Going Seedless

vitis labrusca - grapes @tacomawa 14oct07 lah 004I sat munching my seedless grapes, enjoying the sweet juices. I bit one in half, and focused on the tiny, immature lumps that would have been seeds in another variety. I’ve always taken seedless grapes for granted, but now I wondered—why didn’t the seeds develop in this cultivar? It clearly goes against a plant’s nature to grow fruit without seeds.

And what about watermelon? Is the same process involved? And those name brand tangerines we just polished off didn’t have seeds either. These days, even bananas are seedless. I miss the little black dots that used to decorate my banana bread. Then there are seedless tomatoes and cucumbers, two more fruits, at least from a botanist’s perspective. I had never stopped to consider how many seedless fruit crops are now available.


What are your flowers up to?

sex-in-your-gardenSex in your Garden, by Angela Overy

“In gardens, beauty is a by-product. The main business is sex and death.” —Sam Llewelyn

With the accuracy of a botanist and the flair of a Madison Avenue advertising agency, Angela Overy (yes, that’s her real name) has produced an exceptional guide to plants and sex. Lest you think this is a dull subject, let me assure you that you will be fascinated by her lurid descriptions of the myriad ways plants manage to achieve pollination.

As living things that can’t get up and pursue a mate, you would think plants are at a disadvantage when it comes to reproduction. Reading this book will dispel any such notions. Colors and scents are just the beginning. Some plants go to great lengths to please a pollinator, others actually eat those who try to help them. Bats, beetles, birds and, amazingly, possums join the ranks of those who do the plants’ dirty work. Even people get into the act.

I particularly love the way Overy juxtaposes photographs of flowers with pictures of models, largely taken from advertising. It seems that life is largely about selling, and we’re all going about it in the same way. Tantalizing forms, bright colors, offers of rewards … isn’t that how we make things attractive?

Enjoy this book and I promise—you’ll never again consider flowers in quite the same light.

Hand-Pollinating Zucchini

It’s time to learn about sex. Oh, you think you already know all about that? OK, but how much do you know about making baby zucchinis?

Perhaps your zucchini (or other squash) plants are producing plenty of flowers, but no squash. Or, maybe they start to grow little squashes but then the babies turn yellow to brown, get all wrinkled, and fall off. What’s wrong? It’s highly likely the problem involves zucchini sex.

All squash plants (and related crops such as cucumbers) produce two kinds of flowers, male and female. Here’s how to tell them apart: