The Botany of Desire

The Botany of Desire

2009, Science  -   38 Comments
Ratings: 8.61/10 from 153 users.

They are four of the most ordinary plants. We've always had this idea that we are in charge, but what if, in fact, they have been modeling us? We don't give enough recognition to plants. They have been laboring on us, and they've been utilizing us for their own goals. There are four plants that have walked the road to accomplishment by fulfilling human ambitions. The tulip, by satisfying our longing for a certain kind of attractiveness, has gotten us to take it from its basis in Central Asia and distribute it around the world.

Marijuana, by satisfying our ambition to change awareness, has gotten us to risk our lives and freedom, in order to produce more of it. The potato, by fulfilling our desire for mastery, the control over surrounding, so that we can nourish ourselves has gotten itself out of South America and extended its range far beyond where it was long time ago. And the apple, by satisfying our appetite for sweetness, begins in the woods of Kazakhstan and is now the worldwide fruit. These are great champions in the game of domestication.

The bee believes it's getting the best of the deal with the blooming apple. It's getting in, it's taking the nectar and has no sense that it's picked up the pollen and is transferring it to another location. For the bee to assume that it's in charge of this friendship is really just a lack of success of bee's insight. We have the same failure of imagination. We are too working for the potatoes in some sense. We are planting them, we are giving them a habitat, and in the same time we think we're calling the shots.

Wouldn't it be appealing to look at our connection to domesticated plants from the plants' perspective? Of course, plants don't have awareness or goals, but by using our consciousness we can put ourselves in their roots to see things from their angle. When we do that, nature unexpectedly looks very different. We become aware that we're in the nature's web, not outside of it. These plants are reflectors in which we can see ourselves in a different way.

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Alexander von Hildebrand
2 years ago


5 years ago

It's an interesting thought but it doesn't add up if we think about it. I mean what does that say about the meat we eat? Do the cows and pigs WANT to be mistreated and abused in industrial breeding facilities, and the chicken want to be cramped up in close buildings? just so that they ensure their survival of their specie?

5 years ago

incomplete.. should be 1hr42mins long

5 years ago

Too many mistakes in this documentary, not going to name them all but really??... Bees are unaware they take pollen???? apparently that person knows nothing about bees and the importance of pollen to the beehive..

6 years ago

I don't understand all the comments here opinionizing about which plant is most interesting or discussing the legalization of marijuana. None of that is to the point- which should be, how worthwhile is the video? I am a teacher of AP biology and have shown this for several years. Its a great combination of information about evolution, human agriculture, and ecological principals, nicely wrapped in a package of familiar, relevant plant examples that the audience will think about in a new way. Beautifully done. Forget the politics.

7 years ago

There is only 40min of the doc. here! where is the rest?

7 years ago

very interesting doc, well worth a watch, giving different perspective of plants throughout history,

as an irish person i feel certain important points about the famine were left out, yes there was a monoculture in the cultivation of the 'lumper' potato, for its high yields. But at the same time as people were starving and dying, they were tending crops of grain and vegetables, which were cash crops, being exported to england. The common people were largely tenant farmers (resulting from the harsh colonial regime in which lands were taken from the irish); they were forced to scratch out what little subsistence they could out of tiny plots, and so people became reliant on potatos.

a wee bit of history there for ya folks

8 years ago

Can anyone tell me why it only lets me watch 40 minutes? I tried the 'next' button but it doesn't do anything.

Todd Morrow
8 years ago

"How plants reproduce a whole lot" by Michael POLLEN.

David Simon Safir
9 years ago

One of the best Documentary's on the site.

9 years ago

I believe the Coca plant and the Poppy (especially the poppy actually) have both done themselves service by being useful to humans, at least as much so as MJ. I've always argued with vegetarians (mostly playfully, but also with an absolutely open mind insomuch as being willing to admit what I don't know) they've no idea if they're causing pain to a plant, or if vegetation has more awareness of what's being done to them than we give them credit for. That is, why is it okay to kill a plant, but not an animal? I mean, we have MORE than enough evidence plants react positively to positive human attention. Certainly that alone has to give one pause as to the possibility plants "think."

9 years ago

One family of plants that might well also be mentioned is the Grass family, AKA cereal grain plants - such as wheat, rice, millet or maize. They are certainly also being spread ferociously by humans; probably over the largest areas of all cultivated crops, or maybe even the totality of areas on Earth that have been adopted for human activity.

9 years ago

The "right wing" loves tulips the "left wing" loves roses?

9 years ago

I fail to understand why rose was not in the list ???

9 years ago

I just popped in to say this is one of my favourite documentaries ever made.

Luyang Han
9 years ago

Nice doc, especially about discussion of monoculture.

9 years ago

The book was great, good 2hrs rendition of it.

9 years ago

Good doc.

A big mystery for me though is why the governments around the world haven´t picked up earlier on legalizing marijuana.

It´s a great income for them. It costs the society 1000s of % less in money in comparance with what alcohol costs the society. (car accidents, murder, assaults, the list goes on and on and on, almost everything being taken cared of by either the legal system or the medical system (or both) is alcohol related...)

And if you want to believe some conspiracy theorists, it´s the perfect "medicine" to keep the population docile.

Not to mention it makes people feel good of course... :)

8/10 on doc.

9 years ago

I quite enjoyed this doco, fairly light and easy watching, with some interesting bits of information.

9 years ago

The day will come to pass when all you naysayers will look on the glory of the apple-tulip-maryj-spud hybrid and praise the glory and saviour of all humanity that is Monsanto. Hallelujah!

edit: I'm joking.

Michael Douglas
9 years ago

Great documentary but the dude slurping the various apples and trying to talk is just gross.

9 years ago

I wondered about why Johnny Appleseed planted seeds. Could it be so that the pioneers who came after would have a compatible fruit tree to graft onto? Since it was the law that you had to plant apple trees to prove that you were a legitimate settler, the apple saplings would have been readily available to buy on site and you could graft onto the transplanted trees the more desirable types of apple sprigs when it was convenient. Land speculators wouldn't have to carry apple sprigs with them, either, to prove that they were legit settlers. They could plant the Johnny Appleseed saplings, purchased locally, to show they were settlers and then sell the farm later for a good profit. Just a thought...or two.