Monday, May 17, 2010

Why Does Michael Pollan Hate Orchids?

Does Michael Pollan hate orchids?  Strong evidence leads me confidently to this conclusion.  

Pollan's collection of gardening essays Second Nature fails to mention orchids, despite the fact that they're one of the largest families of flowering plants.  His essay on antique roses was fascinating, but I have no idea why refuses to give orchids equal treatment. 

You might ask, "what about his 2009 National Geographic article about orchids?"  Well, if orchids had legal standing to sue, they might have a good libel case.  "Nature's version of the inflatable love doll?" Must orchids be reduced to their sexuality?  Pollan also suggested that there's a "strong sexual subtext" in orchid fanaticism.  He said that learning about orchids' adaptive reproductive strategies can lead one to "admire them more but, perhaps, love them less," and concluded that humans have become "orchid dupes."  Sure, it was a well-written article that will, more likely than not, generate interest and enthusiasm about our beloved plants.  But -- if you read between the lines -- Michael Pollan is saying that orchids are little sluts and their fans have some serious Freudian hangups. 

The final piece of evidence comes from the Botany of Desire PBS video.  During my fourth viewing the other night I noted his fleeting reference to orchids during his discussion of marijuana cultivation. He said something like, "I realized that the best and most innovative gardeners of my generation -- they aren't orchid growers, there're not growing roses -- are growing pot."  Here, his anti-orchid bias shines through.  Pollan knows that there are over 100,000 registered orchid hybrids.  Some represent crosses from recently-discovered species, while others have breeding lines that stretch back to the 19th century.  Orchid hybridizing represents a beautiful fusion of science and art, and it has a long history.  Pollan's comment felt like a deliberate, hateful, insult.  He made my baby Cattleya hybrids cry.  They're only seedlings after all. 

I write this as a fan of Michael Pollan.  He needs to write a complete book about orchids and not tease us with these brief essays that are so prone to misunderstanding. I think orchids need Michael Pollan and, perhaps more importantly, Michael Pollan needs more orchids. 

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