Back in 2009, The Botany of Desire was on PBS and I watched it. It was an exploration of the human-plant relationship.

I know I was attracted to the title, which sound like the title to an interesting poem.

It featured  Michael Pollan and was based on his best-selling book, The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World. It does view things from the plants’ point of view.

do plants, he wondered, use humans as much as we use them?

John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) is used to illustrate how the apple’s sweetness and its role in making an alcoholic cider made it appealing to settlers moving west. That increased the plant’s range. But human manipulation has also weakened the plant and he says that “modern apples require more pesticide than any other food crop.”

With the tulip, which in 17th-century Holland created a maniacal demand for varieties. It turns out that the different markings that made the tulip attractive are caused by a virus which needed to be encouraged and controlled.

When Pollan visited the Monsanto company headquarters, he found out that some potato seeds had been genetically engineered to produce their own insecticide. He planted some of their NewLeaf brand potatoes in his garden and they worked as advertised. He also found out that the NewLeaf plants themselves are registered as a pesticide by the EPA and that federal law prohibits anyone from reaping more than one crop per seed packet.

Recently, I picked up the book at the library. Of course, it is far more expansive than the program, but both focus on four familiar species – the apple, the tulip, marijuana and the potato – plants that evolved to satisfy our yearnings for sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control.

You can watch the program on Amazon Instant Streaming (I was able to watch it free because I am an Amazon Prime member) and it is also available on DVD.

Here is a little sample from the program