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.

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].

32: Plant Propagation

It’s time to learn where plants come from! In this episode, Hallie and Chris discuss all the different ways plants make new plants and how we help them along. We learn how plant propagation works, how many kinds of roots there are, and why potato growing sounds like murder.

Read the transcript.

Check out the video of the sun Chris mentions 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.
onetogrowonpod.com

A field of aloe vera plants

#AskOnetoGrowOn 5: Do I have the right Aloe?

In this mini-episode, Hallie explains what Aloe is and which we kind we use for what.

Find our listener survey here: onetogrowonpod.com/survey

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twitter.com/onetogrowonpod
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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.

Chestnuts and Chestnut leaf

28: The American Chestnut 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 that confuses a lot of people and try to get Hallie to explain it to us. And this week we are focusing on chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but just the chestnut part.

Hallie: That was so cute.

[Background music].

Chris: Thanks.

Hallie: Yeah, but we are just talking about the American chestnut today.

Chris: Wait, there’s international chestnuts?

Hallie: Well, yes.

Chris: Oh, like from Europe and Asia and stuff.

Hallie: Exactly. From those two places. Yes, correct.

Chris: Really?

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: Wow. So what makes them different?

Hallie: I mean, that they’re from somewhere else.

Chris: Okay.

Hallie: There are some morphological differences as well, but like basically the Asian chestnuts are from Asia. The most common one and the ones that we see here in US stores are Chinese chestnuts.

Chris: So wait. I thought you said we were talking about American chestnuts though.

Hallie: I know, but I was just sharing a fact.

Chris: But then you said that the ones we see here most of the time are Chinese.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: But we’re going to talk about the American ones because we’re American.

Hallie: What do you know about chestnuts?

Chris: That roasting on an open fire is a Christmas thing and I guess you can eat them maybe after you’ve roasted them. That’s all I got. I mean, they’re nuts. I assume they’re nuts.

Hallie: They are nuts.

Chris: Okay. But yeah, I guess now that I think about it, I don’t really know about a chestnut. I think it comes off a tree. It’s a nut that comes off a tree. Do you make chests out of the wood?

Hallie: No.

Chris: Just called the chestnut.

Hallie: Well, you know I did not actually look into the etymological root. I mean, you probably could make a chest from the tree. You probably would not make a chest from the nut. I don’t know where the term chestnut came. I’m just now thinking about how that’s the word chest right up front. I don’t know on that one. Sorry.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: The other thing I was brainstorming. I was like, what do people know about chestnuts? The other thing I thought it was the term that old chestnut.

Chris: What is that term? I’ve never heard that.

Hallie: That like if someone tells a joke, you go, oh, that old chestnut or if someone says, oh. You know what I am saying?

Chris: Are you making this up?

Hallie: You’ve never heard this?

Chris: I’ve never heard this. I’m pretty sure it’s not a thing.

Hallie: No, it’s 100% a thing. I’ve definitely said it before.

Chris: Okay. It’s a thing that Hallie Casey has said and no one else has said.

Hallie: [Laughs]. No, there was a Wikipedia page. I Googled it to find out where the term where that old chestnut came from. There was a Wikipedia page.

Chris: Hang on. Let me look this.

Hallie: Oh my God. Well, it’s a British slang term that means like an old joke according to Wikipedia.

Chris: Oh, now that you say it’s British, it makes sense.

Hallie: That’s a thing people say that old chestnut. Oh, that old chestnut. I can’t believe you’ve never heard of oh that old chestnut.

Chris: No, it’s on urban dictionary. It must be a thing.

Hallie: It’s a thing regardless of whether or not it’s on urban dictionary, it’s a thing.

Chris: Okay. But this is talking about people. It’s a thing. I believe you.

Hallie: Those are the two I guess things people know about chestnuts. Oh three, I guess. One, they are nuts. Two, you can roast them on an open fire and at some point in British slang, they are referred to an old joke.

Chris: Alright.

Hallie: The chestnut tree is in the Fagaceae family, so it’s related to beaches and oak trees. They’re in the genus Castanea and physiologically on a chestnut tree, you have these beautiful, lovely, big leaves. Right.

