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.
Metereca: Crossing the Divide
4 hours ago in Catalogue of Organisms