St. Olaf Garden Research and Organic Works

Getting to know the plants

Gloria and I had some spare time before a delivery last Friday, so after all of the eggplants, peppers, squash, and beans had been picked, Gloria had the idea to bond with our plants a little bit. The following observation session made me realize how amazing plants are and how little I know about them!

Gloria plopped down next to an Orient Express eggplant and I hunkered down with a bell pepper. At first my attention mostly was directed towards the fruit, just noticing the folds and sizes and shades of green in the sun. I guess it makes sense that it's what captured my attention first - most of what we've been hoping and working for is the fruit, not big leaves or tasty roots (unless we're talking lettuce or carrots, that is!). But then as my gaze wandered, I saw things I couldn't explain, and then the questions really started rolling. Here are some of my observations/questions about peppers:

All around the ground at the base of my pepper, entire flowers with small peppers beginning to form had just fallen off of the plant, almost as if the plant had sensed that it was putting enough energy into the three huge peppers that were already growing. Can peppers self abort when they sense that they have enough fruit? How much fruit is "enough"?

Some of the leaves starting growing straight out of the main stem but then the leaf stem curves and flips the leaf upside down, especially the older, larger leaves towards the bottom of the plant. How does this affect the stomata and gas exchange?

There were a variety of insects clambering on my particular pepper plant, but none of them seemed to be munching on leaves or the fruit itself. I wondered why this was, so I took a nibble of a pepper leaf myself. No wonder nothing was eating it! It was incredibly bitter. What chemical give it such a bitter taste, and does it deter insects?

Later I joined Gloria at her eggplant. Eggplants, at least the Orient Express variety, are covered with very fine tufts of purple spikes all over the leaves and stems! Also, we hypothesized that the purple color has to do with sun exposure because where the cap (what is the term for that??) covers the eggplant, it's white or pinkish underneath. Also, there are large, sharp thorns on the stem as well. They're too big to deter insects (they would just crawl all over them), so I'm wondering what kind of animals the eggplant had to ward off during it's evolution...

And then there are tomatoes!! The viney green stem is covered with a fine mist of a golden, brassy colored liquid that rubs off easily and quickly dries into a yellow powder on your fingers. What the heck is that? What evolutionary purpose has it served? We had to tear ourselves away to make the delivery....

This whole summer I've been too busy or rushed to look closer and I've missed a whole other world going on around me.

So here is Christopher Uhl (Author of Developing Ecological Conciousness) inspired activity: head outside, find a plant, and just sit with it. Cultivate curiosity by asking questions - what insect made that hole? Why? Where did it go? Why are these flowers this color? And so on. You'll probably find, like I did, that the intricacy of plants is surprising and something worth observing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

it is beautifully written, and although I have no appreciation whatsoever for your subject, I was captivated. I live on the second floor of an apartment building in Brussels. If I hunkered down to my nearest squash I'd be taken in for questioning.

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