You have flowers that are called catechins and they’re self-incompatible. Basically, you have to have two different trees in order for the two flowers to pollinate. You have some plants where the flowers can pollinate themselves, but in chestnuts, you have to have two separate trees in order to get a chest nut from the flowers.

Chris: Is that having a male plant and a female plant?

Hallie: No, you have the same sex organs on both plants, but they can’t fertilize themselves. If they fertilize themselves, it’s not compatible. I think we call that self-infertile if I remember correctly. The actual nut itself, it is a nut. It is like a proper nut. Some of the nuts that we talk about are not technically nuts, but this is a proper actual nut. It has like an outer burr that is actually still removed by hand, but if you look at it, do you know what a sweet gum looks like?

Chris: I do not. Okay.

Hallie: If you live in North America, you might know what a sweet gum fruit looks like. They’re kind of round and pointy and they hurt really bad when you step on them. That’s kind of what a chestnut looks like with the burr on the outside.

Chris: Oh, like the thing that almost looks like a flower that is dropped from a tree, except it’s a piece of prickly wood.

Hallie: It’s like a big round ball of prickliness.

Chris: It’s like a round ball of spiky death in a stem.

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: I’ve never heard it called a sweet fruit.

Hallie: No, sweet gum.

Chris: Never heard it called that either.

Hallie: It’s not related to chestnuts, but the fruits look similar when the chestnut has the burr on the outside. There are these spiky burrs that all chestnuts have and those are still actually removed by hand and then on the inside, you actually have the fruit itself, which is the nut.

Chris: Between this and the cashew with the apple with the poison death skin. People like their danger nuts.

Hallie: Yes, you got to get in there. You got to really want it. The American chestnut was a really significant food source for first nation’s folks in Eastern US. The trees grew up to 100 feet tall and they were called the redwoods of the East and before the turn of the century in the 1900s, they made up about 25% of the forest from Mississippi up to Maine.

Chris: That sounds like a lot of trees.

Hallie: Those are a lot of trees. Post-contact after colonialization of North America, settlers used chestnuts for building materials. It was really, really straight and very sturdy and it was just a generally celebrated tree. It was one that people ate. People made a lot of houses out of chestnut. It was also quite pest resistant in terms of things that can eat wood and kind of get in wood, so it was just a very popular tree. Because of that, it was something that was really a big part of the American identity. Like how here in Central Texas, live oaks are a real part of the identity of the area. If you have something that’s so ingrained into your view of the landscape and your eating habits and the buildings and the things that you use are made of this wood, it was a really big part of American culture.

Chris: They ate it. They made houses out of it. I’m guessing they probably made chess out of it.

Hallie: Oh my God. Probably. I guess so. [Laughs]. You don’t know much about the American chestnut though.

Chris: I mean, I had no idea it was such a common tree and so commonly used.

Hallie: Yeah, well it was. In the early 1900s, around the turn of the century on Long Island, there was an Asian chestnut tree that was planted. There was actually a group of them and it was discovered in 1904 that they had a fungal blight.

Chris: In the early 1900s.

Hallie: In 1904, it was discovered that these Asian chestnut trees had a fungal blight called cryphonectria parasitica.

Chris: That does not sound good.

Hallie: No, so at the beginning of the 1900s, it was estimated that in North America, there were 4 billion with a b American chestnut trees.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: By the 1940s, there were virtually none.

Chris: Oh, wow. That’s horrible. That’s massive repeated decimation, like very rapid. Jeez.

Hallie: There are still like pockets of American chestnut strands. There’s a list on Wikipedia that you can find of the dozen or so American chestnut strands. It still exists. There’s one that’s in Wisconsin. I was actually near there this last summer and I tried to go, but the University of Wisconsin keeps it very hidden, not hidden. You know where it is, but they just don’t let anyone go for obvious reasons. They don’t want any contamination.

Chris: They want to keep it protected.

Hallie: Yeah, but this tree was such a huge part of American culture and American iconography I guess that since the 1930s, since it was really clear that this was a major problem threatening the American chestnut and then basically, it successfully threatened it and now is virtually non-existent. Since the 1930s, American scientists have been trying to find different methods to repopulate the chestnut species.

Chris: How’s that going for them?

Hallie: Well, do you want to talk about that after the break?

