New film reveals the power of plants

  • Article by: CONNIE NELSON , Home + Garden Editor
  • Updated: October 29, 2009 - 11:40 AM
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The documentary on plants travels to tulip fields in the Netherlands.

Writers cringe when you say, "I saw your story," because it means you didn't actually read it.

But I can say -- with a clear conscience -- that I saw Michael Pollan's book "The Botany of Desire" because his 2001 bestseller has been brought to the small screen in a two-hour documentary.

These days, Pollan may be better known for his books "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto" and "The Omnivore's Dilemma," which have put him in the forefront of the eat healthy/eat locally movement. But it all started with "The Botany of Desire," which explores the cultivation and social history of four plants -- the apple, the tulip, cannabis and the potato. Pollan contends that by meeting our deep-seated desires (for sweetness, beauty, intoxication and power) these plants have tricked us into propagating them.

While it sounds a bit heady for film, the PBS crew handles it brilliantly. Using high-definition photography, talking heads, travelogues, paintings and the odd reenactment, the cameras go from Amsterdam to Central Asia to Idaho to bring Pollan's story home.

In the documentary (refreshingly narrated by Frances McDormand of "Fargo" fame), you'll learn that Johnny Appleseed was not only real, but also an unwitting pioneer of biodiversity, that the tulip brought the Dutch economy to its knees, that cannabis may one day be used to help people suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, and that America's hunger for the perfect French fry could create a monoculture on par with the Lumper, the Irish potato that failed and led to famine.

Entertaining without being silly, informative without being dull, this documentary makes a darned good read.

Connie Nelson • 612-673-7087

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  • THE BOTANY OF DESIRE

    What: A two-hour PBS special based on Michael Pollan's bestselling book (of the same name) that explores our relationship with the plant world from the plant's point of view.

    When: 7 p.m. Oct. 28 on KTCA-TV, Ch. 2. Repeats at 1 a.m. Oct. 29 on KTCA; 3 p.m. Oct. 29 on LIFE-TV, Ch. 17; 2 p.m. Nov. 1 on KTCA.

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