Tag Archives: Agricultural science

All episodes that discuss, relate to, or center around agricultural sciences, including plant science, postharvest, plant genetics, animal science, and other relevant topics.

47: Superfoods VI – Wild Rice, Spirulina, Kombucha, and Acerola

More superfoods! Will wild rice, spirulina, kombucha, or acerola be caped? Will you please vote? Will you wear kombucha scoby?

Wonder Woman kombucha: https://hackspace.raspberrypi.org/articles/wonder-woman-cosplay-made-from-kombucha
Native Wild Rice Coalition: http://www.nativewildricecoalition.com/

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About us
One to Grow On is a podcast that digs into the questions you have about agriculture and tries to understand the impacts of food production on us and our world. We explore fascinating topics including food, gardening, and plant sciences. One to Grow On is hosted by Hallie Casey and Chris Casey, and is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey. Show art is by Ashe Walker. Music is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
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plant cells

45: How Plants Use Water Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

Hallie: Hello and welcome to One to Grow On. A show where we dig into questions about agriculture and try to understand how food production impacts us and our world. My name is Hallie Casey and I studied and currently work in agriculture.

Chris: I’m Chris Casey, Hallie’s dad. Each episode we pick an area of agriculture or food production to discuss and this week we are finally talking about how plants use water.

[Background music].

Hallie: You have been asking me this question for a little while.

Chris: It’s true and we did like what? 10 episodes on water or two or four or something. I don’t know.

Hallie: Only two.

Chris: Okay. We did not answer this question and now we can answer this question and I assume I’ve heard of xylem and phloem, which are the things in the trees and water goes up, water comes down, never a miscommunication.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Yeah, we’re going to be talking about mostly four different roles that water plays in plants and how they work. This is not completely everything that goes on in a plant that involves water because plants are mostly water.

There is a lot that goes on, but these are like the four begins.

Chris: Are they mostly water the same way that we are mostly water?

Hallie: The same way that most things are mostly water, yeah.

Chris: Most of the plant is mostly water. Okay.

Hallie: The first one we’re going to be talking about is structure. Dad, do you know what makes plants stand up?

Chris: Presumably, fiber that our doctors keep telling us to eat.

Hallie: Right. Humans have bones. Bones is what makes us be able to stand up and things like that, but plants do not have bones.

Chris: That would be super creepy if there were a plant with bones, super creepy.

Hallie: Yes, for some plants, it is cell walls. For some plants, it’s not cell walls. Do you know which plants it’s not cell walls for?

Chris: No, bananas would have to be cell walls. I don’t know. What do you even mean? What are you asking me? Like plants that stand up, but not because of their cell walls?

Hallie: We’ve talked about this a little bit in the past. There are different ways we categorize plants, right? One of the ways is between woody plants and herbaceous plants.

Chris: Got it. Are you going to tell me that the woody plants is not their cell walls, but I would argue that woody tissue is still some sort of cell wall. I don’t know.

Hallie: The main thing that keeps woody plants standing up is something called lignin.

Chris: Oh, lignin. I forgot about lignin.

Hallie: Your old friend lignin.

Chris: That’s right. For the listener who hasn’t listened to an episode where we have defined lignin. Lignin is?

Hallie: Oh me?

Chris: Yeah, you.

Hallie: I thought you are going to give the definition of lignin.

Chris: I wish.

Hallie: Lignin is basically like, if you look at branches, trunks, it’s what makes sticks sticky. It’s kind of those crunchier little cells and it gives those trees structure. It’s what builds out woody material. Whereas when you look at something like a banana or a sunflower is a really good example of this, they typically don’t have a lot of that woody tissue and so the thing that is keeping them stood up is water.

Chris: It’s like that old joke. What’s brown and sticky? A lignin based plant structure.

Hallie: A stick with lignin.

[Laughter].

Hallie: We said cell walls, right? I just mentioned water. What do you know about plant cells?

Chris: I know they are cells.

Hallie: Yeah, true.

Chris: I guess for the ones on the outside it’s called cellulose. I don’t know why it’s called cellulose. I don’t know what cellulose is. I don’t know. I got nothing else.

Hallie: Do you know what the largest part of a plant cell is?

Chris: No.

Hallie: The largest part of a plant cell is what’s called the vacuole.

Chris: Okay. That’s a word that was probably on some worksheet in ninth grade biology.

Hallie: [Laughs]. The vacuole is basically the goo of it all. Within a plant cell, you’ve got a mitochondria or two. You have some chloroplasts. You have lots of different things in there. All of that is sitting within the goo of it all, which is the vacuole. We can kind of think about plant cells like a balloon or I guess more accurately like a water balloon, but it’s easier for us to think about it as an airfield balloon because those are the ones that we really see stretched out. A water field plant cell is usually pretty tight. If it’s filled all the way up, those walls are really sturdy. It has a lot of structure to it. It’s not caving in. If you put pressure on it, it’s able to kind of keep its shape. That’s similar to how a cell wall works in a plant if you have a full vacuole. That’s what’s called turgor pressure. It’s that pressure within a cell that’s blowing up those cells. It pushes those cell walls out and it lets the plant stand up, which is why, if a plant isn’t watered enough, it loses that turgor pressure and those cell walls start to collapse in on each other and then that’s when we start to see wilting. It’s because those cells aren’t able to fill up the balloons with all that water.

Chris: I almost feel like saying the vacuole is the largest part of the cell. It’s like saying the biggest part is the part that’s not there.

Hallie: Yeah, I know.

[Laughter].

Chris: Except that it’s goo that requires water to be present.

Hallie: Right. One of the really nice things about this for plants is that water is not a solid right. It lets plants be a lot more flexible. Of course, trees are not as flexible as little bitty flowers on the ground or grasses or things like that.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: But having their structure being made up of water lets them be a lot more flexible for the wind and stuff. If wind comes along, it can blow about in the wind and it’s not going to be breaking because it has a lot more flexibility, which is great.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: That’s the number one thing that plants use water for. That’s like the thing that a lot of the water is. Most of the water in plants is within the vacuole. Another thing that plants use water for is thermal regulation.

Chris: Staying not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

Hallie: Mostly not too hot. Water is not going to keep you super warm, generally speaking.

Chris: Fair enough. Staying cool in the summer.

Hallie: Yeah, staying cool in the summer. This is very important for plants. The plant type term is actually called transpiration. Transpiration is the thing that keeps plants cool. It’s them losing that water off of their leaves. It’s like when we sweat. When you lose that water, the energy it takes to have that water evaporate pulls heat energy off of the plant.

Chris: Right. Heat of evaporation, good stuff.

Hallie: Exactly. This happens through the xylem, which you mentioned earlier.

Chris: Okay. What is that?

Hallie: How much do you know about the xylem?

Chris: I know it’s not the phloem.

Hallie: Is that it?

Chris: That’s it. I think one goes up. One goes down.

Hallie: That is very helpful. The xylem goes up. The xylem is different from the phloem in that the xylem is made up of dead cells, so there’s no actual energy. There’s no living cells that hold the water in the xylem. There’s no energy to move the water. It’s just dead cells and it’s what’s called passive transport.

Chris: Kind of like hair for the plant.

Hallie: Like hair?

Chris: Like hair. Hair’s dead cells, fingernails are dead cells. Now plants have like little fingernails type of stuff.

Hallie: Like how we lose our water through our hair.

Chris: I mean, maybe it doesn’t work quite the same way in animals.

Hallie: Like how our hair is little tubes of water.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: Sorry, I keep thinking about tubes of hair water.

[Laughter].

Chris: Okay. Just to be clear, plants don’t have hair, but the thing that they do have called xylem is dead cells that transports water from the inside of the plant to the outside of the plant.

Hallie: You did just say plants don’t have hair, but in this section we are actually talking about two different types of hair that plants have.

Chris: Oh, great.

Hallie: Let’s look into that. In the soil, you have roots and on the main parts of the roots you have little root hairs. Root hairs are really, really small oftentimes they’re microscopic but they have a lot more surface area than the root itself, so most of the intake and output from the root system is actually happening on those root hairs.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: The way that plants take up water, because again, there’s no energy expended to take up water is just a concentration gradient, which means that the water potential is lower inside of the root hairs than outside in the saturated soil. If there’s a puddle of water on the countertop and you have a dry sponge and you put that dry sponge in the teensiest bit in contact with that, that water is going to slowly move into the sponge, right?

Chris: Yeah, okay.

Hallie: That’s because of a concentration gradient. The water wants to be where water is not.

Chris: It’s exactly the same way in the root of the plant you’re saying.

Hallie: Well, I’m saying inside of the root hair there is going to be a lower water potential than outside. If you’ve just watered, the soil is fully saturated. There’s a lot of water out in the soil itself. That water is going to move to where water is not, which is inside of the root hair.

Chris: Right. The root hair functions the same way a sponge functions basically.

Hallie: In this case, yes. Water molecules H2O are cohesive, right?

Chris: Yes, they adhere to each other.

Hallie: They adhere to each other because they have those little hydrogen bonds. That’s why if you fill a cup up too much, you have a little bubble above the rim of the cup or it’s the same reason why you get droplets of water. It’s because those little molecules of water want to stick to each other. They have this cohesion property.

Chris: They’re like tiny magnets for each other.

Hallie: They’re like tiny little magnets. They love to stick together.

Chris: That’s why little bugs can skate across the ponds.

Hallie: Exactly. It’s the exact same reason. This is kind of wild, so prepare yourself. The way that transpiration works in a plant is you have the xylem. It’s these dead cells. It’s basically like a straw inside the plant. It goes all the way up to the leaves. The sun is shining or the wind is blowing and it pulls off a water molecule from the leaf. Every single water molecule within the plant is stuck together. They have those cohesive properties. As one water molecule gets pulled off of the leaf, it’s pulling one more up through the roots and into the stem. It’s like one big chain of links and it’s just slowly moving up through the plant.

Chris: That makes sense. This sounds similar. Not exactly the same, but similar to when you have a cup of water and you’re in a restaurant and you really want to know your parents, so you put the straw in the water and then you blow across the top of the straw and the water comes up the straw and out where you’re blowing. It sounds like a similar principle only you’re not using wind to do it. It’s just the pressure gradient is created by the fact that the water is exiting from the leaf and pulling out more.

Hallie: This does happen because of wind sometimes. The reasons why plants lose water are different reasons. It could just be there’s a really low humidity outside and so it’s being pulled out. There could be a high temperature. Sunshine could be evaporating the water or wind is something that can pull water out of a leaf.

There are different properties to a leaf to make it more or less likely that water will come out of the leaf. If they have a waxy cuticle, if they have more or fewer stemmata, which are like little pores, which is what the water actually comes out of or how open those pores are, they can be more or less open.

Chris: I’m sorry, you said waxy cuticle and now all I can think of is a plant like sitting in a chair getting a pedicure, getting the files down, talking to gossip and all those kind of stuff.

Hallie: That’s exactly what I mean.

Chris: What’s the cuticle on a plant?

Hallie: It’s something like if you think of the difference between a basil leaf versus like a holly leaf. A holly leaf has a really waxy cuticle because they kind of have that waxiness to them. They’re really thick. Basically, it just means that on top of the leaf skin, there is a really like thick layer of wax that’s protecting those pores from having water pulled out of them.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: Another good example is like succulents. If you have like a jade plant or something in your house, then those have pretty waxy cuticles usually. But another difference could be the leaf size or the leaf shape, whether or not the leaf is folded inward.

If you look at desert plants, then usually they have really, really small leaves because they’re less likely to be losing water through those and then another factor is actually the pubescent on the leaf. How much pubescent there is, which is like little bitty leaf hairs.

Chris: This is something that makes middle schoolers laugh hysterically I’m sure.

Hallie: I’m sure it is.

[Laughter].

Chris: All right.

Hallie: Maybe that’s why we don’t teach plant anatomy to middle schoolers.

Chris: Maybe so.

Hallie: But yeah, we were talking about hairs earlier. This is another way that have hairs. They have root hairs and they have leaf hairs. The leaf hairs are called pubescent.

Chris: I had no idea and these are ways for plants to release water.

Hallie: These are basically ways for plants to not release water.

If you’re an understory plant and you might not be getting a lot of water, maybe you’re a small little bush and you’re sitting next to a big tree, you might develop a lot of pubescent so that you can hold onto as much water as possible or if you’re out in the middle of a prairie and it’s really sunny and there’s not a lot of water to go around because you’re surrounded by all these hungry grasses, then maybe you develop really small leaves so that you’re not losing water whenever willy nilly so that you’re able to survive or you know we have live oaks here in Texas and we have really unpredictable rainstorms. We have a drier season and in the wetter season, usually our live oaks have these pretty waxy leaves, so they’re not losing water throughout that dry season.

Chris: A plant on a prairie is wetter when it’s hairy.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Great work, dad. Absolutely great work.

Chris: Thank you. I mean, it’s basically like an animal in the cold is hairier and they don’t lose as much heat. A plant in the shade has these pubescent and doesn’t lose as much water.

Hallie: Right. We have been talking about this from the beginning as a way to regulate temperature as well.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: All accurate.

Chris: All right. Well, I think about these poor little plants when they do lose too much water, part of what they need other than more water is a break.

Hallie: Here we go.

[Background music].

Chris: Welcome to the break.

Hallie: Hello. I would like to talk to you about the census.

Chris: Why do you want to talk to people about the census? I mean, really.

Hallie: Well, if you live in the US once every 10 years, we do this big count of everyone living in the US and it’s extremely important for things like representative apportionment, which is how we decide what your political power as an area or region looks like or things like funding your schools and hospitals. The deadline to fill out the census is September 30th, 2020. It takes like two and a half minutes. It’s not a very long process and it’s extremely, extremely important. You don’t have to be a US citizen. All you have to be is living in the US. You don’t have to be a voting age. You don’t have to be anything like that. You should just be filling it out for your household. You can go to census2020.gov to fill out the census. It will not take you very long.

Chris: You know who I bet has filled out the census?

Hallie: Who’s that?

Chris: Our patrons, especially our starfruit patrons, Vikram, Lindsay, Mama Casey, Patrick, and Shianne. Thank you so much patrons. We can’t do this without you.

Hallie: All of our patrons, including and especially our starfruit patrons are absolutely amazing and we are so, so grateful for you all.

Chris: You’re all counted.

Hallie: In the census of our heart.

Chris: That’s right. [Laughs]. Back to the episode.

[Background music].

Hallie: We talked about thermal regulation. We talked about structure. Now, let’s talk about the use of water as a solvent. Plants use water as a solvent inside of the phloem.

Chris: All right and the phloem is down.

Hallie: Phloem is not the xylem. It is in fact both up and down.

Chris: Oh, all right. Xylem goes from the root to the leaf.

Hallie: There’s not another way it can go because it’s passive transport. Phloem is active cells, so there is actual energy that is expended because it is moving against a concentration gradient. The phloem moves things like glucose, amino acids, some nutrients. The xylem also moves some nutrients, but it does not move all of the nutrients. The main thing that the phloem is moving is these sugars and proteins.