Chris: I would love to talk about that after the break.

[Background music].

Chris: You know what species is not going extinct?

Hallie: What species is that?

Chris: The species of our patrons.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: Thank you so much to Lindsay and Vikram and Mama Casey.

Hallie: Our newest starfruit patrons, Shianne.

Chris: Oh, hello, Shianne.

Hallie: Also, a huge thank you to our other new patron, RC and Hope. Welcome. Thank you so much.

Chris: Hello, RC. Hello, Hope. Thank you for joining.

Hallie: If you are enjoying the content that we’re producing and you’re interested in supporting us, you can head over to our Patreon, that’s patreon.com/onetogrowonpod. We have very great news. We’re halfway to our goal of 30 patrons and once we hit that goal, we are going to be making some videos of us reacting to the superfoods that we talk about on the show.

Chris: Do you think we can actually find some mangosteen?

Hallie: I feel like I could find us a mangosteen.

Chris: I mean, that was the one that Queen Victoria with knight people can bring it back, right? It sounds like a lot of work.

Hallie: I feel like I could find this one.

Chris: Alright. Well, I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to that.

Hallie: You will knight me when we make that video.

Chris: I will not knight you, although I wouldn’t be able to get my hands on a sword.

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: We can make it happen. Back to the episode.

[Background music].

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

Chris: I do.

Hallie: Will you please tell it to me?

Chris: Sure and I bet you actually already know this one, but the lyric that I sang at the beginning of the show, chestnuts roasting on an open fire is from a Christmas song, which I knew you knew, but I didn’t know who wrote a Christmas song. I assumed it was Nat King Cole.

Hallie: I don’t think he wrote a lot of songs, dad.

Chris: That could be. Maybe people just wrote songs for him or he just found songs to sing, which is great. I’m glad he did, but it was written by Mel Torme.

Hallie: Who is that?

Chris: You’ve never heard of Mel Torme?

Hallie: No, I don’t know Mel Torme.

Chris: He was a jazz singer. Did a lot of scat. In the 1980s, one of the big sitcoms was called Night Court.

Hallie: Night Court?

Chris: Yes, Night Court. It was about a court that took place at night.

Hallie: Why?

Chris: I don’t know. It was funny.

Hallie: Is it a real thing? Is it a real night court?

Chris: Yes, I don’t know. Watch the show sometime, you’ll like it.

Hallie: Okay. [Laughs].

Chris: Except one of the characters he is a real sexist, but he gets put down a lot, so it’s cool. I mean, it’s good that he gets put down. It’s not a character that people are meant to like.

Hallie: Mel Torme.

Chris: No, the main character judge Harry, his favorite singer was Mel Torme.

Hallie: Oh, I thought you were going to say Mel Torme was in this show.

Chris: No, he made several guest appearances. Like they got them on the show and the judge idolized, Mel Torme and said I’m going to marry the first woman that is impressed by the fact that I own all of Mel Torme’s records and stuff like that and so that’s the only reason of course I growing up that I knew who Mel Torme was and it was pretty great.

Hallie: Cool. Great facts, dad.

Chris: Thanks.

Hallie: Absolutely.

Chris: A Christmas song by Mel Torme.

Hallie: There you go. American chestnut, there have been a couple of different efforts at blight resistance in the American chestnut.

Chris: Hang on.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: Before we get into blight resistance, the fact that they’re having to create trees that are blight resistant, I guess suggests the fact that the blight is here to stay and if you just go try to plant some chestnut trees, they’re going to die.

Hallie: Yeah, it’s pretty much ubiquitous at this point.

Chris: Wow.

Hallie: Yeah.

Chris: Okay. Are Asian Chestnut trees all over America now?

Hallie: No, not really. We have some Asian chestnut orchards in California and a couple of other places, but they’re not really planted ornamentals. They’re only in a couple of places for production and most of the Asian chestnuts that we get come out of Asia. The US is not a very large producer of chestnuts for production.

Chris: Got it.

Hallie: Yeah, so there’s really not a ton of Asian chestnuts, but the blight is just super ubiquitous. There’s really no successful way to plant American chestnuts here in the US that have not been either hybridized or it’s a specific cultivar or we’ll talk about this in a minute or have been like breed some other way. Part of this is just that it was so fast that we did lose a lot of germplasm, so we don’t have a lot of the original DNA.

