Forced sterilization in human societies belongs to the realm of dictatorial dytopias, but in the garden it is routine, casual practice. Ever since the evolution of sexual reproduction in plants hundreds of millions of years ago, we can only guess at the vast amount of plant energy spent in the pursuit of a more varied and hence more adaptable next generation….or, to put it more simply, having sex. And while as gardeners we often want to encourage that lusty reproductive urge, such as when we want to collect seeds for eating or for replanting, there are many instances when we’d rather not have our plants waste their energy making little ones.
Sorrel is a prime example. This lemony, leafy perennial is easy to divide and propagate asexually, meaning that the plant grows identically more of itself from a portion of the root that is cut or divided from the main plant. Yet nature has imbedded deep within sorrel’s psyche a message that this self-copying is not enough.
|Sorrel, sassy, sexy, and rather erect!|
It shares in the evolutionary phyto-secret that sex gives it survival advantages, and, who knows, having insects come and crawl around one’s floral organs may indeed be pleasurable in some mysterious, vegetative way. I probably err in trying to make too much of plant sex, but nonetheless, every spring sorrel is bidden by forces sempiternal to fly its floral flag and try its hand at improving itself by crossing with others of its tribe.
I as gardener look down on this lasciviousness with a frown, not because of any prudishness, but because I know the energetics of the situation. Spend time and energy making seed and there’s nothing left for leaf production, and since we’re not sprinkling sorrel seed on anything at the restaurant, then it’s leaf and leaf alone that I want. So out comes the knife and off with the flower stalks.
|Sorrel now demure, having been denied its sex drive.|
Sorry, sorrel. In a very Big Brother way I have taken charge of your reproductive destiny and decreed that you may self copy as you like, but no fraternizing with the opposite sex! And thus it is that I create a brave new world of plant management, though I suppose if you look deeply enough, that’s what the whole gardening/farming prospect is all about.