The Unassuming Necessity

Pollan, Michael.  2002.  The Botany of Desire.  pg. 4-59.  Random House Trade Paper Backs, United States of America.

Botanically, a fruit is no more than a maturing, fleshy ovary that encapsulates the seeds of a flowering plant.  Just as the flower is defined as a bisexual organ of the anthophyta, this definition does little to truly capture both the beauty and innate captivating ability these structures have on the animal kingdom.  The botanical definitions provide insight on what these structures are from the reproductive point of view, but the reality of how these structures truly influence us as animals is very different.  Pollan discusses this at length, and his first chapter uses the apple as his example.  It’s attractive colour, enticing fragrance and a crisp sweetness that is truly of unmatched desire.

Pollan has broken down “The Botany of Desire” into key points, indicating how each plant’s features has acted on our psyche at a conscious and subconscious level.  When discussing the apple, Pollan states the apple has historically acted on our senses of desire profoundly.  However, he does note earlier in the book that the apple is not alone, many botanical specimens have actively seduced us into a relentless pull of desire.  His example, the apple, is one such example of a particularly attractive fruit.  Pollan states that when the apple was a new, revolutionary crop that was coveted heavily, sweetness had a much different connotation.  “Like a shimmering equal sign, the word sweetness denoted a reality commensurate with human desire: it stood for fulfilment” (p. 17).  Pollan describes that the advent of such a remarkable fruit was so influential because its sweetness was so infatuating.  He discusses that “sweetness” had a “noble” quality to it, and as such, we extrapolated that quality onto the apple.  Whether we knew it or not, we likely looked up to the apple; its crisp sweetness was unparalleled.  Though it may seem absurd, in some way we had an incredible appreciation for this gift that is so delicately wrapped in a radiant, shimmering skin.

Though we have been seduced and now actively cultivate countless plants for numerous reasons, it would be ignorant to suggest that the apple (and other fruits) had been dragged into this.  In many ways, flowering plants gift wrap their offspring for animals to take.  It’s a hard life for a seed, and most seeds aren’t terribly attractive, so instead, plants have actively preyed on our senses: our desire to consume and control what we need or love.  I have personally fallen victim to this countless times.  I used to cook with my mother frequently when I was younger, and I would often comment on how pretty the vegetables and fruits we used were.  I think the first time I saw an eggplant was the moment the plant kingdom seduced me so successfully.  It’s a fruit with such a unique colour, a mesmerizing deep purple.  It’s a firm fruit, but soft enough to the touch to really make you wonder what it tastes like.  Eggplants from the grocery store are often curved slightly, something unique to eggplant as far as the fruits we consume go, and the sepals gently hug the proximal end of the fruit.  It really is a magnificent structure.  Its shape, colour, and form are tremendously unique.  The eggplant quickly sucked me in; it was a marvel of nature to my younger self and something truly unique.

Though I’ve had this in mind for awhile, it’s hard to look at a fruit or flower now without thinking about how much this plant has fooled and seduced us animals into breeding them.  Plants are likely natures greatest artists, but they are an organism without the eyes to appreciate their creations.


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