "species" of plants rather than their hybrids. I am interested in how the plants evolved and continue to exist in nature. I feel that representing the work of evolution as it is can be a great service to education and conservation. The Fredclarkeara in the post is a stunningly beautiful chimaeric beast.