Chris: Wouldn’t have known that plants need proteins, but, okay.

Hallie: Where did you think the proteins in the plants come from? We eat plants and they have protein.

Chris: That’s true. I never really thought about it. I thought maybe they could just build proteins. But to me, if you need proteins, it’s because you have muscles you got to build because you’re working out. You’re getting jacked. I’ve never seen a rose with a six pack.

Hallie: Plants do build proteins. They don’t eat other plants that have proteins in them. They just build them themselves. But usually they’re building them and then they have to go around to all the different cells because one of the main things that we use proteins for is things like DNA synthesizing.

Chris: Oh, that’s important.

Hallie: There are lots of important amino acids out there. Lots of important sugars as well, but every single cell has to have sugars and amino acids. You have these little cells they’re alive. They have to expend little ATPs, little energies as they’re moving these proteins and sugars around the plant because oftentimes they’re going against a concentration gradient. When we’re thinking about like a straw for the xylem, the phloem is more kind of a well, so like pulling something up with the well. You’re moving energy to get a resource out of somewhere and into somewhere else.

Chris: Xylem is like a straw. Phloem is like a well or like something with an active pump.

Hallie: Right.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: That’s the third one. The fourth one is bio chemical reactions.

Chris: Chemical reactions are great.

Hallie: You’re a fan?

Chris: I am a fan. Good old chemistry.

Hallie: Cool. Do you know the reaction for photosynthesis? Don’t look at the notes.

Chris: I don’t, but I think it’s like glucose in light makes carbon dioxide in water or something like that.

Hallie: Well close, but no. If we think about how plants function, it’s actually carbon dioxide and water plus light makes glucose and oxygen. When we think about what plants are creating and giving off, the end product is that glucose they’re able to store and utilize and then the oxygen is coming off of the plant. We’re starting with the carbon dioxide. That’s what the plants are taking in and they’re also of course taking the water in from the roots. Then once you have energy from light, then they’re able to convert that into glucose and oxygen.

Chris: It’s weird to me that it’s synthesizing sugar from carbon dioxide and water because I mean, I never studied biochemical reactions I guess, but I don’t think of carbon dioxide and water as reactive, but I guess this is how we talk about plants taking carbon dioxide out of the air. I guess this is reaction where they do it and they make sugar for us to eat and for them to use and oxygen for us to breathe, which is very nice of them. Thank you, plants.

Hallie: Exactly. That’s how it works. Of course, that’s not just how it works and I don’t have time to go all the way into all the intricacies of the photochemical reactions that are happening throughout photosynthesis.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: But I did want to talk about one example of where water comes into play because like you said, you don’t just like take a carbon dioxide molecule and a water molecule and you stick them together and you make sugar. There are a lot more biochemical reactions that have to go into it. I will link in the show notes an incredible comic that is made by a guy called Jay Hosler who’s a great science communicator. I was actually shown this comic when I was first learning about photosynthesis when I was in grad school and really trying to understand every single step of photosynthesis. This comic is like a little ant and a little bee and they jump inside of the plant and they walk you through photosynthesis in the most engaging way.

Chris: That sounds awesome.

Hallie: It’s great. I am going to link it in the show notes. I very strongly recommend anyone who’s interested to go check it out.

Chris: Why haven’t I rewritten something like this? Gosh.

Hallie: [Laughs]. In order to create the sugar and the oxygen you have to have water to be present. The xylem and the phloem are moving that water up and down the plant. How is the water actually used in the reaction of photosynthesis? Here’s one example. Inside of the plant, there are plant cells. Inside of a plant cell there are these things called chloroplasts.

Inside of chloroplasts, there are these little things that look like a stack of pancakes and they’re called thylakoids.

Chris: I like pancakes. That’s a word I’ve never heard before.

Hallie: The thylakoids is actually the thing that absorbs light during the photosynthetic reaction.

Chris: It’s like a little plant solar cell.

Hallie: Kind of like that. The part that actually grabs the light energy are what are called photosystems, which are inside of a single thylakoid. They’re basically clusters of chlorophyll molecules along the thylakoid membrane. There are two photosystems. There’s photosystem one and photosystem two. I’m going to talk just about photosystem two.

Chris: Oh, you’re going to make photosystem one pill all left.

Hallie: Listen, there’s a lot of steps to photosynthesis. It’s extremely complex. I’m amazed that plants do it every single second of the sunshiny day. It’s an amazing, amazing process. I cannot possibly walk through every single part of it because I do not understand it. It is so complex. It is so beautiful. It is so amazing.

Chris: Yet we eat them.

Hallie: I know. We eat them after they’ve made these beautiful sugars with this amazing miraculous process.

Chris: Thank you, plants.

Hallie: Photosystem two. What photosystem two does is it chops a water molecule into two hydrogens and an oxygen and an electron. The oxygen just jumps off and it gets given off as a waste product. It left the picture. Inside of the thylakoid pancake, one of the thylakoids is called a lumen. Inside of that lumen, it’s like the vacuole. It’s the inside part. Inside of that lumen, it’s chock full of hydrogens, which creates what’s called a proton gradient.

Chris: Ah, that’s a word I’ve heard before.

Hallie: What’s that?

Chris: It’s a proton gradient.

Hallie: Correct. Yes.

Chris: I did take a semester of biochemistry. It’s something I remember us talking about and areas of differing charge, basically.

Hallie: Exactly. That’s exactly what it is.

There are several different ways that plants use proton gradients. Here is an example of a proton gradient, but one of the things that they do with all these hydrogens, they have a bunch of them chock-a-block in the lumen. One of the things that they do is once you have 14 of these hydrogens to rub together, there’s an ATP synthase guy who’s able to go in there gets 14 hydrogens together, builds an ATP.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: An ATP is adenosine triphosphate and it’s kind of known as what a lot of people refer to as molecular unit of currency. It’s basically what plants use whenever they need to expend energy. ATP is what’s used in the phloem when they’re trying to move nutrients, glucose, amino acids, all up and down. They have to use those ATPs to get that movement.

Chris: These little energy cell guys build the ATPs from the photosynthesis.

Hallie: Here’s one example. You need ATP in order to eventually build a glucose. Photosystem two has a water molecule chops it into half, gives off the oxygen as just a waste product, goes off, gets hooked up with another two, goes out into the atmosphere, we breathe it in. That’s great. But eventually you get 14 of those hydrogens, right? You’ve got one oxygen, two hydrogens. You go through that a couple of seven times or whatever. You get 14 hydrogens and then you get an ATP. That’s one example of one of the many steps in photosynthesis. It’s not comprehensive. Water is used a lot of other places in photosynthesis, but there’s one example.

Chris: Nice. It’s the miracle of life.

Hallie: The miracle of photosynthetic life. The miracle of it. It’s amazing. I love plants.

Chris: It sounds pretty amazing. I think we’ll need to talk about photosynthesis more in another episode.

Hallie: We can do that. Do you want to do a little summary?

Chris: No. I mean, that was a lot. Plants need water to stay cool and to move nutrients and to make energy and oxygen for us to breathe. Everyone, make sure the plants get water.

Hallie: Water your plants, friends.

Chris: Water your plants, friends and water your plant friends. Plants are friends and food.

[Background music].

Chris: Thanks for listening to this episode of One to Grow On.

Hallie: This show is made by me, Hallie Casey and Chris Casey. Our music is Something Elated by Broke for Free.

Chris: If you’d like to connect with us, follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at One to Grow On Pod or join our Discord and Facebook communities and leaf us your thoughts on this episode.

Hallie: You can find all of our episodes and transcripts as well as information about the team and the show on our website, onetogrowonpod.com.

Chris: Help us take root and grow organically by recommending the show to your friends or consider donating to our Patreon at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. There you can get access to audio extras, fascinating follow-ups, exclusive bonus content and boxes of our favorite goodies.

Hallie: If you liked the show, please share it with a friend. Sharing is the best way to help us reach more ears.

Chris: Be sure to see what sprouting in two weeks.

Hallie: But until then keep on growing.

[Background music].

plant cells

45: How Plants Use Water

In this episode we dive into the weird world of plant biology and answer the question of how plants use water. We learn about the xylem, the phloem, and how photosynthesis converts H2O into oxygen. Also, plants have hairs and cuticles!?

Jay Hosler’s photosynthesis comic (Gimme Some Sugar)

Read the transcript for this episode.

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About us
One to Grow On is a podcast that digs into the questions you have about agriculture and tries to understand the impacts of food production on us and our world. We explore fascinating topics including food, gardening, and plant sciences. One to Grow On is hosted by Hallie Casey and Chris Casey, and is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey. Show art is by Ashe Walker. Music is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
onetogrowonpod.com

44: Bananas Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

Hallie: Hello and welcome to One to Grow On. A show where we dig into questions about agriculture and try to understand how food production impacts us and our world. My name is Hallie Casey and I studied and currently work in agriculture.

Chris: I’m Chris Casey, Hallie’s dad. Each episode we pick an area of agriculture or food production to discuss and this week it’s bananas.

[Background music].

Hallie: Bananas, that is what we are discussing.

Chris: Bananas, the fruit.

Hallie: What do you know about bananas, dad?

Chris: I know that bananas are a berry.

Hallie: Do you know that? How?

Chris: You have said so on multiple occasions over the course of this podcast.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Great work to you and me.

Chris: Especially when we were asked, what is a berry? Or rather, what is berry?

Hallie: Yeah, banana is berry.

Chris: I also have been reading a book about bananas, but I haven’t gotten very far. I know there was something about some rich guy forcing people to go into the jungle and build a railroad or something. I don’t know.

Hallie: Yeah, we’ll get to that.

Chris: Great. I’m sure it’s great. Oh, and there’s a place in Belgium where they sort of keep all of the different varieties of bananas. That’s like banana central.

Hallie: Oh, I don’t have that covered in this episode.

Chris: Okay. Well, great. I know something that you don’t.

Hallie: Maybe I can put that in the extra research.

Chris: Maybe, but that’s all I know about it really. I don’t remember exactly where it is or what it’s called, but I think it’s like the center for banana researcher, something. I remember you saying that all bananas are clones. At least all the ones we eat. All the Cavendish bananas.

Hallie: You know the word Cavendish. That’s something you know about bananas.

Chris: I do. I got that from the book.

Hallie: Nice.

Chris: I guess there are still other bananas, but I mean, they’re all going to die because of some blight anyway, so enjoy them while you can.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Yeah, good summary. We’re going to get further into all of those things. Let’s start at the very beginning. The banana, the Latin name is Musa and the family name is Musaceae. The family is named after the banana because it’s like the star of the family.

Chris: Wait, how is that named after the banana?

Hallie: The family is Musaceae and the bananas name is Musa. So, Musaceae.

Chris: I see. Okay. Got it.

Hallie: As you mentioned, the banana is a berry. The banana is also the largest herbaceous flowering plant. Herbaceous meaning never develops woody tissue and flowering meaning it has flowers. Typically, they get around 16 feet, but they can get up to 20 to 25 feet tall, so they’re a pretty big plant.

Chris: If it’s a berry, then why do people make cream pie out of it instead of a berry pie out of it?

Hallie: Because you add cream as opposed to a berry pie where you just add sugar.

Chris: I mean, I think a banana pie with sugar and a little pectin might turn out pretty well. What do you think?

Hallie: Well, you don’t put pectin in a berry pie. You just put sugar.

Chris: Oh, I thought you put pectin in it to make it all gloopy.

Hallie: I have never done that. I’ve only ever just added sugar to strawberries and then you just dump it in a pie shell and you cook it.

Chris: Or maybe some tapioca.

Hallie: I have put tapioca in sometimes, but it’s not necessary. I’ve definitely done it sometimes where it’s just sugar and berries and strawberries and blueberries and stuff.

Chris: All right. Well, I derail this into wanting to eat pie. So, you were saying.

Hallie: That’s the basics of the banana, but what actually is the banana?

The “root” of the banana is actually a corm, which is not root tissue, but stem tissue. We’ve talked about corms in the past. It’s modified stem tissue and then the banana “trunk” is not actually a trunk because trunks are woody. As we mentioned already, it’s an herbaceous plant. Never develops woody tissue. The “trunk of the banana tree” is actually what’s called the pseudostem. Pseudostem just means not actually a stem, but looks like a stem and it’s actually made of really tightly compacted leaf tissue.

Chris: Weird. It’s like one big green thing.

Hallie: Well, most plants are, dad.

Chris: But trees are brown in parts of them and I guess, would you call it like a stock? Would it be like a stock?

Hallie: Yeah, stock is totally a fine word, but usually people say trunk just because it’s so big. They’re used to saying trunk for a big thing like that.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: Whereas usually I think of stock as like a flower stock or something, but it is in fact more of like a stock.

Chris: But you wouldn’t chop it down and pop it on the fireplace.

Hallie: Absolutely not. It would not go well. The corm itself is a perennial tissue, but the rest of the banana is usually not perennial. When a banana is mature, when it’s an adult banana, usually the corm, the stem tissue under the ground will send up an actual stem, like an actual legitimate stem as well as an inflorescence, meaning a head of flowers. This is also called the banana heart. In the industry, they call it the banana heart, which is lovely. Then usually the above ground structure will die it back, like the whole pseudostem and the leaves and everything. Once you have bananas, you harvest the bananas, the above ground stuff ties back and then you get new growth from that perennial corm that’s under the ground.

Chris: Cool. Sorry, I’m trying to track. I keep rolling with the word corm around in my head because it’s not corn. It’s corm and so I’m trying to make sure that sticks like a big old stock, but when it’s mature, it pops up the stem, it grows the heart and then when that’s done, you get the banana. Banana comes right off. Does it grow another stem?

Hallie: Yeah, once you pop the bananas off, then the above ground stuff is done for the year. It just like skedaddles and dies back to the ground. Then starting the next year, when it’s time for a new banana to grow, it just starts from the ground up, gets like that 16 feet tall and then once it’s nice and tall, you get a new inflorescence that pops up and new banana and year after year, that’s how it goes.

Chris: That is wild. I want to try to find a time lapse of this happening in a field of banana trees. Are they called trees? I don’t know.

Hallie: They are colloquially called trees. They’re not trees, but they’re called a banana tree.

Chris: Just seeing them grow 16 feet every year, that’s wild.

Hallie: Yeah, they’re pretty cool plants. How many bananas are there? There are more than 1000 varieties of bananas in the world that are produced for consumption locally. However, as you mentioned, we really only eat the Cavendish banana. That’s the name of the variety, the Cavendish.

Chris: Are there other varieties just eaten by other people just not by us in other areas of the world? Is that what it is?

