Field of Science

Ask a botanist, dummy

Nobody ever has a botanist around when they need one, and nobody ever thinks they need one. Nobody ever asks a botanist for answers to botanical things. (I told the local poison control center MDs that if I ever see them thumbing through a Peterson field guide again attempting to ID a plant some kid had eaten I'd scream. Imagine what an MD would do if they found me drawing a line an someone's belly while consulting a step-by-step pictoral guide to an appendectomy! And I know more about vertebrate anatomy than they know about botany.) And very few people ever take enough botany, heck, any botany, to know even the simplest things. So here’s some botanical stupidity of the most basic sort.

A British military campaign in Afghanistan is reported to have seized “1.3 tonnes of poppy seeds destined to become part of the opium crop that generates $400m a year for the Taliban”. Now that is one heck of a lot of poppy seeds. “Major Rupert Whitelegge, the commander of the company in charge of the area, tugged at one of the enormously heavy white sacks. "They are definitely poppy seeds," he said emphatically.” But of course they weren’t poppy seeds but mung beans. This was determined after an “analysis of a sample carried out by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation in Kabul…”

Right. I don’t know how many nanoseconds it would have taken me to recognize mung beans, but it’s faster than I can say “bean”. What kind of damned analysis is necessary to identify a mung bean? “Dr Samuel Kugbei, the chief FAO technical adviser in the Afghan capital, said: "We have been waiting all day to see these dangerous materials …and now we see that they are just mung beans!" Good old Dr. Kugbei is sounding like one of those MD type doctors who avoided botany like the plague in college. And it raises the question of what kind of technical advisor working for the UN’s FAO who wouldn’t recognize mung beans? He's technical advisor on food and agriculture who doesn't recognize major crop plants?

And of course, poppy seeds themselves aren’t dangerous in any way, shape, or form, which is why we put them on rolls and bagels (yes, those poppy seeds!). You have to grow them into poppy plants, and then wound the developing fruits, and then harvest the gummy sap that oozes out (opium) before you have anything dangerous. Mung beans (an Asian native) are a fairly new crop introduction to Afghanistan, so maybe that could explain the ignorance of some government official.

This is just one more example of "military intelligence". “Well, it looked like a grenade at first, but it turned out to just be an ear of corn.” Ha, even the military can’t get away from botanical influences. Grenade is named after pomegranates and the old practice of a bride throwing the fruit on the ground to see how many seeds pop out, which divines how many children she will have.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow you've taken a lot out of context...the confusion doesn't seem to have anything to do with Dr Kugbei...and FYI, pretty sure he has his phd in botany!

Dr A said...

The Phactor does indeed deserve chastisement for not investigating beyond the news story. And if Dr. Kugbei can tell mung beans from a hole in the ground, then I certainly apologize for implying he could not.

Wl said...

Hi! I'm a student. I need your help. I'm searching a botanist and I found you. Can you help me with my research project related to Sansevieria plant. Can you please send me the chemical components of it and can you help me what research proposal i will do in Sansevieria plant. Please. thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm a cosmetic science student doing research on Chayote leaves (sechium edule)for my thesis but i've been having a hard time finding any detailed information on its phytochemical analysis. I was wondering if you could help provide some information about it? thank you very much.
my email is sewook2000@yahoo.co.kr

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Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm a 14 year old biology student and I want to ask you about an idea for a science project. I would like to see the effects of using a lavender tea for insommnia and was wondering what a good recipe for it would be. It can't have any other kind of tea in it, I really only need to know the ratio of lavander to water. Your thought would be greatly appreciated. I was looking all over the internet for a botanist to consult, due to my reluctance to consult my local doctor (because I doubt they would know). My email is wierdchibi@yahoo.com and if you do contact me, please say who you are in the subject line. Thank you for your time.

The Phytophactor said...

This young budding scientist was referred to someone to help with his science project. Although it sounds simple this type of project requires a quite precise experimental design or you find out nothing. If you don't know how much is an effective dose, the dosage becomes your primary treatment, but you need to control for the placebo effect too. And you'll need quite a few insomniacs as willing test subjects as well as a means of quantifying help with insomnia.

Anonymous said...

grass trees living tissues inside them, what is this purpose?? and how are they adapted to fire?

Anonymous said...

Anyone know the name of this plant?

http://pics.livejournal.com/barcann/pic/002wbzh5/s640x480

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm trying to set up two terrariums. They both will consist of carnivorous plants. I am considering Venus fly traps, Sundews, Butterworts, and Sarracenia purpurea. What combinations would be best for optimal growth and beauty. Also where would be a good place to buy them from. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I've noticed that after flowers have been picked, they start smelling differently. For a long time I thought roses at the store smelled horrible. Then I noticed that the lilacs I pick will start smelling the same way a couple of days after I pick them. They change to the wonderful smell of lilacs to a horrible stench. Do flowers give off a death pheromone? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I have a plant called a Photinia fraseri and I was wondering if i could get infromation on it. Such as how big do they get, what facts are unusual about the Photinia fraseri, whats the best way to take care of it,etc.

The Phytophactor said...

Your question about Photinia will be answered in a new post.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I was wondering if you could tell me a big list of all the flowering plants that use c4 photosynthesis. also which ones are available in Washignton state during the fall season. thanks so much!

The Phytophactor said...

See this post on C4 plants in an attempt to answer your question.

The Phytophactor said...

For future reference - if you have a botanical question, the Phactor will attempt to answer, but please email it to him. phytophactor at gmail dot com.

Anonymous said...

Can one type of tree grow through another type of tree?

Anonymous said...

Hello! I've been wanting to grow a perilla plant for the longest time in my backyard so I can eat its leaves with Korean BBQ. I planted some seeds, waited, then left for a trip for a month and returned to vines and bushes of green plants with perilla-like leaves suffocating my garden! However I cannot determine whether these are perilla leaves, the edible sort (mother in law gave them to me). They have smooth edges, so I haven't found any picture that resembles it online. Is there any way I can send you a photo of this is something you can help me with please? I don't want to die from a perilla-leaf look-a-like and BBQ meat.

arjhay said...

Hi!I'm having a trouble identifying the name of a plant. I would really appreciate it if you could help me. I saw a pictue on the internet but its label seems to be wrong. I really need your help. Thanks!:)here is the site:
http://us.123rf.com/400wm/400/400/scootz/scootz0802/scootz080200031/2505564-codiaeum-croton-plant-waxy-maroon-leaves-closeup.jpg

arjhay said...

Hi!I'm having a trouble identifying the name of a plant. I would really appreciate it if you could help me. I saw a pictue on the internet but its label seems to be wrong. I really need your help. Thanks!:)here is the site:
http://us.123rf.com/400wm/400/400/scootz/scootz0802/scootz080200031/2505564-codiaeum-croton-plant-waxy-maroon-leaves-closeup.jpg