Chris: We lost a lot of what?

Hallie: Germplasm. That’s like seeds. We just don’t have a lot of chestnut DNA because there’s just so few chestnuts here in America now.

Chris: Got it. So they’re trying to make them blight resistant.

Hallie: Yes, there’s three ways that we’re trying to do this. One of them is called back crossing. This began in the 1970s.

This is basically crossing the few remaining American chestnuts that we have back with Asian chestnuts to try and get something that’s blight resistant that resembles close enough the American chestnut. Some people don’t love this. There currently is an American Asian chestnut, I guess is how you would say it. One of these back crosses. There’s one planted at the White House. I think there’s a couple planted at the USDA in DC. There isn’t anything successful that’s able to go out on the market yet. Another way that we’re trying to do this is inter crossing, so that’s basically taking geographically dispersed specimens that still exist. There is one cluster of American chestnut say in like La Crosse, Wisconsin and say, there’s another one in like South Carolina somewhere and they take these two plants and then in the lab cross the catechins, so they pollinate the flowers. Well, I don’t really know how they do it. Somehow they cross these two flowers or these two plants and they create a hybrid between these two in hopes that those two will because they were both from blight resistant stands, create a healthier tree. If that makes sense. Does that make sense?

Chris: Okay. Yeah.

Hallie: There’s a lot of issues with the current blight resistant stands. They’re kind of scraggly. They’re not super strong and they still have issues with the blight. They’re just able to kind of fight through it. So through this inter crossing, they’re trying to create a tree that’s really healthy. However, this started in the 1970s. It takes at least seven years for American chestnut trees to produce nuts. New trees have to be at least five years old before their resistance can be tested for the inoculation to the blight itself and then the test itself requires two years for evaluation.

It takes a really long time to actually test whether or not it’s working and so we haven’t had any success with that yet.

Chris: Even if there is success, would they still be considered American chestnut trees?

Hallie: Well, with the inter crossing, they would, right? Because we’re just inter crossing between different American chestnut strands. There is some debate with the back crossing, whether they would still be considered American chestnuts, but scientists have been working on this for so long that they’re just like trying to find anything that will work, which brings us to our third thing that is on the table, which is transgenic chestnuts.

Chris: Transgenic chestnuts.

Hallie: Yes.

Chris: That sounds like a loaded term.

Hallie: Yeah, do you know the term transgenic?

Chris: Does it have frog DNA in it?

Hallie: [Laughs]. It actually has wheat DNA.

Chris: Really?

Hallie: Yes, so there are some scientists at the State University of New York that inserted a wheat gene into the chestnut genome and it was passed down to its offspring. Basically, they grew a chestnut tree with a wheat DNA in the genome and then when that tree produced fruit, that baby then had that wheat gene in it, so it was blight resistant.

Chris: Okay. I was going to ask you why on earth did they put the wheat gene in it to begin with and that makes it blight resistant?

Hallie: Yeah. I mean, I’m sure they tried a lot of different genes, but this one worked. There is a lot of debate around this. Currently, both the FDA and the USDA are trying to figure out regulatory what this means. There are a lot of people that are promoting that this tree be planted in wild stands to repopulate chestnut forests.

Chris: I have so many thoughts right now.

Hallie: Tell me what they are.

Chris: My first thought is, would it be called chest wheat? Are they wheat nuts?

Hallie: [Laughs].

Chris: My second thought is I’m being reminded of the plant taxonomy episode in which you said, we’re all just sort of making this up. We can intercross the DNA and the speciation lines are very blurred and hardly matter and that sort of is interesting for me to think about with some of these breeding techniques that are being used to bring back this tree. The other thing I’m being reminded of is Star Trek IV when you talked about, what was it? The one where they take the trees from the different geographic regions and cross them in a desperate attempt to breed them.

Hallie: That was inter crossing.

Chris: Inter crossing in a desperate attempt to breed them. I think of Star Trek IV and when they go back in time in a desperate attempt to save humpback whales from distinction.