Hallie: It’s a lot of like, this is the banana I have next to my house, so this is the banana that I eat. It’s just varieties that are native to different parts of the world and that’s what is locally grown, but it’s not to any commercial production.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: I want you to guess how many Cavendish bananas specifically just Cavendish bananas not the rest of the other 999 varieties, just the Cavendish bananas are grown? For a baseline, we got about 76 million metric tons of apples in 2019 and in oranges, it was about 46.1 million metric tons. If that’s apples and oranges, where do you think bananas falls?

Chris: I’m going to say 1 billion tons.

Hallie: Why would you go that far?

Chris: Because it sounds funnier than just trying to be accurate. I don’t know. We’ll say 200 million tons.

Hallie: 200 million tons when I gave you 76,000,000 and 46,000,000.

Chris: Well, you said 1 billion was like way too high.

Hallie: Yeah, it’s 200 million. Now you’re really like letting me down. I thought it was a high number and you’re like shooting above it. It’s 127.3 million. A lot more than apples and oranges.

Chris: Well, it is a lot more. It’s still within an order of magnitude-ish. Maybe not, but yeah that’s a lot. That’s okay. More than double oranges. One and a half times about apples, so bananas are like super popular.

Hallie: They’re very popular. As of 2015, bananas were the second most produced fruit by quantity not by weight after watermelons.

Chris: Jeez Louise.

Hallie: What is a banana? A banana by any other name would taste as sweet. No, it wouldn’t. I want to talk about the difference between plantains and bananas. What do you know about plantains, dad?

Chris: There’s a restaurant not too far from my house that sells fried plantains and they look a lot like short bananas and they’re delicious.

Hallie: Is that all you got?

Chris: That’s all I got.

Hallie: Okay. Pretty good. A lot of scientists, a lot of banana breeders, marketers argue about what a plantain versus what a banana is. They’re extremely closely related. For our purposes, plantains are much starchier. Plantains are usually cooked, whereas bananas are usually eaten raw. The term is also often bandied about the dessert banana. That’s what we’re talking about. The banana is sweet. It’s a treat. It’s not part of your meal whereas plantains can be.

Chris: It goes well in cereal and ice cream.

Hallie: For sure. In terms of nutritional value, the bananas are generally less healthier for you than a plantain, but they’re still okay. They have like one fifth of your daily nutritional value for vitamin B6. They have 17% of your daily nutritional value for vitamin C.

They have some potassium in them. They’re fine. They’re decent. They’re an okay little fruit, but plantains are much healthier. They have 54% of your daily nutritional value for vitamin C. They have 25% of your daily nutritional value for vitamin B6. They’ve got a whole bunch of good stuff in them and they are healthier, but less sweet. Less desserty.

Chris: Okay. But I mean, if you have some fried plantains, they taste pretty sweet people. I got to tell you.

Hallie: They’re a great food. If you can get your hands on them and you’ve never tried them before, would highly recommend.

Chris: I mean, if I had some right now, I would eat them and take a break.

Hallie: Shall we do that? Shall we go take a break?

Chris: Yes, there is some time between March which we recorded this particular episode in this particular mid roll. In that stretch of time, I had some fried plantains and they were so good. I love them. They’re the best Peruvian roast chicken side that I’ve ever had. That’s for sure.

Hallie: This episode we actually wanted to encourage all of our listeners, particularly those who are US citizens to register to vote. The deadline to register here in Texas is coming up in October, but you can go to youtube.com/howtovoteineverystate to learn more about how to register where you are.

Chris: We are lucky, even though it doesn’t always feel that way to live somewhere where we do have a voice in our representation and so please, let’s use it. Register to vote and then vote. You know who I’m sure votes?

Hallie: Who is that?

Chris: Our patrons, especially our starfruit patrons, Vikram, Lindsay, Mama Casey, Patrick, and Shianne.

Hallie: You guys are so incredible. You keep our world spinning and we are so so grateful for you.

Chris: It’s true. But now, back to the episode.

Hallie: Dad, do you have a nature fact for us?

Chris: I do. Like in many other cities, there’s a marathon in Barcelona and the fastest marathon ever run by a competitor dressed as a fruit was two hours, 58 minutes and 20 seconds recorded at the Barcelona marathon on March 6th, 2011. His name was Patrick Whiteman from the UK and he was dressed as a banana.

Hallie: God bless Patrick Whiteman.

Chris: Right.

Hallie: Doing some great work in Barcelona.

Chris: Yeah, I looked up a picture of him and it looks like one of those big felts banana costumes and I can’t imagine running 26 miles anyway, but 26 miles in a big old banana costume and you’re already hot and sweaty as it is. Man, that thing had to be rank.

Hallie: Yeah, that’s commitment to breaking a record, but I admire it.

Chris: It’s true. Yes.

Hallie: Great nature fact, dad.

Chris: Thank you. Oh, you got to do the jingle.

Hallie: I was about two. I was just giving you a compliment.

Chris: All right. Well, thank you. I appreciate that. It’s important to be supportive like that.

Hallie: Tara tarara. Nature fact. Okay. Let’s talk about the history of the banana. When I was researching this, I found a lot of conflicting origin stories.

The banana has been around for a really long time and it’s kind of unclear where it originated thousands of years ago.

Chris: Real quick, when we say originated, obviously it’s a plant that has existed, but the banana in its current form was bred by people to have these characteristics.

Hallie: Right. The broader banana plants, not specifically the Cavendish. The broader banana plant, how did that evolve?

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: Where did that come from? Where’s that native to? I couldn’t find a lot. I couldn’t find like a specific origin story. I found a paper in the journal of Ethnobotany Research and Applications that said that the reason for this was because it is vegetatively propagated and they talked about like sweet potatoes as another example of this. The banana isn’t leaving a lot of pollen and they are also herbaceous, so they’re not leaving like wood or seeds or nuts for us to look back in the history of soil of a region. Maybe have a fossil record to really see where is this thing evolving. That might be one of the reasons why we don’t have a very specific origin story for the banana plant evolution.

Chris: The tissue is too soft to stick around for too long.


Hallie: That same paper estimated that 87% of banana production globally is for local food consumption, which was citing an article from Biodiversity International. I couldn’t find that article from Biodiversity International, but I think that the point is still totally valid, whether or not that 87% number is still accurate today. It’s a really key crop for subsistence farmers. I’m going to go on and talk about the history of large scale production of bananas, but bananas and plantains specifically these species is really important for subsistence farmers around the world in a lot of the global south. A really important thing to just remember as we go on to talk about the large scale production of banana plants.

Chris: Are you going to talk about why or is it just important to them because it’s such either A, an important cash crop or B, it’s an actual source of nutrition for them?

Hallie: Yeah, that’s a really good question. It’s mostly the latter. It’s quite common to have banana plants nearby a house, but not necessarily in a big field. Bananas are a really difficult crop to market, which we’re going to talk about. They’re quite fragile as opposed to something like yams or rice or a lot of other larger scale crops that you see subsistence farmers being able to market beyond just home consumption. Bananas are not easy in that same way. You need a lot of cold storage. You need a lot of packaging and you really need a developed supply chain, but they are quite nutritious, particularly like the heartier plantain plants are really nutritious and they’re pretty easy to grow most places in the global south. They have been in a lot of the global south for a really long time. They’ve been in South America and Latin America. They’ve been in Africa and they’ve been in Southern Asia for a long time, so it’s something that’s common in cultural recipes. It’s often just like nearby the house.

You’re able to mash it up or include it in some dish, but it’s mostly for home consumption.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: Let’s talk about the history of bananas in not the global south, in Europe and the US. Up until we had wider spread refrigeration, it was just pretty much a luxury food in the US and Europe and this is true for a lot of these perishable crops. If you couldn’t get them on a ship across the ocean, then only the Richie Rich’s could really afford to get them.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: Around the turn of the century, you had two companies, Standard Fruit and United Fruit that took over large swaths of land in Central and South America and very quickly ramped up production and built demand in the US. They were really building demand once that refrigeration technology existed really introducing this fruit that nobody had any idea what it was, how to eat it and really making that demand from basically nothing. This is where that story you were talking about the guy with the railroad track came in. There was this guy Minor C Keith, he ended up being the CEO of United Fruit, which is one of these two large companies and he was from Brooklyn, moved down to Costa Rica to help out with his uncle’s railroad project, ended up planting a lot of bananas or having his workers plant, I should say bananas while he was doing this railroad project and found out that the railroad he was building was not terribly profitable.

But was building this demand to be able to sell these bananas back in the US and now he had this newly built railroad for extremely cheap and was basically exploiting the Costa Rican government to control large areas of land around his railroad. It became really easy for him to continue to exploit the workers he was already employing to build that railroad. Once the railroad was built to produce a lot of bananas and then he had this really cheap railroad that was already built, getting them back up to the US. I got really down a rabbit hole with a lot of this history. It’s very intense and I don’t think I have time to go super in-depth with all of the stories and all of the histories on this. I’m going to put more info on the Patreon under the extra research. If you want to learn more, you can go there. But I do think it’s important to talk about this history. Bananas got very cheap in the US and to this day, they’re a pretty cheap fruit. That means that production costs are really, really cheap, right? If you have a cheap fruit, then you have to have cheaper production costs. The way that these companies Standard Fruit and United Fruit achieved this is they had a very tight control on these foreign governments and the land within them. It basically became what I saw described as like a neo feudal system where a handful of very powerful companies, exploited Central American countries and Central American laborers and also benefited from government grants and tax breaks while all the time denying their Central American workforce, a living wage or basic rights. This is where the term banana republic comes from. These companies were granted huge amounts of land in Central America. Some of it was “bought”, but a lot of it was not and these land grants were tax breaks or government grants in exchange for building privately owned infrastructure like roads that was meant to benefit the very communities that they were actually exploiting. Eventually, there became a lot of organized labor protests around these poor working conditions.

Companies used extreme force using either private militia forces that the national military of those countries or in some specific cases, actual US forces under the guise of combating communism to fight these labor protests and basically punish, kill, assault the labor forces that were striking and the people that were striking and protesting in solidarity with them. There’s a lot more information about the history of US involvement in Central America under the guise of anticommunist propaganda that looking with a historical view seems extremely, extremely linked to United Fruit and Standard Fruits interests. I saw this really good quote from Dan Koppel. It was an interview with Dan Koppel.

Chris: That’s the guy that wrote the book I’m reading.

Hallie: Exactly. Yeah, he wrote the book Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. In this interview he said, “The banana is an impossible export fruit. It’s fragile. It ripens quickly. It gets rotten fast and the way to do it is to make it so cheap that your money is made on volume.” They were trying to just produce as many bananas as possible at a cheaper cost as possible in order to get any return back and they got millions and millions of dollars in profits, but that was all made at the cost of these people’s lives and their dignity and their human rights.

Chris: I assume we’re going to get to sort of the current state of the banana. Okay. Then I’ll hold my questions until we get to that point.

Hallie: I know that was like a big dump. I told you I really went into research.

This took me like three times as long as it usually takes me to research an episode about this because I really wanted to do it justice while also trying to keep it within the scope of the episode and the time that we have here today.

Chris: Sure.

Hallie: In the 1900s, the US ended up bringing multiple antitrust lawsuits against Standard Fruit and United Fruit company, so we did end up seeing changes both from those lawsuits, that litigation, as well as from the labor movement from Central America. Eventually, I think it was closer to the fifties and sixties. I might have my dates wrong there, but the companies ended up changing their names and Standard Fruit became Dole and United Fruit became Chiquita. Today in the 2010s, this is 2013 numbers. Five companies own 44% of the banana industry down from 70% in 2002. A lot of this was because of the movement that was started really in the eighties for multinational companies to divest landholdings in Central America for bananas and replace company production with independently produced bananas.

Chris: So larger companies are instead of producing the bananas themselves, they’re buying from local people who produce the bananas.

Hallie: Right.

Chris: Okay. That was kind of, I guess, leading into my questions as the banana is still, like you said, very, very cheap. Therefore, methods of production must still be very, very cheap.

Have labor conditions and such things improved?

Hallie: One of the tricky things about having more independent production, which don’t get me wrong is a good thing. You do also have a harder time having generalized statements, right? Because it’s not five companies that are producing all of the world’s bananas. Yes, largely speaking, there are improvements in labor conditions that is not universally true across the board. A lot of the changes we’ve seen are in like technological changes, particularly in post-harvest technology. It’s easier to transport bananas without them going bad as fast. Here’s the thing. We have talked about the Cavendish banana. The bananas that we were just talking about in the last segment about the 1900s was not the Cavendish banana.

Chris: Right.

Hallie: What?

Chris: I knew that, sorry.

Hallie: Oh, you did.

[Laughter].

Chris: I’m not shocked. Yeah, I think I got this from the book.

There’s sort of speculation on what are grandparents and great grandparents tasted when they tasted a banana at the turn of the century and in the early 1900s.

Hallie: Right. The banana that was grown in the first half of the 1900s was the Gros Michel. This was very similar to the Cavendish in a lot of ways. It was seedless. It grew via clones. However, in 1903, a strain of fusarium wilt called Panama disease first appeared and started taking out these Gros Michel plants like crazy.

Chris: That’s what? A fungus?

Hallie: It’s like a fungus. It is indeed like a fungus. It’s not just like a fungus. It is a fungus. By 1960, the Gros Michel was commercially extinct. Like you said, we don’t really know. There’s not a lot of people who tasted this plant because by the 1940s, it was very hard to find. It was much less common to see bananas and it wasn’t really until like onto the seventies, when we started to see bananas becoming more common. There was not really a lot of comparisons ever. You didn’t ever have the Gros Michel and the Cavendish in the same room at the same time where you could say, here are the differences between these two bananas. There’s a lot of speculation on what is different between these two bananas. The companies, particularly Dole, once it started to see Panama disease pop up and become an issue, started investing a lot of time in searching around for commercially viable bananas. The thing about bananas is that because for thousands of years, people have been selecting against seeds in bananas, right? Nobody wants seeds and bananas, even us and nobody has for thousands of years. It’s actually really difficult to get a seeded banana and that means it’s really difficult to breed bananas.

Basically, what these companies were doing was just traversing the globe and examining all the bananas and trying to categorize them and see if they were marketable, if they were tasty, if they were easy to ship, if they had that lovely, long yellow look of what we expect now from a banana, and if they were resistant to Panama disease. Eventually, they found the Cavendish.

Chris: Wow. I thought the sort of long, vague, skinny brown bits in the middle were banana seeds only just couldn’t really tell that they were seeds because they were squishy like the rest of the fruit, did someone lie to me? Were they wrong? Have all the bananas that I’ve been eating been seedless?

Hallie: Yeah, bananas are essentially seedless. None of those seeds that we actually eat in the bananas are viable ever.

Chris: I see.

Hallie: Those are basically the relics of what were once seeds and the great, great grandfather of a banana.

Chris: Okay. Wow.

Hallie: Once upon a time, the banana had a seed and now these itsy bitsy little tiny seeds are what we have. It’s the same thing like if you eat a seedless grape, and there’s like those little tiny guys in there, they’re not hard and crunchy and they’re really, really small.

