Master Gardener Program begins: Plant Science

Until I took Art History walking through museums was an exercise in futility and irritation. “Why are pictures of a soup label art?" “Why is this painting of a bunch of people huddled around a candle eating potatoes worth so much money?"

Borden - hosta in the garden for the MG description

After learning Art History, museums became more fun as I understood the context and the vocabulary of what I was seeing.I am hopeful the same thing will happen in gardens and arboreta when I finish the Master Gardener (MG) course I am taking this winter through the MSU extension.According to the introduction, the “aim of the Master Gardener Volunteer Program is to provide the citizens of the state with research-based information and technical assistance in gardening and horticulture through the use of qualified volunteers trained by MSUE.” Considering that one of my references was called three times and they requested a criminal history background check, this is a duty the MSUE volunteers take very seriously. As the second part of becoming qualified as a MG is volunteering 40 hours in the community, I am thrilled to be screened thoroughly.

It bears repeating that most things we eat, or drink, or wear come from plants, or creatures who have eaten plants, or creatures who have eaten creatures who have eaten plants, etc, etc, etc. Knowing the scientific framework behind the tapestry of flora that enables us to live on this planet seems to me a worthy endeavor. In the interests of sharing, I am going to describe parts of the lessons so we all can learn new things together over the next few months.

Borden - Red tree at Kripalu

Our first assignment is to read the chapter on Plant Science which begins with an outline that causes my English Major brain to jump out of my ears and run to the door, for example: 5.c. Cotyledons (part of a seed not a primordial mammoth). Thankfully once past the outline, seed botany is very straightforward (there are a lot of pictures). For example, the endosperm contains the nutrients for the seed to start a new life, including oils. A lot of the flavor in food comes from oil or fat, one of the reasons why whole grains (or bacon) have more of an impact on your taste buds.

Non-flowering plants (like Christmas trees with exposed pine cones) are called gymnosperms, from the Greek “gymnos” meaning naked. That is fun one to think about next time you are playing basketball at the gym.

Plants have cuticles that protect them from water loss, whereas the human cuticle protects us from bacteria. Plants have pores that open and close to regulate gas exchange. Despite the scene in James Bond where the gold painted woman dies of asphyxiation, human pores have nothing to do with gas exchange. Like earthworms, each flower contains both female and male reproductive parts. One of the leaf shapes I know I will be able to remember easily because I have that shape in our kitchen: Spatulate.

I continue reading and imagine biologists in their white coats culturing the tissue of the perfect McDonalds potato. No chance the company is going to leave the propagation of their staple to the open-pollination of bees, too much is at stake.

In addition to Plant Science future classes include: Soils, Flower Gardening, Woody Ornamentals, Vegetable Culture, Lawn Care, Small Fruit Culture, Tree Fruit Culture, Plant Health Care, Indoor Plants, Composting, Managing Wildlife, Poisonous Plants, and Household Pests. I look forward to seeing which one we tackle next!

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