Triumph of Seeds

Hanson T. The triumph of seeds: how grains, nuts, kernels pulses & pips conquered the plant kingdom and shaped human history. New York (NY): Basic Books. p. xix-18; 55-80.

The chapters referenced in this book illustrate to us how powerful seeds are. In the introduction, the author tells us about the characteristics of seeds and relates it to how humans use them. We are then walked through the mystery of seed germination as Hanson takes us through his own process of getting avocados to germinate. We are then taken to a coal bed in New Mexico where we learn that seeds may have been thriving before we had previously thought. Finally, the author walks us through Mendel’s famous experiment as he conducts it in his own backyard.

I found it amusing when the author was trying to break open his seed in his office and could not. I was amazed at the lengths he was going to attempt to break this seed and was shocked that they wouldn’t break. This part of the book was quite funny but it also forced me to ask the same question Hanson did, which was why were seeds so hard and how does a plant break through it’s shell so easily?

I also enjoyed reading along as the author was digging in New Mexico. I learned a lot about the Carboniferous/ Permian times and how it is believed the seed plants may have been thriving in the dry uplands. This is not well shown in the fossil record due to the fact that terrestrial plants do not preserve well. This creates a preservation bias as the author informs us  on page 60. I also like the illustration on page 59 that shows what a forest in the Carboniferous times may have looked like, a habitat dominated by gigantic ferns and horsetails. I had never thought about a fern being able to grow so huge.

One thing I didn’t like about the book was the opening quote in the introduction. The quote reads, “Think of the fierce energy in an acorn! you bury it in the ground, and it explodes into a giant oak! Bury a sheep and nothing happens but decay”. I found this to be a false analogy because the author is comparing two different parts of the life cycle when he compares an acorn to a sheep. The acorn is an embryo, and the sheep is an adult. If I were to bury an oak tree (the adult) decay would occur to it, same as the sheep. When comparing the embryo of a sheep to a seed there is just as much “fierce energy” and the process that occurs to make the sheep is just as miraculous!

With the sections read, I think the author intends to make us appreciate the power and mysterious biochemistry that goes on in a seed. I think he also wants us to realize the versatility and the resiliency of seeds.


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