You can’t plant a great plant with it, but it’s what the seeds once were.

Chris: You can’t plant a banana tree with the banana.

Hallie: Yeah, they’re all clones. They’re all vegetatively produced.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: That’s been the case for thousands of years, so it’s hard to breed bananas because how we breed plants is we cross-pollinate and cross-pollinate and cross-pollinate and eventually something new pops out. We can’t do that with bananas. Eventually, they found the Cavendish. It was more fragile than Gros Michel actually. There are videos of people having big bunches of Gros Michel bananas and just throwing them onto a ship. We can’t do that with the Cavendish. You got to put it in a box, you got to put the box on the ship. Otherwise, they get all bruised and brown and consumers are not so interested, but for a long time it was good. Life was good. We had a banana that we liked and everything was looking up for these banana companies.

Chris: For a long time you say.

Hallie: For a long time until the 1980s. So really for like 20-ish years.

Chris: I feel like there were so many good things that changed for the worse in the 1980s, but that’s a whole other podcast.

Hallie: [Laughs]. In the 1980s, Panama disease reappeared. It was very similar to the first Panama disease, but it was a different strand kind of like different strands of flu viruses.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: This second fungus strand, the second disease strand arrived and started to affect Cavendish bananas.

Chris: The bananas got their own pandemic.

Hallie: Pretty much. Not to be a downer. I told you guys we wouldn’t talk anymore about the P word or the C word.

Chris: Oh, sorry.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Yeah, basically. We saw a lot of bananas being wiped out in Southern Asia that were Cavendish bananas. We don’t have it yet in the Americas. It hasn’t gotten here yet. Just by luck of the draw.

Chris: I read the only place in the US that bananas were grown was Hawaii.

Hallie: No, I mean the Americas, not just the USA, Central America and Columbia.

Chris: There is my ethnocentrism coming out right there, but okay. The whole Western hemisphere basically.

Hallie: The fungus will arrive at some point. If the world has learned anything about epidemiology in the last six months, it’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when. One day the Panama disease will reach Central America and it will basically wipe out every last Cavendish banana, and it will happen very quickly.

Chris: Okay. What do we do then? We just don’t have any more banana splits.

Hallie: I saw this good quote in an interview with Alan Brown Ballana, I think is how you say his last name. He’s a biologist with the Institute of Tropical Agriculture. He said they dodged a bullet in the 1950s by identifying Cavendish. I think if there was something out there they would have found it by now. These companies didn’t stop looking. When they found Cavendish, they were like, just in case we better find something else. Or like, what if we find something else that’s easier to grow or like sweeter and easier to sell?

Chris: But they just haven’t found it yet.

Hallie: They haven’t found it yet. Which means it probably doesn’t exist. Also, if they did find something, the banana supply chain is built custom for the Cavendish. Every single banana is genetically identical, meaning it’s almost identical. They look almost exactly the same.

The only thing that changes between bananas is where they’re grown, how they’re grown, what the temperature is. Bananas are the same size. Bananas are the same shape. Bananas need exactly the same temperature, the exact same gas mixture. The whole supply chain is built specifically for the Cavendish. Even if they did find another banana, it would not be easy to just like whoop, okay, we’ll just add this banana into our whole process. We would have to completely restructure the supply chain, so that would be a huge lift. Like we talked about earlier, resistance can’t really be bred, right? Because we’ve got no seeds to breed. There is one hope and it is a GMO banana.

Chris: Oh boy.

Hallie: There are some GMO bananas. There is still work being done on a GMO banana because we are just waiting for the rest of the Cavendish bananas to go extinct. Not the banana plant to be clear. The banana as a species will on, but the Cavendish banana, which is marketable will die off at some point. It could happen tomorrow. We don’t know when it will happen. So there is work being done on a GMO banana, but at some point in the future, there will be no banana for you to buy at the grocery store other than a GMO banana.

Chris: The banana, as we know it is I guess basically doomed. It’s just a matter of time, so enjoy him while you can. If you want viable, healthy crops for a very long time, don’t base your entire economic structure on clones.

Hallie: Last quote. It’s a three quote episode. This quote from Randy Plots, who’s a professor of plant pathology at the University of Florida.

I don’t know if he meant for it to be a little poem, but when he said it, it rhymed and I love it. His little poem quote was once the pathogen is established, that’s all she wrote for Cavendish.

Chris: Also, there’s a guy named Ballana that studies the banana.

Hallie: [Laughs].

[Background music].

Chris: Thanks for listening to this episode of One to Grow On.

Hallie: This show is made by me, Hallie Casey and Chris Casey. Our music is Something Elated by Broke for Free.

Chris: If you’d like to connect with us, follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at One to Grow On Pod or join our Discord and Facebook communities and leaf us your thoughts on this episode.

Hallie: You can find all of our episodes and transcripts as well as information about the team and the show on our website, onetogrowonpod.com.

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There you can get access to audio extras, fascinating follow-ups, exclusive bonus content and boxes of our favorite goodies.

Hallie: If you liked the show, please share it with a friend. Sharing is the best way to help us reach more ears.

Chris: Be sure to see what’s sprouting in two weeks.

Hallie: But until then, keep on growing.

[Background music].

44: Bananas

This week we talk about bananas! The banana has quite a turbulent history. And while there are multiple varieties, the one we most commonly eat are all clones! Also, how far would YOU run in a banana costume?

Read the transcript for this episode.

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About us
One to Grow On is a podcast that digs into the questions you have about agriculture and tries to understand the impacts of food production on us and our world. We explore fascinating topics including food, gardening, and plant sciences. One to Grow On is hosted by Hallie Casey and Chris Casey, and is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey. Show art is by Ashe Walker. Music is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
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41: How Plants Communicate Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

Hallie: Hello and welcome to One to Grow On. A show where we dig into questions about agriculture and try to understand how food production impacts us and our world. My name is Hallie Casey and I studied and currently work in agriculture.

Chris: I’m Chris Casey, Hallie’s dad and I don’t know anything about agriculture. Each episode, we pick an area of agriculture or food production to discuss and this week we’re focusing on fungal networks.

[Background music].

Hallie: Let’s get into it. Dad, what do you know about fungal networks specifically related to plants?

Chris: I know that there’s something called the mycelial network.

Hallie: Okay.

Chris: I know about it because of Star Trek Discovery.

Hallie: What?

Chris: Part of the premise of Star Trek Discovery is there’s some sort of mycelial network in space that a giant tardigrade can float around on.

Hallie: That doesn’t make any sense.

Chris: [Laughs]. I agree.

Hallie: If the tardigrade is giant, how is it floating around on the mycelia, which are tiny?

Chris: It was a little hand wavy even by Star Trek standards. It helped the enterprise go really far really fast. Faster than their normal work drive could take them. Oops! Editing Chris here. If you’re thinking, hey, Chris. Star Trek Discovery is about the discovery and not the enterprise. You’d be right. Hey, listener, editing Chris here. If you’re thinking Star Trek Discovery is about the discovery and not the enterprise, you’d be right.

Hallie: Because they rode the fungus.

Chris: Yeah, they rode the mycelial network.

Hallie: Mycelia is basically fungus.

Chris: Okay. But at some point their chief engineer takes over of the person that sort of flies them through the mycelial network because they don’t want to be cruel to the tardigrade.

Hallie: This doesn’t make any sense at all. [Laughs].

Chris: Star Trek, man. It’s about philosophy.

Hallie: Okay. Do you know what fungi is compared to mushrooms? Let’s start there.

Chris: So far as I know and of course I grew up with the five plant kingdoms and from what I remember from my education is fungus is one of the kingdoms and mushrooms are in that fungal kingdom along with athlete’s foot.

Hallie: Wait, you said five plant kingdoms.

Chris: Well, sorry. You’re right. I guess the five light kingdoms of life.

Hallie: Yeah, right. Yes.

Chris: Animals, plants, and then fungus there is another one that aren’t quite the same as plants.

Hallie: Separate from plants.

Chris: Right. Because they don’t have chlorophyll I guess, but more for them.

Hallie: Yeah, I have heard people say, they thought fungus was plants. Fungus is not plants. It is separate from plants.

The mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of the fungi and they’re just the very, very tip of the iceberg. The mycelia are actually the body of the fungus. They make up the majority of the fungus and then the hyphae are basically branching filaments that make up the mycelium, the total body of a fungus.

Chris: Wait, are they a berry?

Hallie: No.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: Oh my God. Absolutely not.

Chris: All right. They’re not a berry. The mushroom part is like you said, the fruiting body.

Hallie: Yeah, pretty much.

Chris: When you say fruiting body, you mean that’s what produces the seed.

Hallie: It’s what produces the reproductive parts.

Chris: Yes, I was going to say, thank you for interrupting me.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: Then on a mushroom the seed is I guess spores or at least that’s what I know of, but maybe they’re not all spores.

Hallie: I mean, we’re using the word seed here very liberally. I don’t know if we want to apply seed to the animal kingdom if we can extrapolate that way.

Chris: It’s not that kind of podcast.

Hallie: I wouldn’t say seed. Yeah, the fruiting body, meaning that that is what creates new mushrooms.

Chris: Got it. Okay.

Hallie: Then the mycelia is like the body of it. If we’re thinking about it in analogous to a plant, the mushroom would be like an apple and the mycelia would be all the rest of the tree.

Chris: Oh, okay. It’s not just the trunk or just the roots. It’s the whole thing.

Hallie: Then the hyphae is a branch.

Chris: I don’t think I’ve ever seen any part of a mushroom that wasn’t just the mushroom.

Hallie: The mushroom is the mushroom, right? The part of a fungi or fungus.

Chris: When I buy a mushroom at the grocery store or I see a mushroom growing on a log in the forest, there’s just this mushroom popping up and I don’t know what the mycelia part is.

Hallie: Right. I wanted to start talking about these different definitions because I want to get you away from that idea of a mushroom. Have you seen other fungus?

Chris: Oh, yeah. Because I used to work in a bakery and sometimes we’d have to throw the bread out or sometimes we keep food too long and that’s mold.

Hallie: Yeah, exactly. Boom answered. The mycelia there is the fuzzy bits. In the soil, they’re really, really small. Typically, they are microscopic, but they’re very important. We are specifically going to be talking about mycorrhiza fungi. That word, we can break it up into two parts. The word myco, meaning fungus in Greek and the word rhiza, meaning root in Greek.

Chris: Okay. Just to be clear, when I walk along the path in the forest and I see the mushrooms, there are fuzzy bits somewhere.

Hallie: Under the ground in the soil.

Chris: There are fuzzy bits.

Hallie: There is a network of branching hyphae filaments that make up the mycelium.

Chris: Wait, is that where the enterprise flies around?

Hallie: Yes, fine.

[Laughter].

Chris: I know you wanted to get away from mushrooms, but on a mushroom there’s the cap and the stock.

Hallie: Sometimes.

Chris: Is all that part of the fruiting body or is some of that part of the mycelia?

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: All that’s part of the fruiting body and the mycelia is the fuzzy bits underground and there is a network of them.

Hallie: We said fuzzy bits because we were trying to envision fungus. When you really see an image of an underground, like mycelium, it looks like a tree. It’s massive.

It’s really interconnected. If you could imagine grassroots, like really, really fine hyphae that are connected and huge. It’s going to be super huge. It’s not like a little fuzzy spot. It’s a huge network of these branching hyphae that connect.

Chris: Like a rhizome?

Hallie: Yeah, right. But a fungus though. It’s like a fungi. Anyways, we got the image now. There are many different kinds of fungi. We are going to specifically be talking about mycorrhiza fungi.

Chris: Mycorrhiza fungi.

Hallie: Yeah, do you remember the Greek I said earlier? Myco meaning.

Chris: Fungus and rhiza meaning root.

Hallie: Exactly.

Chris: I remember because I’m looking at the show notes.

Hallie: [Laughs]. This is all we’re going to be talking about. Basically, plants need nutrients from the soil, right? But they don’t spread out very well. It takes them a lot of energy to spread out.

Most plant roots are built with carbohydrates and plants make carbohydrates using photosynthesis, so it’s a lot of work to photosynthesize. You know what does spread out really well is mycelium.

Chris: Why is that?

Hallie: Because they’re real small and it’s easy for them to get very many places and it’s just what they’re specialized to do. It’s what they do. Plants trade carbohydrates with fungi in the soil for basically nutrients. They get the nutrients from the fungi and the fungi gets some carbohydrates to go and build some more little hyphae somewhere else or to go build a mushroom. Then I found an article from the journal nature that said that 85% of vascular plants are in some kind of mycorrhiza relationship.

Chris: When the fuzzy bits spread out, they’re not just transporting nutrients to each other or to their fruiting bodies or whatever. Plants somehow use them to transport nutrients.

Hallie: Yeah, they’re basically in relationship with the plants in the ecosystem, which makes sense when we think about it as an ecosystem, which it is, but yeah, they’re basically like buying and selling nutrients and carbohydrates back and forth between these plants and the fungus.

Chris: But whenever I hear someone talk about their plant getting a fungus, it’s a bad thing.

Hallie: Well, yeah.

You can have issues with houseplants if a plant gets anaerobic, but those fungi in the soil are really, really crucial to a plant being able to get enough nutrients. Like everything else pretty much in the soil, you can have beneficial fungi and you can have detrimental fungi or pest fungi. Most of it is beneficial fungi. That mycorrhiza network is so key for plants.

Chris: Got it. Okay, cool. But I think we need to establish something pretty quick right now. Is it fungi or is it fungi?

Hallie: [Laughs]. I switched between the two, which is probably not correct. I think technically it’s fungi, but I always grew up saying fungi, so let’s stick with fungi for the rest of the episode because I’m pretty sure that’s the scientifically correct way to say it.

Chris: It’s fungi like the peanut butter.

Hallie: Fungi peanut butter? What is fungi peanut butter?

Chris: Fungi like the peanut butter, not fungi like graphics.

Hallie: Oh my God.

[Laughter].

Hallie: Man, I can’t even say that sentence. A gif jif joke for those of you at home.

Within these mycorrhiza fungi that we’re discussing today, there are two main types. There are ectomycorrhiza fungi and arbuscular mycorrhiza fungi. An ectomycorrhiza fungi, basically these two types are describing how the fungi gets in relationship with a plant. An ectomycorrhiza fungi, do you know the prefix ecto?

Chris: Yeah, that’s what ghosts create as ectoplasm.

Hallie: No, oh my God. I mean, yes, but like in the science, like actual, what does it actually mean in Latin?

Chris: Ecto, does it mean outer?

Hallie: Exactly. Right.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: Ectomycorrhiza fungi, basically, if you think about plant root cells, they’re kind of built like a brick wall. They’re like these little boxes that are stacked next to each other and an ectomycorrhiza fungi will penetrate the root, but doesn’t penetrate the actual cells. It creates this sheath around those little brick cells, which can be very helpful in protecting the roots from nematodes or something like that that might want to come and eat it, but it basically comes out and creates a little wall around that little cell along the root. It’s ecto meaning outside of the cell. This is often associated with forests.

