Flowers. Trees. Plants. We've always thought that we controlled them. But what if, in fact, they have been shaping us? Using this provocative question as a jumping off point, The Botany of Desire, a two-hour PBS documentary based on the best-selling book by Michael Pollan, takes us on an eye-opening exploration of our relationship with the plant world – seen from the plants' point of view.
Every schoolchild learns about the mutually beneficial dance of honeybees and flowers: to make their honey, the bees collect nectar, and in the process spread pollen, which contains the flowers' genes. The Botany of Desire proposes that people and domesticated plants have formed a similarly reciprocal relationship. "We don't give nearly enough credit to plants," says Pollan. "They've been working on us – they've been using us – for their own purposes."
The Botany of Desire examines this unique relationship through the stories of four familiar species, telling how each of them evolved to satisfy one of our most basic yearnings. Linking our fundamental desires for sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control with the plants that gratify them – the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato – The Botany of Desire shows that we humans are intricately woven into the web of nature, not standing outside it.
Shot in stunning high definition photography, the program begins with Michael Pollan in a California garden and sets off to roam the world: from the potato fields of Idaho and Peru to the apple orchards of New England; from a medical marijuana hot house to the tulip mecca of Amsterdam, where in 1637, one Dutchman, crazed with "tulipmania," paid as much for a single tulip bulb as the going price for a town house. How could flowers, with no real practical value to humans, become so desperately desired that they drove many to financial ruin?
The Botany of Desire argues that the answer lies in the powerful but often overlooked relationship between people and plants. With Pollan as our on-screen guide to this frankly sensuous natural world, The Botany of Desire explores the dance of domestication between humans and plants. Through the history of these four familiar plants, the film seeks to answer the question: Who has really been domesticating whom?
Michael Pollan is the author of The Botany of Desire, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, and The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, which was named one of the 10 best books of 2006 by The New York Times and The Washington Post. It won the California Book Award, the Northern California Book Award, and the James Beard Award for Best Food Writing and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Pollan is also the author of A Place of My Own and Second Nature.
A contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine, Pollan is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including the James Beard Award for Best Magazine Series in 2003 and the Reuters-I.U.C.N. 2000 Global Award for Environmental Journalism. His articles have been anthologized in Best American Science Writing, Best American Essays and The Norton Book of Nature Writing. Pollan served for many years as executive editor of Harper's Magazine and is now the Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC Berkeley.
Michael Schwarz founded Kikim Media in 1996 after working for many years in public television, first as an independent producer of such landmark character-driven films as Abortion Clinic and Living Below the Line, then as part of the senior management team at KQED, the PBS station in San Francisco. Schwarz's work has been honored with some of the most prestigious awards in broadcasting – three national Emmy Awards, two George Foster Peabody Awards, the Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Journalism Award for Investigative Journalism, and numerous Ciné Golden Eagles and local Emmys.
Schwarz's recent programs for public television include My Father, My Brother, and Me (FRONTLINE); Hunting the Hidden Dimension (NOVA); Ending Aids: The Search for a Vaccine; Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet; The Next Big Thing?; Stopwatch; Naked to the Bone; and In Search of Law and Order. Kikim Media also produced and directed a series of short videos about social entrepreneurs for the Skoll Foundation and the special features for HBO's DVD release of Deadwood.
Edward Gray has produced, written and directed more than two dozen documentaries for television. Among his other collaborations with Michael Schwarz is the film Hunting the Hidden Dimension for NOVA. For PBS, Gray wrote and produced Security vs. Liberty: The Other War for the America at a Crossroads series and Through Many Lives: The Aging Brain for The Secret Life of the Brain. He made three films for the American Experience series, one of which was The Orphan Trains, which was awarded an Emmy® for Achievement in Writing. For ABC News, Gray was senior producer of Peter Jennings Reporting: The Kennedy Assassination—Beyond Conspiracy. And for the Discovery Channel, Gray produced Searching for the Roots of 9/11, with Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Thomas L. Friedman. Gray's work has been recognized with three Emmy Awards, two Writers Guild of America Awards, two Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards and the Edward R. Murrow Award.
Major funding for this program was provided by the National Science Foundation, where discoveries begin.
Additional funding was provided by:
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, to enhance public understanding of science and technology in the modern world.
The Columbia Foundation, which supports the transition to sustainable communities.
Contributions to your local station by viewers like you. Thank you.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0307967. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.