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A Plant's-Eye View Of The World

Listen to Ketzel talk To Michael Pollan - Part One Listen to Part One of Ketzel's Morning Edition interview with author Michael Pollan about his new book, The Botany Of Desire.

Listen to Ketzel talk To Michael Pollan - Part Two Listen to Part Two of the report on Michael Pollan, Ketzel tells the story of how a weed from Kazakstan evolved into the most American of fruits -- the apple.

Michael Pollan with a potato-eating grin
Michael Pollan with a potato-eating grin

And why wouldn't this man be smiling. Michael Pollan is an original thinker and a compelling writer who's just published a provocative new book (never mind that he can also sell it; the guy's got the gift for gab). In this particular pix, he's up to his elbows in genetically modified potatoes -- a bumper crop that the author couldn't bring himself to eat.

Writer cultivates fertile ground
Writer cultivates fertile ground
"For several weeks late that summer my NewLeafs remained in a shopping bag on the porch. Then I took the bag with me on vacation, thinking maybe I'd sample them there, but the bag came home untouched - except, that is, for one potato I'd taken out of it. A fishmonger had told me about a Martha Stewart tip for keeping grilled fish from sticking to a barbecue: rub the grill with a raw potato sliced down the middle. It works, by the way."      from The Botany of Desire

Pond by Nature? Nope. Pond by Pollan.
Pond by Nature? Nope. Pond by Pollan.

If you look really, really closely into this bucolic scene that is Pollan's Connecticut garden, you'll see his Writing House, where the man mixes his words. The entire landscape is his laboratory, where Pollan studies nature -- and horticulture, philosophy, religion, architecture -- whatever the work-in-progress demands.

During our long afternoon chat (perched on a big rock outside the Writing House), Pollan and I covered a lot of ground: how the old stone walls in his garden, signatures of the New England landscape, were built not simply to create property boundaries but to get all those stones out of the field; how the tulip has changed its face (the shape of its petals, the size of its bloom) to suit the culture it seeks to please; and how John Chapman, radical environmentalist, has been safely Disneyfied into the simple, affable Johnny Appleseed.

All these ideas and at least a thousand more wend their way through The Botany of Desire (I'm not getting a kickback, honest). I can't possibly do them justice here. If you'd like to know more about the way this man thinks (call it, Being Michael Pollan), here's a couple of links to the subjects he pursues... into the ground.

  • The New Scientist for up to date information on genetically modified foods.
  • The Plant Genetic Resources Unit at Cornell University maintains the world's largest collection of apple trees. Here lies the real future of the apple (the subject of our second conversation).
  • The North American Fruit Explorers, Inc. is devoted to genetic diversity in all sorts of fruit. Doesn't look like the website is entirely up to date, but its links offer ample food for thought.
  • The Union Of Concerned Scientists has a website highly recommended by Pollan, who also suggests --
  • The Marijuana Uses Web site. Don't get the wrong idea, what he loves is the article by Carl Sagan that Pollan thinks is "totally fantastic." Marijuana, incidentally, is one of the four plants explored in Pollan's book.

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