A lot of conifers have these ectomycorrhiza fungi relationships. They’re great. They’re terrific. The other type is arbuscular mycorrhiza fungi. I tried to figure out what the word arbuscular means. It is based on the word tree, right? Arbuscular basically these guys squeeze in the actual root cells in the plant cells. They get in the walls and they live in the cells and the little arbuscular, which are the bits of the fungi that are inside the actual plant cell spread out and look like tree branches, which is where we get that arbor connection because it kind of looks like a tree branch inside of the actual cell. This is really typical in things like grasses, not always. These connect to all kinds of different things.

Chris: That sounds amazing.

Hallie: Yeah, they’re both great. They’re both super cool.

Chris: But they both do essentially the same thing. They have some sort of relationship with the plant where they do like a nutrient exchange.

Hallie: Right. That’s what this mycorrhiza fungi do. This is just basically a different way of establishing that relationship with the plant.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: Now we’re going to get into the crazy part. We’re on board for a plant knows a mushroom and they like trade stuff back and forth, but here where it gets intense.

Trees are not in kind of the traditional way that we think about them, an individual organism.

Chris: Because they’re socialists?

Hallie: Because these fungal relationships form something that scientists have been calling the Wood Wide Web.

Chris: [Laughs]. Oh, mad respect.

Hallie: I think it’s good.

Chris: But wait, I don’t think I understand what it is you’re saying about why they’re not individuals. Trees are not individuals because they talk to each other or because they have the Wood Wide Web too. That goes between the tree roots so that the trees can talk to each other over the fungal network.

Hallie: Yeah, it’s basically that second one. This Wood Wide Web is a way of reimagining what we think of as a forest ecosystem. A lot of this work was pioneered by an amazing scientist, Suzanne Simard from the University of British Columbia and here’s like how she figured it out. What she did was she put a traceable form of carbon in a tree in a forest. Then she took samples from a neighboring tree at a later date and found carbon in the other tree that she did not put it in.

Chris: Dude.

Hallie: A tree had taken a carbon and put it down into the Wood Wide Web into this giant fungal mycelium and it had gone into a different tree.

Chris: Is she sure that the tree just didn’t reach over and said here have some of my carbon?

Hallie: We’re pretty sure that’s not what happened [laughs].

Chris: Okay. I mean, maybe a leaf fell and the leaf decomposed and then the other tree absorbed. I’m sorry. None of that’s correct. This is insane. That’s wild.

Hallie: Yeah, I did a lot of research on this and a lot of the analogies I found were actually specifically talking about the internet and how it’s kind of a series of tubes that connects servers.

Chris: Oh, boy.

Hallie: These trees can be thought of as servers and sometimes you have smaller servers or bigger servers. A bigger server would be a really big older tree. What’s often called like a mother tree when thinking about this type of framing of the ecosystem. What scientists have seen is that you have these source plants and then you have these sinking plants. Plants make carbohydrates, right? Using oxygen and carbon dioxide and using photon energy they create a carbohydrate. However, if you are on forest, you will have a big tree that gets much sun and many photons and you’ll have a small little tiny baby tree that will be under the big tree.

When you’re under the big tree, you get very few photons. You see what I’m saying?

Chris: Is this nature’s version of trickle-down economics?

Hallie: No, oh my God.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: It’s like nature’s version of motherhood. That’s why it’s called Mother Theresa.

Chris: Oh, okay.

Hallie: This big tree will pass carbohydrates across the Wood Wide Web to these little small trees so that they can continue to survive. They have seen examples of trees that are getting very, very few photons that are really not photosynthesizing a lot, but are able to continue to survive because they’re basically getting carbohydrates from the rest of their community.

Chris: Wait, can I use this in my backyard to grow plants that otherwise wouldn’t grow in the shade?

Hallie: Yeah, you know what you need in order to establish a good Wood Wide Web in your backyard.

Chris: What?

Hallie: Compost. You should compost, dad.

[Laughter].

Chris: I mean, that I have to go through the action of composting.

Hallie: You can also buy compost, but if you’re buying compost in order to establish the mycelial network, you do have to buy an active compost that’s not dead because you need living things in it like fungi.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: They send carbohydrates. They can also send nutrients around. They can also send water around and it has also been found that they can also send stress chemicals and like warning signals around on these internet of trees.

Chris: I’m just thinking of all the HTTP codes on the web. They can send two hundreds and five hundreds and maybe even a 404.

Hallie: Sure, dad?

Chris: Yeah.

[Laughter].

Hallie: Absolutely.

Chris: Site not found. I don’t know.

Hallie: What is the 500 code? I don’t know that one.

Chris: Internal server error.

Hallie: Okay. Yeah, I don’t really know what that means, but yeah, absolutely if that helps, sure.

Chris: That’s just, wow. Stress chemicals. I’m like, look out there’s a woodpecker or something.

Hallie: Yeah, exactly that. Look out, something is coming eating our leaves perhaps make more cellulose if you can. Something’s coming and then they will.

Chris: Well, that’s cool and herbicides too this is?

Hallie: Yeah, you’re reading a little bit ahead.

Chris: True.

Hallie: They can also transport things like herbicides, which we don’t really want transported, but that hasn’t been as studied, partly because if you’re using something like an herbicide, then that’s often diminishing the soil ecosystem, right? If we’re growing in a more conventional system, then you usually have a less robust soil ecosystem. Not that that has to be the case that you can’t use herbicides in a system that has a robust soil ecosystem. But as we’ve talked about on the show before, we can always use more science about regenerative, agricultural practices and soil science and soil health.

Chris: That is good.

Hallie: One of the other interesting things that they found about these “mother trees” is that when they are dying, they take the carbon that has been stored a lot, not all of it obviously, but they take some of the carbon, they have stored and they release that and as well as other nutrients back into the network, so they’re basically passing resources onto the next generation and it kind of speeds up their death. One of the things that a lot of forestry scientists have been talking about for the last, however long, like since the nineties, when this research was being done is considering that when we cut down these larger trees to make plywood or whatever, we’re basically taking those resources out, so it can be harder for the next generation of trees to actually grow up to maturity because they don’t have that kick start as these mother trees who are aging out and passing those resources on.

Chris: Man, that’s wow. Okay. Is this more like an Ethernet or like a token ring thing?

Hallie: I don’t know. I think that’s the point where we should perhaps get into the break because you were talking way beyond what I know of the internet.

Chris: [Laughs]. Into the break.

[Background music].

Chris: You really should learn more about computers and the internet and the way it all works I think.

Hallie: You know what? I do know more about our starfruit patrons.

Chris: What? Vikram, Lindsay, Patrick, Mama Casey and Shianne.

Hallie: Our starfruit patrons and all of our patrons have made our local food series possible. They have made it possible for us to get transcripts. They have made so many things possible for us to grow the show, things that have happened and things that are coming up that we’re planning. If you’re interested in supporting the show, we have perks at all kinds of different levels from $1 all the way up to $25 is the highest tier. We have pretty fun perks. If you’re interested, you can come join us over there at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod.

Chris: That’s patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. We would love to see you there. Back to the episode.

[Background music].

Hallie: Dad, do you have a nature fact for us?

Chris: I do.

Hallie: Great.

Chris: All right. Earlier we established that in Star Trek Discovery they used the mycelial network to fly around.

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: Okay. The engineer that was able to fly them around the mycelial network was played by Anthony Rapp.

Hallie: No way.

Chris: Oh, yeah way.

Hallie: You’re kidding. Broadway King Anthony Rapp was on the Star Trek.

Chris: As you know, Anthony Rapp was big in Rent.

Hallie: I mean, he was the lead in Rent.

Chris: Yes, the reason he was able to do so well in Rent is because he was a fun guy.

Hallie: What?

Chris: [Laughs]. He was a fun guy.

Hallie: That doesn’t even make any sense.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: Oh, my God.

Chris: Also, there are mushrooms that go in the dark and they look really cool and you should look them up.

Hallie: I can’t even believe you could even come up with a Rent appropriate pun.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: The amount of Rent that you had to listen to when I was in high school and you couldn’t even come up with a Rent specific pun.

Chris: Oh, man. I did try to see if they talked about there being mold in the building, but there was no reference to it.

Hallie: No.

Chris: They were just jerks who didn’t want to pay rent.

Hallie: No, that’s not the takeaway at all from Rent.

Chris: Not the takeaway. It’s just who they were as characters.

Hallie: No, we don’t have the time to talk about how wrong you are.

Chris: [Laughs]. Thank God.

Hallie: Moving on. Back to fungus. There has been some cool research that’s shown that nutrient transfer from old growth. Douglas firs happens more with plants that are related to them like other conifers versus plants that are more distantly related to them, like broad leaf plants.

We don’t know how they know. We don’t know why that happens. It’s not like they’re talking to them. They’re talking to the fungi who is then talking to the plants. How do they tell the fungi, “Hey, take this to that tree over there, but not to that tree because that tree and me are not bros?” How do they know?

Chris: I don’t know. But it sounds like they got a little tribal thing going on.

Hallie: I want to know how they know so badly. It’s so weird.

Chris: Maybe they can see each other. I don’t know. That is pretty wild though.

Hallie: It’s wild.

Chris: Maybe it’s like some sort of gene expression over the network.

Hallie: I really don’t know. Yeah, there is so much we don’t know about this whole network. There’s so many more things that we will be learning in the next like 50 years and I’m sure in 50 years we are going to know so much more and it’s going to blow my freaking mind.

Chris: Maybe they just ask, “Is your name Douglas?” They say, “Yes.”

Hallie: That’s probably what the fungi do actually. Now that I think about it, that’s probably exactly what they do.

Chris: All right. Cool. Let’s go for that.

[Laughter].

Hallie: I want to talk a little bit more about the context of this in agriculture. We talked a lot about forestry in an oblique way, so obviously this is very relevant for our timber industries. We haven’t done an episode on timber yet, but we’re planning on doing it eventually. It’s like on my list of things I really want to talk about. But yeah, this is super connected, but mycorrhiza fungi don’t just exist in trees. We know about them mostly in trees because it’s pretty easy to put a weird carbon in a tree and then come back a while later and look at another tree, but if you have annual plants, you might not have the lifespan to really be able to measure what’s being passed back and forth, right? There is still really cool science being done. But like we do know that these mycorrhiza fungi are important to annual crops like tomatoes, wheat. Most of the things that we eat. We do know that they are important. We don’t just have as much science because there’s always more science we can be doing.

Chris: That is true.

Hallie: There is evidence that plants that are plugged into the network from a young age are generally healthier. Why? We don’t really know. It could be because they have more available nutrients when they’re young and so they’re able to grow to be more robust. It could be because they have more access to stress hormones, so they get less damaged. There could be other reasons that we don’t know of.

Chris: They’ve got mycelia privilege.

Hallie: Exactly. What does that mean? Who knows? We don’t know yet, but hopefully we will know soon. There can issues in agriculture related to the mycelia network. Overuse of fertilizer can damage mycorrhiza networks basically because the plants don’t need the fungi to provide nutrients, so they’re not giving the carbohydrates back to the fungal network.

Chris: Oh, that makes sense.

Hallie: Yeah, that’s specific to fertilizers, but we do know that large scale industrial agriculture does damage soil health. We can talk specifically about mycorrhiza fungi, but what we do definitely know and what is really clear is that the fungal network, this mycelium under the ground is related to nematodes and is related to protozoa and is related to plants and is related to bacteria, all of which are growing in the soil together. If one of those pieces is missing, like if you don’t have as much plant diversity, then that can damage all of the other pieces that create a healthy biological soil. If you have a healthy biological soil, then you also have a healthy physical soil and chemical soil. All of these different aspects of the soil and how it functions can function much better. You see what I’m saying?

Chris: It’s sort of like when everything lives together in harmony, it all works out better.

Hallie: I mean, yeah, sure. If we extrapolate very far back, that is what I am saying.

Chris: It’s a metaphor for life.

Hallie: Yeah, it’s a metaphor for life. We need balance including mycelium. It’s very important.

Chris: Cool. In conclusion, the trees talk to the mushrooms and the mushrooms relay the messages to other trees, or sometimes even other plants or at least trees of other species or whatever, but not usually. They all live together with their friends, the bacteria and the nematodes and the other things and good healthy soil, which is important. It’s just cool and amazing and important for a healthy ecosystem.

Hallie: That’s the stuff of it.

Chris: That’s the stuff of it, man. Well, thanks. Hallie, you know what? I had fun guy.

Hallie: Oh, my God. Well, I had mushroom.

Chris: You had mushroom for what? That makes no sense.

Hallie: Yeah, well, yours isn’t great either.

Chris: That’s true. Okay.

[Background music].

Chris: Thanks for listening to this episode of One to Grow On.

Hallie: This show is made by me, Hallie Casey and Chris Casey. Our music is Something Elated by Broke for Free.

Chris: If you’d like to connect with us, follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at One to Grow On Pod or join our Discord and Facebook communities and leaf us your thoughts on this episode.

Hallie: You can find all of our episodes and transcripts as well as information about the team and the show on our website, onetogrowonpod.com.

Chris: Help us take root and grow organically by recommending the show to your friends or consider donating to our Patreon at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. There, you can get access to audio extras, fascinating follow-ups, exclusive bonus content and boxes of our favorite goodies.

Hallie: If you liked the show, please share it with a friend. Sharing is the best way to help us reach more ears.

Chris: Be sure to see what’s sprouting in two weeks.

Hallie: But until then, keep on growing.

[Background music].

41: How Plants Communicate

This week, Hallie and Chris explore the fun-filled world of fungi! We learn about the ways the fungi support plant-life, how they make it possible for plants to communicate with each other, and what these relationships mean for agriculture. We definitely decide how to pronounce “gif” and “fungi.”

Read the full episode transcript here.

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About us
One to Grow On is a podcast that digs into the questions you have about agriculture and tries to understand the impacts of food production on us and our world. We explore fascinating topics including food, gardening, and plant sciences. One to Grow On is hosted by Hallie Casey and Chris Casey, and is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey. Show art is by Ashe Walker. Music is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
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Persimmons

33: Persimmons Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

Hallie Casey  0:00 

Hello and welcome to One To Grow On the show where we dig into questions about agriculture and try to understand how food production impacts us and our world. My name is Hallie Casey and I studied and currently work in agriculture.

Chris Casey  0:12 

And I’m Chris Casey, Hallie’s dad. Each episode we pick an area of agriculture or food production to discuss and this week we are focusing on persimmons.

Hallie Casey  0:26 

I am so excited to talk about this fruit!

Chris Casey  0:28 

Persimmons. You used to say parsimmons.

Hallie Casey  0:34 

I still say parsimmons sometimes.

Chris Casey  0:36 

Yeah, you do.

Hallie Casey  0:37 

What do you know about the persimmon, Dad?

