What’s the sitch with Plant Parenthood?
In the past year my partner and I have become the adoptive parents of a number of plants. Like many parents, we have lost track of that exact number, but the love is there all the same. These plants found their way into our family from diverse backgrounds, and cast all forms of shadows based on the position of the sun and how open our window shades are. They are all primarily green in color. These plants needed a home and we were ready to grow our family, so we took the leap and are grateful to now be proud plant parents.
But, many plants adopted by human parents have experienced past trauma and neglect. Some have a lot of trouble making the transition to a life indoors in shallow pots, drinking tap water. Sometimes these difficulties manifest physically, as plants lose leaves, wilt, or, in extreme cases, experience a sudden rapid decline, a loss of green, and death. Again, this is nearly always due to prior hardships and not because of anything we are doing as parents. We care for our vegetative children (as we like to call them) as if they were our biological offspring.
Which is part of why I’m writing this editorial. Scientists at the University of Southwestern Tennessee Technical Institute’s School of Synthetic Botanical Design are experimenting with live plant births from human mothers. You read that correctly. These plants would be genetically human, on a nucleic acid level. DNA. But they would look, act and function exactly like plants. This would allow future human parents to be closer to their vegetative children than ever before.
It would also alleviate much of the pain and suffering that adoptive plants go through before settling into their human homes. These future human-plant hybrids would never have to experience the trauma of being separated from their birth parents. They would never have to be shelved amongst hundreds of other young plant refugees in a transitional plant store, knowing their green bodies were being used for profit, anxiously awaiting the day they would be moved again, as soon as a buyer was found and a price agreed upon. This research at USTTI is about more than one person or one plant; it is about giving the next generation of human-plant families a chance to be fully happy, to be fully natural, and to put down roots, together.
Thus far researchers have had some success with the initial human-plant embryos in the lab, but are still likely years away from their first test with live subjects. Unfortunately, that day may never come, as there is a vocal minority of humans who are adamantly against the research. The most prominent advocacy group, called Defund Experimental Plant Parenthood, is lobbying the Tennessee congress to cut funding to USTTI’s School of Synthetic Botanical Design.
Janice Feldman, their spokeswoman, was recently quoted as saying,
“Is this really a conversation we have to have? We believe genetically modifying humans to make them into plants should be illegal. At the very least it should not funded by our taxpayers. The people who want this research to continue are troubled. My understanding is that some of them blame the deaths of their houseplants on trauma that the plants experienced in the past? Are these people sure they are watering their plants enough? Or maybe they are watering them too much? Some plants don’t do well with too much water. It seems to me that splicing human DNA into fiddle leaf DNA is an overreaction to their favorite plant losing a few leaves.”
Her insensitivity and bias is astounding. We always water our plants enough. That is not why the edges of their leaves are browning. We even changed the soil to a more natural loam, without chemical additives. We are good plant parents. It is not for lack of care and attention that our plants are having difficulties. And it is not just our plants but others’ plants as well, many have told us their plants also aren’t growing well, so it’s not just us. The failure to thrive in these poor plants, in all likelihood, stems from disruption during their youth, and because they still don’t feel a deep, biological kinship with their human caretakers.
Defunding experimental plant parenthood is not the answer; Ms. Feldman and her kind have taken a dangerous and callous stance on this humani-planti-tarian issue. Instead of fighting against progress, let us devote more funding to this cutting-edge research, and alleviate further houseplant suffering. We water our plants regularly, and reposition them in sunny spots and everything, so we need to look for other solutions.