Hallie: No, that’s very similar to like what scientists have been trying to do since the 1970s. We talked in a previous episode about ginkgo trees and I feel like the American chestnut tree is similar to the ginkgo tree. Then it’s just like a very poetical tree that a lot of people just love the idea of the American chestnut and I feel like for that reason and that reason only it feels like the only tree where we could even have the discussion of having a wild GMO that just grew wild. Right? That’s what we’re discussing with this transgenic breed is just having a basically newly introduced native chestnut tree that is a GMO and because scientists have been trying so desperately and the American government has been putting so much money behind saving the American chestnut for so long and for so many and because it is such a part of the American story and American iconography, even before colonization, I feel like this is the only way that that door gets opened. You know what I mean?

Chris: If someone invented time travel, do you think they’d go back and try to burn down the Asian chestnuts?

[Laughter].

Hallie: I mean, I would.

Chris: That doesn’t surprise me, but then I bet the American chestnut wouldn’t be nearly as poetical.

Hallie: No, that’s probably true. It’s only probably true.

Chris: Are the nuts from the transgenic trees edible?

Hallie: Yeah, they are.

Chris: Do they taste just like Asian chestnuts? Are they different? Do you know?

Hallie: I don’t know. I haven’t read anything about how they’re different. Everything I’ve read makes it seem like it’s very similar to the original American chestnut, but there’s not really anyone alive today who can really speak to what the original American chestnut was really like. There’s probably a handful of people, but it’s not a lot. Right?

Most people don’t remember at this point, it’s been so long. You can see one of these GMO chestnuts at the New York Botanical Gardens.

Chris: Cool.

Hallie: Yeah, if our New York listeners want to go take a selfie with the GMO tree, please send it. I’m so jealous.

Chris: I’d love to see that. I’ve never seen a chestnut tree that I know of.

Hallie: I have not either. I never have and I love the idea of a chest. I’m fully bought into like the poem of this tree.

Chris: You stand chestnut trees.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Yes, I stand chestnut trees. I actually did one time. I cooked chestnuts in my oven one time. It was such a pain. It was so hard. They were Chinese chestnuts because I got them from the store. But yeah, it was a real pain.

Chris: It wasn’t an open fire.

Hallie: No, it was my oven. I didn’t have a fireplace where I was living.

I used the Martha Stewart method where she says you take a paring knife and for each chestnut you have to carve an X and score the chestnut so that they pop open. It was not worth it.

Chris: Martha Stewart makes so many things that are not worth it look totally easy, so I’m with you on that one.

Hallie: [Laughs]. Yeah, but there is all of this work going into saving this species. Honestly, I don’t know where I land on the transgenic chestnut. I hope that the inter crossing comes up with a truly American chestnut that is able to fully resist this blight and produce amazing and beautiful chestnuts and grow a hundred feet tall again and all of that’s true, but there was a great quote from Gary Lovett, who is an ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. He said that creating resistant varieties is a good thing, but doesn’t do us any good if we keep introducing new pests.

Chris: Moral of the story, be careful when you bring home plants, kids.

Hallie: Yes, clean your shoes before you get on the plane, please.

[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.

Chestnuts and Chestnut leaf

28: The American Chestnut

This week we’re focusing on just one plant: the American chestnut. Hallie and Chris discuss the cultural and ecological history and death of the American chestnut. We learn why they’re so important, where they went, and how we can get them back. We also learn about the classic 1980’s sitcom Night Court.

Read the transcript for this episode.

Connect with us!
twitter.com/onetogrowonpod
instagram.com/onetogrowonpod
facebook.com/onetogrowonpod
[email protected]

Tweet with #AskOnetoGrowOn

onetogrowonpod.com

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.

compost heap with mist coming off it

“What is Compost?”

It’s another Catherine episode! This week Hallie and Catherine discuss what compost is, how it works, and why it’s good. We learn the chemistry involved in compost, what you can compost, and why Hallie loves it so darn much.

Connect with us!
twitter.com/onetogrowonpod
instagram.com/onetogrowonpod
facebook.com/onetogrowonpod
[email protected]

Tweet with #AskOnetoGrowOn

onetogrowonpod.com

About us
One to Grow On is a podcast where we dig into questions about agriculture and try to understand how food production impacts ourselves and our world. 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.