Chris Casey  0:40 

I know there’s this guy on YouTube that’s trying to eat them and they are a fruit, judging by some pictures that I saw. Maybe they’re a berry. And that’s all I really know.

Hallie Casey  0:55 

Yes. So I posted in our One To Grow On Discord. Quick plug if you’re interested, you can go to OneToGrowOnPod.com/discord about yeah, there’s this guy who has a YouTube channel. I was subscribed to him from back in the day, a million years ago. And he kind of revitalized his channel recently to try and like persimmons, which is not as easy of a task as one may think it is.

Chris Casey  1:23 

So persimmons aren’t very likable, I’m guessing.

Hallie Casey  1:26 

So they can be likable, and we’re gonna get to that they can also be distinctively unlikable.

Chris Casey  1:31 

Alright.

Hallie Casey  1:32 

So you’re right persimmons are berries. Good job. They’re in the genus Diospyros in the family Ebenaceae which is the ebony family, which is known for the dark wood that is used in carving.

Chris Casey  1:48 

Oh, so does it have the same kind of wood?

Hallie Casey  1:50 

No.

Chris Casey  1:51 

Oh, it’s just related to a tree that has that kind of wood.

Hallie Casey  1:54 

Exactly. Yeah. There are lots of different kinds of persimmons, the most common one is Diospyros kaki or kackai? I don’t know which one it is. That’s the most commonly produced one commercially. It’s native to mainland China and parts of Japan and you can buy it most places here in the US depending on seasonality. So that’s the one that usually see you in grocery stores.

Chris Casey  2:18 

Cool.

Hallie Casey  2:19 

There’s also Diospyros Nigra, which is native to Mexico and parts of Texas. That’s the common name is the chocolate pudding fruit.

Chris Casey  2:26 

Wait, is it called that because it tastes like chocolate pudding? I feel like it would have heard of this fruit.

Hallie Casey  2:33 

It’s called that because the flesh is very dark like chocolate pudding.

Chris Casey  2:38 

Oooooh.

Hallie Casey  2:38 

It’s also called the Sapote in Spanish.

Chris Casey  2:40 

Sapote? I still haven’t heard of it.

Unknown Speaker  2:42 

Well, it’s native to our region. There’s another one that’s native to our region called Diospyros Texana.

Chris Casey  2:47 

Okay.

Hallie Casey  2:48 

Do you know anything about Diospyros Texana?

Chris Casey  2:50 

Is it from Texas?

Hallie Casey  2:51 

It is yeah, it is from Texas. You have eaten this persimmon.

Chris Casey  2:56 

What?!

Hallie Casey  2:57 

Yes, you have eaten Diospyros Texana.

Chris Casey  2:59 

No. Really?

Hallie Casey  3:01 

Yes they grow in the Central Texas Hill Country.

Chris Casey  3:03 

Are they agaritas?

Hallie Casey  3:04 

No they’re not.

Chris Casey  3:07 

So what is it? When have I eaten this thing?

Hallie Casey  3:10 

Probably when you were traipsing around the central Texas Hill Country. I think I ate some with you I ate some with Katherine this last summer. When we were down towards Big Ben. I made her stop and eat them because they were fruiting at the end of the summer. They don’t really look like the commercial ones. The commercial ones are big, kind of like a like a large beefsteak tomato size. These Diospyros Texana, the Texas persimmons are maybe like the size of like a large marble or like a little bit bigger than a grape. And they have like some big seeds on the inside and they are dark purple in color and they stay in your teeth and they’re pretty delicious.

Chris Casey  3:50 

Okay, but I wasn’t with you when you went to Big Bend.

Hallie Casey  3:54 

I know but I’m pretty sure that either me or Mom would have forced you to foriage some Mexican persimmons or Texas persimmons at some point.

Chris Casey  4:06 

Hmmmm… I don’t remember this but maybe.

Hallie Casey  4:08 

I bet it! I bet so.

Chris Casey  4:10 

Did Producer Katherine like the persimmon when she ate it?

Hallie Casey  4:16 

I think she did. Yeah, I mean it’s a lot of seed it’s not bread. So it’s, it’s a lot of seed. There’s not a lot else in there unfortunately. But they are often harvested to make things like puddings or breads, or you know different stuff like that.

Chris Casey  4:33 

I’ve never had persimmon pudding or persimmon bread now I’m very curious.

Hallie Casey  4:37 

I had it once in college we had a professor who likes to celebrate our final, I think like baked us some persimmon bread, and I think she made something else with like a native plant. It was really cute. Everyone should become an ag major because your professors always bring you food.

Chris Casey  4:52 

Okay, you say it was really cute, but was it delicious?

Hallie Casey  4:56 

I thought it was delicious. Yeah, it’s like it’s kind of like a like a prune and nut bread like something that’s like kind of like sticky and you put nuts on it so it’s got a little crunch to it but the persimmons themselves, the Texas ones are really kind of thick and putting a similar to the sapote.

Chris Casey  5:12 

Did everyone else think it was delicious?

Hallie Casey  5:14 

I don’t remember I was very self centered teenager.

Chris Casey  5:18 

Okay, I’m just trying to get a bead on how this thing tastes.

Hallie Casey  5:21 

Yeah, so well that’s the Texas one. You can’t usually buy those ones you have to know when they’re fruiting and then go out and forage for them. They’re actually starting to flower right now, which is a little early for them because everything in here in Texas has been flowering a little bit early because it’s been a warm winter. So they’ll probably be coming in in like June or July where they usually come in around July or August. But that’s pretty much all we’re going to be talking about Diospyros Texana, because most of the episode we’re going to be talking about Diospyros Kaki which is like the commercial one.

Chris Casey  5:53 

The ones from Japan.

Hallie Casey  5:54 

Yeah, and Mainland China. So I first learned about the Japanese persimmon when I was in my post harvest class when I was in grad school, do you know what post harvest means?

Chris Casey  6:06 

Does it mean how to pick plants? No- how to store plants?

Hallie Casey  6:12 

Yes, exactly how to store plants. And the reason we talked about this for persimmons is because persimmons are very hard to store in a way that makes them delicious.

Chris Casey  6:25 

Okay, so I remember, you could store the apple up to like a year, right in giant silos, and I was shocked. So is the persimmon not similar?

Hallie Casey  6:36 

It’s not similar in that when you store an apple, you kind of pick it and then you chuck it in a bin, whereas with the persimmon, you have very different kinds of persimmons based on the cultivars and then how you store them has to be really really intricate, so it really quickly, persimmons. We don’t grab a lot of them a lot because of these issues with storing them. We’ve grew 7.9 million tons in 2018.

Chris Casey  7:04 

That’s sounds like a lot.

Hallie Casey  7:05 

it sounds like a lot. Yeah, it’s like 17.4 billion pounds. Most of that was grown in China, a lot of that was sold in eastern Asia because it’s more common to eat it there. It’s kind of more in the cuisine, people are more, you know, experienced with eating it. Here in North America, it’s not as common. To be put in the cuisine, partly because it has had some issues being grown here in the US. Pretty much all of the persimmon growth in the US comes out of California. And there’s a lot of competition for California real estate. There’s a lot of other crops that are jockeying for those fields. So if you haven’t quite cracked the persimmon, like a recipe on how to grow it perfect and then market it, then it’s hard to do it in a way that’s economical because that land is just so valuable.

Chris Casey  8:01 

And so many things we eat come from there.

Hallie Casey  8:03 

It’s true.

Chris Casey  8:04 

Okay, so like you said 17.4 billion pounds. How do people consume these billions of pounds of persimmons? I’m wondering.

Hallie Casey  8:15 

A lot of them are eaten fresh, just like fresh produce. You can also put them in things like jams or in desserts or in other things like that, that you would put a sweet fruit in. But for the most part, they are known as a fresh fruit that you would eat kind of like how you would just eat an apple or something like that where you just chomp it.

Chris Casey  8:34 

Does it have to be peeled or anything like that?

Hallie Casey  8:37 

No, no, you just chomp it. You just get in there and chomp it and Japanese persimmons have seedless fruits. So that’s nice because generally, the persimmon seeds can be pretty hefty. So that’s quite nice if you’re just going to chomp something if there’s no there’s no seeds in the side of it.

Chris Casey  8:57 

All right. Well, you know when I’m editing the episode, it feels like I have to chomp a cut. When we go into a break, chomp chomp chomp chomp chomp. 😉

Hallie Casey  9:11 

Dad, did you know that we have a discord channel?

Chris Casey  9:15 

I did know that! It’s a lot of fun.

Hallie Casey  9:20 

We also have a Facebook group, both on the discord channel and on the Facebook group Dad and I post all the time. Lots of other folks who listen to the podcast come in and we talk about plants and all the plants that we’re hoping to grow and there’s right now actually in the discord, there’s a whole channel just dedicated to wildflower pictures. And it’s amazing. It’s like my favorite place on the internet right now. If you just want to come and discuss how beautiful the blooms are. That’s the place to do it.

Chris Casey  9:49 

It’s true. There’s some great pictures. People get advice on the plants that they have. If they’re not doing well. Maybe they need water or maybe they need sun or something and people talk about that. And I make hilarious jokes all the time and it’s great!

Hallie Casey  10:08 

if you want to join either the Facebook group or the discord you can go to onetogrowownpod.com/discord or / group and find us there. That’s onetogrowonpod.com/discord for the discord and onetogrowonpod.com/group for the Facebook group.

Chris Casey  10:25 

And a big thank you to all of our patrons especially our star fruit patrons. Patrick, Vikram, Lindsey, Mama Casey and Cheyenne.

Hallie Casey  10:35 

Thank you guys so much. Should we get back to the episode?

Chris Casey  10:39 

Back to the episode!

Ad Music Outro  10:44 

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Hallie Casey  10:46 

Okay, dad, do you have any Nature Facts for us?

Chris Casey  10:48 

I do! This one I came across just randomly. A friend of mine named Kevin post the Austin improv schedule every day and in that schedule, he posts a random fact and  one day, his random fact was about the Rocky Mountain locust. Which was one of the dominant pests of the 19th century. And he said that once form in April of 1875 covered 200,000 square miles.

Hallie Casey  11:14 

Wow!

Chris Casey  11:15 

Yep. But over a period, I’m not sure when they started but over a period of about 30 years, agricultural development in the Rocky Mountains accidentally destroyed the locust nesting grounds and made the species completely extinct. And now North America is the only inhabited continent without a locust species.

Hallie Casey  11:37 

Wait, I thought locusts were the same as grasshoppers. I was pretty sure that a locust was the same as a grasshopper and so now I’m really- wait! Was the locus a cicada?

Chris Casey  11:45 

Locusts are neither grasshoppers nor cicadas. I think some people call cicadas locusts but they’re not the same.

Hallie Casey  11:55 

I am very surprised by this news!

Chris Casey  11:58 

Right? If you look up a picture of them they do look a lot like a grasshopper. It’s a species of short horn grasshoppers.

Hallie Casey  12:09 

Okay, so it’s like a specific kind of grasshopper. So we have other grasshoppers…

Chris Casey  12:13 

Yes.

Hallie Casey  12:14 

So a locust is a grasshopper but a grasshopper is not a locust. Right? Okay. Okay. That’s very interesting. Do you know there’s also trees called locust trees?

Chris Casey  12:23 

No, I had no idea.

Hallie Casey  12:24 

Yeah, they’re in the lagoon family. We have a lot of them here in Texas.

Chris Casey  12:28 

Do they make beans?

Hallie Casey  12:28 

They do make beans.

Chris Casey  12:30 

Nice.

Hallie Casey  12:32 

Ta da da ta da! Nature fact!

Chris Casey  12:34 

Nature fact! Alright, so, in the first half of the episode, you used a word that I didn’t ask you about, which was cultavar. What is that?

Hallie Casey  12:47 

So a VAR variety is a specific -What do we call it? We call it a… we don’t call it bloodlines because plants don’t have bloodlines.

Chris Casey  13:00 

Do the half chlorophyll lines?

Hallie Casey  13:04 

HAAA! That has to go in the outtakes cuz I was not on my mic when I said bloodline.

Chris Casey  13:10 

Does it have a genetic lineage?

Hallie Casey  13:12 

Yeah. So VARities is basically a specific kind of like a breed of plant kind of like you would have a breed of dogs. But the thing that’s different is that varieties are naturally occurring. So you just have some plants that cross a bunch and maybe they’re a little bit geographically isolated, and they start kind of doing their own thing in a way where it’s not like they can’t get with other plants that are still in the species, but they keep doing something that just makes them a little bit different. Sometimes this has to do with flower color, or like shape or size. But the word culturivar was invented to describe basically breeds of plants that were actually bred. So it’s short for cultivated variety.

Chris Casey  14:00 

Okay kind of like selecting for a seed for some plant. Basically it’s like that you’re just you’re just breeding the ones you want.

Hallie Casey  14:09 

Yeah, yeah, seed breeding. There’s all kinds of crossbreeding and stuff like that.

Chris Casey  14:16 

They’re not clones.

Hallie Casey  14:18 

No, they are not clones. But a clone is a plant. Usually if you have a clone, then it has some kind of plant trademark, which is different than a cultivar, but similar in a lot of ways, but-

Chris Casey  14:30 

Just taking our favorite plants and breeding them!

Hallie Casey  14:32 

Exactly. Most of these Japanese persimmons are producing seedless fruit, which is great, but some of these Japanese persimmons with seedless fruit produce astringent fruit. Do you know the word astringent? It’s kind of a weird word. I remember when I learned it, I had no idea what it meant.

Chris Casey  14:49 

I do I used to make beer. If I did something wrong or left something in the mash or the boil or something too long or something while to get in there that shouldn’t be then yeah, it would have an astringent flavor and it was not good at all.

Hallie Casey  15:06 

Yeah, astringency can mean like acidity or bitterness, generally just kind of a gross flavor that can’t really be described any other way because it’s a flavor. It’s like trying to describe colors. It just is what that is.

Chris Casey  15:21 

That’s true.

Hallie Casey  15:21 

So, the persimmons that are astringent that do become astringent have to be eaten superduper soft, whereas if you have persimmons that have been bred to be non astringent, then you can eat them super crisp like an apple.

Chris Casey  15:36 

And I guess different people just have different preferences as to which persimmon they like and presumably they’re marketed as such like if I go to a persimmon grocery store, then you have the astringent persimmons and the non astringent persimmon, sort of like you’d have Golden Delicious apples and what’s the one that goes in pies, Granny Smith?

Hallie Casey  15:58 

Yeah, yeah. Very similar to that, the most common astringent persimmon is a hot chia. The most common non astringent one is a Fuyu. That’s true that like different people have different tastes, but also whether or not it can be sold crisp has a really big impact on how long you can store it because if you have to keep it around until it’s real squishy, then that can be an issue for getting it out to market because then you usually have a pretty short shelf life.

Chris Casey  16:26 

Do these ripen as they sit on the shelf or in storage?

