Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Lessons from The Plant Explorer

Last night I went to a talk given by Dan Hinkley, plant explorer extraordinaire. He has the enviable job of traveling around the world (I know) and hunting down new plants species and cultivars (I know!) to introduce to the gardeners of North America.

He described the process that he goes through to collect the seeds, clean them, and bring them to the US to be grown and tested before being introduced to the public at large. I learned, among other things, that seeds can take up to four years to sprout! (At the three year mark, one should begin warning the seeds that if they don't shape up and sprout soon, it's the compost pile for them.) This was a "duh" moment once it was explained to me - if all the seeds sprouted at once, and there was a drought, or, say, a very hungry caterpillar, that particular species of plant might not have survived for long. Staggering the germination rate gives the seeds multiple chances to take over the world. Seeds win!

I also wondered about the reasons for choosing a particular plant to bring back for testing. After all, when one is hiking in the wilds of (insert any country - he's probably been there), there are doubtless many trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, EVERYTHING, all vying for attention. Dan said that he is typically drawn to plants that have interesting foliage, since flowers are fleeting, and he is often traveling in the fall. Other plant explorers may go for textured bark, or flowers, or plants that only grow upside down, but he likes foliage.

And the last lesson - if you are buying a house, and it is named "Windcliff", don't assume that it is just a quaint, lovely name. Assume that it means that your house is perched on a cliff and that it will be constantly buffeted by huge gusts of wind, and plan accordingly.

Chani West-Foyle, marketing associate

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