The Suitcase Lady


March 17, 2009, 11:03 pm

“Once again the time of the great sex orgy is at hand.”

Unfortunately, I can’t begin my botany for kids program, which teachers request in spring, with this succinct and scientific statement. America is too puritanical a country for talk of sex, even if it’s between consenting, adult plants.

If you’ve read Barbara Kingsolver’s amazing book, Prodigal Summer, you know where I’m headed here. Spring is all about sex (say “regeneration” if that feels more comfortable), and it is everywhere we look these days.

Thanks to the fact that the Earth in its orbit is tilted 23°, we have seasons. The increasing light in Spring energizes everything, and it’s no secret what we think of when energized.

Eons ago primitive plants had dismal sex lives. That all changed with the angiosperms, the flowering plants that cover the earth now. Flowers have male parts, the stamen, and female parts, the pistil. Since the male needs a bit of help to do his thing, the flower often has bright colors and a tantalizing smell to seduce the helpers or pollinators. After getting stuck to the female pistil, the male pollen grows a tube down to the ovary. The egg is fertilized, and the ovary grows into the fruit with its precious seeds inside.

If plants stopped having sex, we would starve. All of civilization’s major food crops, wheat, oats, rice and corn, are angiosperms. Thank goodness sex (pollen) is in the air!

Too bad basic botany can’t be taught this way. After all, it really does get back to Dick and Jane. Happy Spring!

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