Hallie Casey  16:31 

Yeah, so the astringent ones can the non astringent ones can as well but you’re not as concerned with ripening because they’re already tasting good. Whereas if you have one that tastes bad, you really have to make sure it’s ripe.

Chris Casey  16:44 

Got it.

Hallie Casey  16:44 

So  one of the wild things that scientists have found is that if you take persimmons that have astringency you can what’s called cure them before they go to market.

Chris Casey  16:57 

You mean like jerky?

Hallie Casey  16:58 

Kind of. What happens is that you usually have these persimmons that are put into a big room or like a just some somewhere that’s that’s airtight, and they are brought up to 80% co2 for 24 hours at 20 degrees Celsius, and then after that they are not astringent anymore, but they can still be firm.

Chris Casey  17:22 

Weird

Hallie Casey  17:23 

Isn’t that wild?

Chris Casey  17:24 

I’m trying to picture that just a bunch of persimmons in a room with high concentration of co2 and it changes the flavor.

Hallie Casey  17:32 

Yeah, it changes the flavor without changing the firmness so you can also cure these astringent persimmons. If you put them in 10 parts per million ethylene at 20 degrees Celsius, but then you they usually go soft really quickly. So unlike any other fruit really we use high concentrations of co2 to cure the persimmons while maintaining firmness. There’s not really any other produce as far as I’m aware that you do this with most other things when you’re doing post harvest, you have to use ethylene or some other hormone. co2 is not a hormone. It’s wild.

Chris Casey  18:10 

So, to answer my earlier question, no, that’s nothing like curing beef jerky.

Hallie Casey  18:16 

I don’t know that much about beef jerky.

Chris Casey  18:18 

Which you just cover in salts and spices and stick it in the fridge for a day.

Hallie Casey  18:25 

I mean, it is also stuck in somewhere for a day. So in that sense, that’s true. And a cold place for a day!

Chris Casey  18:32 

And it does presumably change the chemical composition since it comes out with a different flavor. So scientists discovered that this happens do they discover the mechanism for this happening?

Hallie Casey  18:42 

They might have I have not discovered it however. So I have one more fun persimmon fact. So unripend persimmons, these astringent ones have shibiall which is asoluble tannins. Aannins create astringency. It’s why we don’t eat things like acorns because they have a lot of these tannins in them.

Chris Casey  19:00 

Boy, do they ever!

Hallie Casey  19:01 

So shibiall polymerizes when it comes in contact with a weak acid such as stomach acid, and so if you eat a lot of unripe persimmons, it can polymerize in your stomach and form what is medically known as a a bezoar.

Chris Casey  19:15 

Hold the phone.  So when you say polymerize you mean like turn solid?

Hallie Casey  19:24 

Yeah, turn solid into a gross little stomach rock.

Chris Casey  19:26 

Wow, that’s amazing.

Hallie Casey  19:29 

Is that not amazing? It’s super weird and kind of gross because if you look on the Wikipedia page, they have a lot of photos of like jewelry that was made with bezoars.

Chris Casey  19:40 

I mean, once a bezoar forms inside of you I feel like there’s only one way to get it out.

Hallie Casey  19:46 

Yep, pretty much.

Chris Casey  19:48 

And people want to wear that as jewelry.

Hallie Casey  19:51 

Yeah, a lot of them aren’t human bezoars as well. They are bezoars from things like goats.

Chris Casey  19:56 

Okay, well, which is what it is in the Harry Potter books. I mean, is that really more gross than coffee that’s been pooped out by beetles or whatever?

Hallie Casey  20:08 

I think it is. I know a lot about that coffee that has gone through a digestive process. I don’t think it’s that gross. We can do a whole episode on coffee and I can get all into the poop coffee.

Chris Casey  20:20 

All right, well, I’m looking forward to some poop coffee! I want to see what a bezoar looks like. Oh, there’s one with hair sticking out of it.

Hallie Casey  20:28 

Yeah, that’s coming from your stomach.

Chris Casey  20:32 

Dude! There’s not hair your stomach, you know, whatever.

Hallie Casey  20:36 

I mean, if you’re an animal that eats animals, there probably is.

Chris Casey  20:40 

Thanks for listening to this episode of One To Grow On!

Hallie Casey  20:43 

This show is hosted by me Hallie Casey and Chris Casey. It is produced by Katherine RJ

Chris Casey  20:47 

and Holly Casey.

Hallie Casey  20:48 

Our music is Something Elated by Broke For Free.

Chris Casey  20:51 

Connect with us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at One To Grow On Pod.

Chris Casey  20:55 

You can find all of our episodes as well as more information about the show and the team on our website, onetogrowonpod.com. Join our community and learn more about each episode at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. There you can get access to audio extras fascinating follow ups, and even custom art created just for you.

Hallie Casey  21:15 

If you like the show, pleaseshare it with your friends. Sharing is the best way to help us reach more ears.

Chris Casey  21:21 

Be sure to check out the next episode in two weeks!

Hallie Casey  21:23 

But until then keep on growin’!

Chris Casey  21:24 

Bye, everybody.

Persimmons

33: Persimmons

We’re back to our regularly scheduled programming! This week, Hallie and Chris discuss persimmons and what makes them so great. We learn exactly what type of plant they are, what they’re used for and how to get them to taste as good as possible. We also learn what happened to the last of the North American locusts.

Read the transcript.

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About us
One to Grow On is a podcast that digs into the questions you have about agriculture and tries to understand the impacts of food production on us and our world. We explore fascinating topics including food, gardening, and plant sciences. One to Grow On is hosted by Hallie Casey and Chris Casey, and is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey. Show art is by Ashe Walker. Music is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
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32: Plant Propagation Transcript

Listen to the full episode.

Hallie: Hello and welcome to One to Grow On. A show where we dig into questions about agriculture and try to understand how food production impacts us and our world. My name is Hallie Casey and I studied and currently work in agriculture.

Chris: I’m Chris Casey, Hallie’s dad. Each episode we pick an area of agriculture or food production to discuss and this week we’re focusing on plant propagation.

[Background music].

Chris: All right. How do you propagate a plant?

Hallie: So many ways.

Chris: You plant it in the ground or you cut part of it off and splice it into another plant and that’s why speciation is all just made up nonsense because you can splice all the plants with each other and create new plants.

Hallie: No.

Chris: No? You can cross breed them.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: Okay. But the splicing, isn’t why speciation is nonsense.

Hallie: We don’t really call it splicing. We call it grafting. You basically build a plant, but it’s still two separate sides of the plant. Like you can graft a potato and a tomato together and what you have is a topato or however you like.

[Laughter].

Hallie: The bottom part grows potatoes and the top part grows tomatoes. Right.

Chris: But it’s not a hybrid.

Hallie: Yes, it grows and then it dies and that’s it. It’s not going to produce a new plant because it’s not in the genes. Basically, what just happens is the tubes connect and so they can transport water and nutrients up and down the plant.

Chris: Okay. Cool. But that’s not propagation.

Hallie: It can be part of propagation, but that’s not mostly what we’re going to be talking about. A peek behind the curtain, I taught this as a class. Big shout out to one of my previous students who took our listener’s survey.

Chris: There you go. Hey, Melissa.

Hallie: Yeah, she’ll know all of this information hopefully. I taught a class called plant propagation and I thought it would be fun to try and fit an entire semester into 35 minutes of podcast.

Chris: If you don’t know all the information by now, Melissa, you should have paid more attention in class.

Hallie:
Okay. We don’t need to drag Melissa on the podcast.

Chris: I never paid attention in class.

Hallie: Melissa was an excellent student.

Chris: I believe it.

Hallie: We have sexual propagation and asexual propagation.

Chris: It’s like hot or not.

Hallie: What?

Chris: [Laughs]. Plants that are hot for each other. Plants that just don’t care and do their own thing.

Hallie: No, we propagate plants to serve our own purposes not necessarily to serve the plant’s purposes. Most plants that we asexually propagate can propagate sexually, but there are reasons why we choose to asexually propagate it instead.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: Because plants are living beings that have sexual cycles and reproduce via pollen and ovaries and they create seeds.

Chris: There is still some [inaudible].

Hallie: It’s just like how many, many living things operate, including plants.

Chris: When you say we choose to propagate them, asexually I feel like we’re subjugating them to our will against their preferences, even though they are plants and they don’t necessarily have preferences. I’m like, oh, we are bending these plants to our will.

Hallie: Yeah, we do that with most things. [Laughs].

Chris: That is true. We are humans. That is what we do.

Hallie: It sucks to suck.

Chris: [Laughs]. I don’t think we need to drag all of humanity in the show.

Hallie: No, I’m not dragging all of humanity. I’m like sucks to suck to like all the other living plants. Maybe you should have thought about that and then become the dominant predator, apex species or whatever.

Chris: So because they didn’t work hard enough at evolution, they just have to deal.

Hallie: Yeah, I’m just saying. It seems like we got here and we’re crushing it.

Chris: I feel like that’s a little heartless.

Hallie: Nothing’s going wrong. We’re doing a great job. We have sexual propagation. We have asexual propagation. Sexual propagation meaning seeds. That’s how we further that plant. That can include things like seed breeding, which is where we grow plants for the purpose of trying to make a seed that will grow a better plant.

Chris: Seed breeding, which we grow a seed for the purposes of trying to make a better plant.

Hallie: We grow a plant for the seed in hopes that that seed makes a better plant.

Chris: We grow a plant for the seed. Oh, so we select for a particular plant that produces the best seeds.

Hallie: Basically, sometimes we have plants that are crossbreeds or hybrids and so in that, we can be growing tomatoes, but if we’re growing like seed tomatoes, then we’re never growing those tomatoes really for the tomatoes, we’re growing them to cross pollinate them and create tomato seed.

Chris: Kind of like when your mom and I got together because we knew we would make the best children.

Hallie: Gross.

Chris: It’s not gross. It’s romantic and sweet.

Hallie: No, it’s not at all.

[Laughter].

Chris: All right. Fine whatever. We’re selecting plants to have better or more resilient seeds or we’re selecting them for some particular characteristic to qualify as whatever good is for what we need it.

Hallie: Right. We breed plants. Oftentimes when we do that, it’s seed breeding that we do it for. There are different components of a seed. You have the seed coat, you have the endosperm, the cotyledon and the embryo. I feel like we’ve talked about this on the podcast before.

Chris: Those are all words that I remember. Cotyledon is the weirdest one. I do remember you talking about it.

Hallie: Inside of the seed, there’s a little embryo, which is what the plant becomes, but there’s also these cotyledons that become what you first see, when the little embryo pops up. It’s like two or one leaves. They’re not really leaves because they’re inside of the seed. They’re like a starchy reserve so that when the embryo starts to grow, it’s able to like pull starches out so it has energy. This is helpful to understand the different parts of a seed because sometimes we have to treat seed in order for it to grow.

Chris: Are these what microgreens are?

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: I remembered another thing. I’m so happy for me.

Hallie: That must have been when we talked about it. If you want to go back, we talked about microgreens on the last superfood episode.

Superfood four I think we talked about microgreens and that involves talking about cotyledons, but around the seed is a seed coat. Sometimes when we are planting seeds, in order to propagate a new plant, we have to treat the seeds because there is something that makes it impossible for the embryo to actually grow. We do things like imbibing the seed, which is where you soak them in water.

Chris: It’s not about just getting them drunk.

Hallie: We don’t get them drunk. We can soak them in water by imbibing them. We can also stratify them, which is when we put them in the freezer for a couple of days and that will break a seed’s dormancy or we can also what we call scarify the seeds, which is where you basically file them down with like a nail file or something.

Chris: I’m so confused right now.

Hallie: Why?

Chris: I’m accepting what you’re telling me, right? We’re talking about getting the seed to start growing, one of the ways is soaking them in water.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: They don’t drown obviously.

They just like the water and the other way you said it’s freezing them, which I associate freezing with going dormant, not with triggering production.

Hallie: Right. Basically, what you’re mimicking there is if you’re a plant and you produce fruit in the spring time and it’s lovely and it’s warm outside and the seeds go in the ground, you don’t really want those seeds to start growing until the next spring usually. So you’re basically mimicking a winter time period so they have a freezing. Then when that freeze ends, they’re like, okay, great. It’s warm now I will start to grow. Because if it was still cold or if it was still warm and there hadn’t been cold, these seeds are like, wait, it’s going to get cold and it’s going to get rough for me. I got to wait it out.

Chris: The freezer mimics the weather.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: Dang!

Hallie: The seeds are not that smart. They can’t notice that it’s inside of a freezer.

Chris: Fair enough. Then taking a nail file to them.

Hallie: Yeah, scarification. Sometimes we just put them in a big tumbler and we tumble them around so that the seed coats get scratched.

Chris: Like a rock polisher.

Hallie: Yeah, but basically this is mimicking being eaten and then pooped.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: Sometimes you actually have to ferment seeds to make them grow, which is wild. But usually, if you have some kind of seed with a really hard seed coat, it’s either meant to be a mammal, grabs it and then chews it and then spits it back out or it goes through the digestive system and there are a lot of acids in there that can break that seed coat down and then it’s ready to be.

Chris: Got it. The nail file mimics the process by which the seed coat gets broken down. There are seeds which in the wild go through a fermentation process before they start growing. Is that correct or is that scaring as well?

Hallie: Yeah, fermentation is kind of similar. That’s basically mimicking going through a digestive track where you are exposed to a lot of high acids.

Chris: Cool.

Hallie: That is most of what I have for sexual propagation.

We can talk about asexual next, which is the wild stuff. Sexual is the most common and the cheapest, but there’s tons more to talk about, but that’s the basics. If you’re gardening, always check your seed packet in case you need to imbibe, scarify, or stratify your seeds.

Chris: It’s like the opposite of the human world where the sexual reproduction is the wild stuff.

Hallie: No, dad. If we asexually propagate humans, that’s the wild stuff.

Chris: Oh, that’s fair. That’s a good point. I never thought about that. How would that look? I don’t think that this podcast is the forum for that kind of speculation, but now I’m curious. I mean, cloning, I guess.

Hallie: That’s exactly cloning. Precisely, exactly. Yes.

Chris: Wait, is asexual propagation in plants cloning?

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: Oh.

[Laughter].

Chris: All right. Well, you know where things get really wild?

Hallie: Where?

Chris: In the break.

Hallie: Hey, let’s go.

[Background music].

Hallie: I have some excellent news. I would like to very much thank a very new brand new starfruit patron, Patrick.

Chris: Hello, Patrick.

Hallie: Welcome to our wonderful podcast family.

Chris: Welcome. We are so happy to have you along with starfruit patrons, Vikram, Lindsay, Mama Casey and Shianne.

Hallie: Thank you guys so much for all of your support. If you would like to talk with us, our amazing starfruit patrons, all of the rest of the One to Grow On community, you can jump in our Discord group or our Facebook group where we are posting lots of memes and jokes and plant facts and plant questions. So many plant questions.

Lots of houseplant support, gardening support, plant ID, all these wonderful things you can find. You can either go to onetogrowonpod.com/discord for the Discord group or onetogrowonpod.com/group for the Facebook group.

Chris: Facts, fun, memes like dandelions.

Hallie: Yes, come join us. We would love to talk with you.

Chris: Also in March, we’re going to do things a little differently.

Hallie: March is national agriculture month here in the US and we are partnering up with three amazing food and farming podcasts to bring you a little bit of different content. We’re going to be airing some of their episodes so you can learn more about their shows and how amazing they are. We’re going to be talking about this a lot on social media, so you can connect to other very cool people online who are talking about agriculture and food in very fun and interesting ways and doing amazing stuff. We’re focusing on indie producers, so it’s going to be a lot of people who this is their passion, just like me and dad. They really are trying to bring the very best stuff. You can look forward to that. The next episode is technically just at the end of February, but that is when we will start and then the two episodes in March will also be part of this. Until April though, if you want to connect with us, we’re going to be on social media and we’re going to be on our Discord and Facebook, so come join us at onetogrowonpod.com/discord or slash group for the Discord and Facebook group, respectively.

Chris: In April, we’ll be back on the air. But now it’s back to the episode.

[Background music].

Hallie: Dad, do you have a nature of fact for us?

Chris: I do. All right. The past few weeks I’ve been obsessed with this new video, which is not plant related, but it is nature related. It’s about the sun.

Hallie: Oh, I love the sun.

Chris: I love the sun too. I guess it is plant related because we can’t have plants without the sun.

Hallie: It’s everything related. We couldn’t have anything without the sun.

Chris: That’s true. But the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope from the national observatory produced the highest resolution video and photos of the sun ever. The video is mesmerizing and you’ve got to check it out. We’ll have a link in the show notes, if you haven’t seen it already. It’s just about a 15 second video of what looks sort of like this hot boiling gas and each of these little boiling blobs on the video is about the size of Texas. They’re massive. Well, the sun is massive and each of these little cells is massive. We see this big white dot in the sky.

Hallie: Right.

Chris: This is just sort of this close up, detailed movement of this plasma gas and fire out here on this giant ball of fire in space. It’s amazing.

Hallie: That sounds so cool.

Chris: It’s really cool. We’ll have a link in the show notes if you haven’t checked it out. We’re glad that you’re here and excited about agriculture. Be excited about space too. Space is cool.

Hallie: Spaces is so cool.

Chris: All right.

Hallie: Tara tarata ta! Nature fact!

Chris: Asexual reproduction. Production without sex.

Hallie: Oh, yes. Exactly or as you put it earlier cloning. This happens naturally in nature, which is where we got the idea to do it.

Chris: Real quick, the banana is a clone. All bananas are clones of one another. Is that something we did or is that something that the banana did itself?

Hallie: Bananas do do that. We basically selected for the banana we wanted and then propagated that a lot.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: But bananas also do do that.

Chris: Sorry, still reading my book. I got to know.

Hallie: Examples of natural occurrences of asexual propagation includes things like tubers, rhizomes, bulbs, corms, tuberous roots, keikis.

Chris: That’s a lot of words. I feel like I know what a tuber is.

Hallie: Example?

Chris: That’s a potato.

Hallie: Exactly, that is a potato.

Chris: I feel like I know what a root is, a part of a plant. I don’t know why it’s in this example, but you also said corm, which is not corn.

Hallie: No, corms.

Chris: Keikis.

Hallie: Rhizomes and bulbs.

Chris: I have a friend named Keiki.

Hallie:  [Laughs].

Chris: I don’t know what it is here. We talked about rhizomes once.

Hallie: Which is?

Chris: It’s a kind of root sort of.

Hallie: Modified stem tissue.

Chris: I almost said modified group, modified stem tissue, but it’s usually underground, right? It shoots out and new things sprout out of it.

Hallie: It’s either right below or right on top of the ground. It’s like what grass has. That’s rhizomes. Bulbs example is like onions, irises, garlic. Those are bulbs.

Chris: Your grandmother used to get bulbs all the time and grow them, tulips.

Hallie: Corms are very similar to bulbs. We’ll just say that basically they’re the same as bulbs. Tubers roots, tubers, meaning akin to a tuber. They’re slightly different because technically they’re root tissue, whereas tubers are stem tissue. But other than that, they’re very similar.

Chris: Like bubotubers. I don’t know. Harry Potter reference, anyway.

Hallie: Do you know how we propagate potatoes?

Chris: We put them under the sink until they sprout little leaves on them.

Hallie: Basically, yeah.

Chris: Wait, really?

Hallie: Well, kind of, but not really. On potatoes, you have the little eyes, which is where if you leave them out for too long, they’ll start to grow. You can just take like a sharp knife and cut those eyes out and you leave them for a bit of time. Sometimes you put some sulfur powder on them and then you plant them and they grow.

Chris: That sounds so violent.

Hallie: Why?

Chris: You cut their eyes out.

Hallie: You cut their eyes out.

Chris: You cut their eyes out then you put some sulfur on them and then they grow. Is it pure sulfur or is it a mineral like a salt?

Hallie: It’s like a mineral salt yeah. You don’t always put it on there depending on how wet it is. The sulfur can help prevent bacterial infections if it gets really wet, but it’s not always necessary. You also do have things like keikis. Keiki is specifically a term for orchids, but it’s basically what we call an adventitious root. We have it on other things too. Have you ever seen like a spider plant? Do you know what a spider plant is?

Chris: You have said so many things that I just don’t know about. I’ve seen an orchid. I did not know they were clones of each other.

Hallie: Well, they’re not always. They do have flowers and so they can grow seeds.

Chris: I know you said something that sounded like advantageous.

Hallie: Adventitious roots. Have you seen a spider plant before? Do you know a spider plant?

Chris: I don’t remember.

Hallie: Spider plants have these long thin leaves, but they also shoot out little babies. They’re very common.

[Laughter].

Chris: They’ve got little leaves. A little baby is flying out.

Hallie: Pretty much. They’re a very common houseplant. If you Google a picture of them, you’ve got to have seen them somewhere, but they are a very common plant that is very obvious. They have adventitious root tissue. Basically, you have above ground plant stuff and they start to grow roots in hopes that they will take root somewhere.

Chris: The tissue that’s above the ground grows the roots and hopes that the roots will find the ground again. That is adventitious.

Hallie: For the spider plants, how they do this is you have a one big, main plant and sometimes they will flower and grow seed, but they prefer to grow colonially so they’ll shoot out these little babies and these little stands that go like, boom! It’s still attached to the plant, but on the top part of the babies are leaves. Then on the bottom there’s a little bit of root tissue.

If you shoot the baby out and it lands on the ground, it starts to grow on its own.

Chris: Cool.

Hallie: That’s what adventitious root tissue is. When we are propagating plants for our uses, oftentimes we will take cuttings. A good example of this is the potatoes, like we were talking about. You just cut them up and you’re basically separating them and creating a new plant from a smaller part of a plant. But we can also create plants from cuttings by inducing root growth. The same way that it happens naturally with these keikis and these spider plants. We can take a cutting of something like a pothus ivy and then induce root growth. You did that remember with Jerry?

Chris: Yes, I took the leaf. I believe you said it was above the nodule.

Hallie: Node. You took I think it was two nodes of pothus plant.

Chris: I put that in water. How did that induce because I didn’t do anything?

Hallie: Right.

Chris: When you say induce root growth that makes me think that I should be doing something.

Hallie: Oftentimes, that is how it works. Pothus ivy is just very happy to just do whatever.

They just kind of do their own thing. With many plants, you have to add some kind of hormone. There are five major hormones that plants have. One of them is called oxygen and oxygen controls root growth. If you take a piece of a plant and you put a little oxygen on there, then it’s more likely to grow some roots for you because you’re kind of signaling with these hormones like, hey, here’s the place for the roots.

Chris: Does the oxygen have yolks?

Hallie: Oh my God!

[Laughter].

Hallie:
That was the worst joke you’ve ever made.

Chris: You said oxen. I thought about, babe, the blue ox out, plowing the field because you also said induce root growth and it made me think of Pitocin for inducing labor. But I guess in the broadest sense, the concept is not dissimilar.

Hallie: I guess in the very broadest of senses.

Chris: You’re giving some sort of hope hormone to get things going.

Hallie: That’s very true.

If you would like to do cutting at home of any plants, we advise that you use a sharp knife. We meaning like the larger plant community I guess. You want to use a sharp knife because one, it’s safer for you. Two, you’re less likely to have any issues with bacterial infection or fungal infection or something like that if your plant is less wounded if you get a nice sharp cut. It’s very similar to people. If you use a rusty old knife to do a surgery, it’s not going to be as good as if you have a clean sharp knife so you want a clean, sharp knife. You want to cut the base of your cutting at 45 degrees. This maximizes the area of exposed stem tissue on the inside gooey bits that touch rooting hormone. If you cut at 45 degrees, you have more surface area than if you cut it straight across so you get more rooting hormone contact. You also give it more room to build up starches and build up what we call callus tissue, which is the most dramatic. Meaning able to differentiate into other plant organs.

Chris: Got to maximize the gooey parts.

Hallie: Maximize gooey parts by cutting it 45 degrees for many reasons.

Chris: Cool.

Hallie: You can cut many different things. You can also layer.

Chris: What do you mean?

Hallie: Layering is also kind of like the spider plant. Here’s what you do. Imagine this.

Imagine you have a bush. You can picture it?

Chris: Yeah.

Hallie: You have a bush. You take one of the stems. About midway up the stem, you take all the leaves off for like a two inch section. You take the stem, you pull it down to the ground and you bury that part that you took the leaves off of under the ground.

Chris: You don’t break the stem off. You just kind of bend it down.

Hallie: Bury it and then you let it grow for like two months. Then you cut it off and it’s got the roots on it.

Chris: The parts where the leaves come out turn into parts where the roots come out, I guess.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: You can put oxygen on that part when you bend it down and put it under the ground to tell them this is the roots area now.

Chris: Yolk docksin.

Hallie: Oh my God.

Chris: Then you cut the top of the stem off and then that sticks up and becomes a new bush.

Hallie: It’s like a whole separate plant.

Chris: Wow! That’s amazing.

Hallie: It’s very cool. You can also do air layering, which is where if you have a tree you cut into the tree to wound it and then you put a little oxygen on there and then you put some potting soil that is damp on it and then just wrap it in saran wrap and wait a couple of weeks. Then you can just cut the whole branch off.

Chris: Just to be clear, this only works with plants.

Hallie: It would not work with people.

Chris: Right. Can’t. Never mind.

Hallie: No.

Chris: [Laughs].

Hallie: That’s layering. It’s very similar to cutting except for the plant stays attached until the end of the process. The last step is cutting it off. We used to do have micropropagation.

Chris: Oh boys. Like microgreens only with propagation not greens?

Hallie: It’s wild. Basically, this is in a very controlled, clean room situation. You’re in like a lab.

Chris: Not the wild kind of wild, but the crazy kind of wild.

Hallie: Like the crazy kind of wild where it’s just like wild. It’s like buck wild. You take a very, very small part of a plant. It can be leaf tissue. It can be stem tissue. It’s not usually root tissue because it’s harder to get leaves to grow from roots than it is to get roots to grow from leaves and you have to have both parts to get a whole plant. Basically, you take a very small amount of it. Probably, if you were to imagine if you did a hole puncher on a leaf, like that amount.

Chris: Wow. Just a tiny bit of plant tissue.

Hallie: A small bit of plant tissue and you basically put it in a grow room and it grows a whole new plant.

Chris: You don’t have to do anything to it?

Hallie: You do. You put it in algae and the algae usually has some oxygen. It’s basically like in a little Petri dish. Then once it’s grown up a little bit where it’s big enough where you’re able to pull it out, then you can pull it out and put it in some potting soil. Then you put that in a grow room with lights and water.

Chris: I feel like the oxygen would have to be really tiny to fit in the Petri dish.

Hallie: No, this is not a good joke.

[Laughter].

Hallie: I’m not engaging with this.

Chris: All right. You take a hole punch, punch a hole in a leaf. You put the little piece of plant confetti in the Petri dish and you make a new plant from it. That is pretty wild.

Hallie: It’s buck wild. It’s very cool. We do it a lot for science. Sometimes we do it for woody plants where you have a very high market value because it’s expensive to have grow rooms and stuff like that. You also need much more specialized labor. You could probably layer a bush. You understand the process. You could go out berry part of a branch and get any plant. But to work in a lab and to really handle those chemicals, it’s a lot of infrastructure. You need specialized labor. It’s very expensive. We do it for science. We do it for things that are more expensive so that you can afford to spend more, to get like really clean, good plants.

Chris: I have two thoughts. One is this means in that tiny bit of plant, there’s enough information for an entire new plant.

Hallie: Yes, there’s a concept for that actually it’s called total potency. It’s the idea that from one cell you could grow a whole plant.

Chris: That’s an amazing term. That plant has got total potency. That’s awesome. From one cell.

Hallie: That’s the concept.

Chris: My other thought is I assume it has, but has this not worked for the American chestnut?

Hallie: No, the problem with the American chestnut is not that we can’t grow more chestnut trees. It’s that if we do grow more Chestnut trees, then there is fungus that will then still get to them. It’s more an issue of breeding with the chestnuts than just growing more of them. This fungal blight is just so ubiquitous. We’re having a hard time getting resistance into the actual species.

Chris: Got it. Real cool. Now we know how to make new plants.

Hallie: Do you feel educated?

Chris: I do feel educated.

Hallie: Do you feel like you should have taken a whole semester to learn all of this?

Chris: I don’t know. Melissa, let us know what you think. I bet you knew all of this stuff already and I bet everyone in plant propagation this semester can listen to this episode and get A’s.

Hallie: Maybe so.

Chris: All right.

Hallie: Knock, knock.

Chris: Who’s there?

Hallie: Petri dish.

Chris: Petri dish who?

Hallie: There’s oxygen in your Petri dish.

Chris: You said mine was a bad joke?

Hallie: I’ll leave the jokes to you. Fine.

[Laughter].

Hallie: It was off the cuff, okay?

Chris: So were mine.

[Background music].

Chris: Thanks for listening to this episode of One to Grow On.

Hallie: This show is hosted by me, Hallie Casey and Chris Casey.

Chris: It is produced by Catherine Arjet and Hallie Casey.

Hallie: Our music is Something Elated by Broke For Free.

Chris: Connect with us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at One to Grow On Pod.

Hallie: You can find all of our episodes as well as more information about the show and the team on our website, onetogrowonpod.com.

Chris: Join our community and learn more about each episode at patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. There you can get access to audio extras, fascinating follow-ups and even custom art created just for you.

Hallie: If you liked the show, please share it with your friends. Sharing is the best way to help us reach more ears.

Chris: Be sure to check out the next episode in two weeks.

Hallie: But until then, keep on growing.

Chris: Bye everybody.

[Background music].