The Botany of Desire (2009) Movie Script

They are four of
the most common plants we know.
We've always thought that we
controlled them.
But what if, in fact,
they have been shaping us?
We don't give nearly enough
credit to plants.
They've been working on us,
They've been using us,
for their own purposes.
Four plants that have
traveled the road to success,
By satisfying human desires.
The tulip,
By gratifying our desire for
a certain kind of beauty,
Has gotten us
To take it from its origins
in central asia
And disperse it
around the world.
Marijuana, by gratifying our
desire to change consciousness,
Has gotten people
to risk their lives,
Their freedom,
in order to
Grow more of it
and plant more of it.
The potato -- by gratifying
our desire for control,
Control over nature,
so that we can feed ourselves,
Has gotten itself
out of south america
And expanded its range
Far beyond where it was
500 years ago.
And the apple,
By gratifying our desire
for sweetness --
Begins in the forests
of kazakhstan
And is now
the universal fruit.
These are great winners
In the dance of domestication.
A look at nature
The way you've never
seen it before,
With best-selling author
michael pollan.
And this relationship
of the plants,
Learning how to gratify
our desires,
And our working for them
in exchange for this,
Is what I call
"the botany of desire."
It was that
very special week in may,
When the apple trees are in
spectacular bloom,
And they're just vibrating with
the attention of bees.
And I was planting potatoes,
Making my little rows,
And putting in my chunks,
And the bees were working
above me.
And it occurred to me --
You know, what did I have
in common with those bees?
And when you think about it,
Quite a bit.
The bee assumes
It's getting
the best of this deal
With the apple blossom.
It's breaking in,
It's getting the nectar.
And has no idea that it's
picked up this pollen
On the hairs of its thighs
And is transporting it
to another tree
In the garden
or down the street,
Or anywhere else.
So for the bee to think it's
in charge of this relationship
Is really just
a failure of bee imagination.
And I realized I had the same
failure of imagination.
I was working for these potatoes
in some sense.
I was planting them,
I was giving them
A little bit more habitat
than they had before.
And yet I thought I was kind of
calling the shots.
So that's when I had
this thought
That, wouldn't it be interesting
To look at our relationship to
domesticated plants
From the plant's point of view?
Of course, plants don't have
consciousness or intention,
But the act of using
our consciousness
To put ourselves
in their "roots,"
Or shoes, or whatever,
Helps us to see things
from their vantage point.
And when you do that,
Nature suddenly looks
very different.
We realize we're in
the web of nature,
Not standing outside it.
These plants are mirrors
In which we can see ourselves
in a slightly different way.
And as much as this is
a story about plants,
It's a story about human desire.
Good morning,
my name is brian,
Welcome to
poverty lane orchards.
First thing we're gonna do
Is we're gonna head up
into the orchard,
And when we get up there,
I wanna tell you a little bit
about the apples,
And the trees,
and how to pick apples.
For children
in new England,
It's an autumn ritual --
An apple picking expedition
to the local orchard.
Okay, when you guys
are picking the apples,
You want to pick out
nice ripe apples.
And the way to tell
the ripe ones is they're red.
But these children
might never have
Had a chance
to taste apples
Had the apple not found a way to
get us to do its bidding.
Thousands of years ago,
the apple put us to work --
Transporting its genes
From its native ground
in central asia
To the far corners
of the earth.
For a plant to do that,
It has to be awfully
enterprising, willing to adapt
To a great many
different environments,
Willing to experiment with
A great many different
forms and flavors.
Is there a really good red one
up there? What do you see?
it's a fruit iconic
And beloved and used in
a great many different ways.
But the apple has not
always been regarded as
The wholesome fruit
we think of today.
The apple tree
was the great evil plant,
Because people took these apples
and made hard cider,
Which was the main source
of alcohol
In rural america
for many, many years.
The strategy --
the evolutionary strategy
That got it from there
to here --
Involved producing
ever more sweetness.
Okay, here's cup four.
There you go.
If you think it tastes
bad or yucky,
I want you to give it to
oscar the grouch.
Oscar, okay.
So here's cup two.
And if tastes good, I want you
to give it to big bird,
Because he likes things
that taste good.
These children
are doing taste tests --
Part of research
being done on sweetness
At the monell chemical senses
center in philadelphia.
It specializes in the study of
taste and smell.
Good job!
You're doing great.
All right, so I'm going to
give you another one.
Some of the fundamental
things we've discovered are,
The desire for sweetness is
hardwired in human beings.
It's built-in, it's innate.
It's not because we feed babies
High levels of sweet
when they're young,
It's part of their biology.
Presumably, our response to
sweet evolved
When sweet things were rare
in the environment,
They were there
in small amounts,
And our biggest problem
was to make sure
We got enough calories
and didn't starve to death.
If a plant was sweet,
That meant it wasn't bitter
and poison,
It meant it was reasonably high
in calories,
Because sugars
are calorie-rich,
And so sweetness is the signal
For something
that's good for us.
Sweetness in nature is
very rare, very special --
It's really limited to
ripe fruit,
And honey,
if you're willing to risk
Going into a beehive.
And apples are a particularly
big, portable,
Long-lasting vessel
for sweetness.
It was here in
The ancient forests
of central asia
That our own pursuit
of sweetness
First brought us into contact
with the apple.
This, scientists say,
Is the apple's genetic home --
The place
where it originated.
These high forests in what is
now the nation of kazakhstan
Gave rise to thousands of
different varieties,
Many of which
still grow here today.
You land in almaty,
the capital of kazakhstan,
And there are apple seedlings
Pushing up through
the broken pavement.
You go up into the hills,
And there are thousands of
different kinds of apples.
Great big red apples
That look like
large macintosh --
And you'd find these sort of
knotty little green things
That even a rat wouldn't eat.
To see these wild apples
in all their diversity
Is to realize that, in these
forests, this is, you know,
These are god's first drafts of
what an apple could be.
One way the apple
could secure its future
Was by expanding its habitat --
But that's a hard thing to do
if you're a plant.
You know, the apple has
the same existential predicament
Of any plant -- it's stuck
in place, it's rooted down.
So you had the apple
beginning its life
In these kazakh forests
in central asia,
But they would be stuck there
If not for mammals,
that they evolved to appeal to.
If you're a bear in a forest
and you're hungry,
You don't pick the little
blueberry sized apples,
You pick the biggest ones
you can get.
If you find
a particularly sweet one,
You're going to eat
more of that one
Than a sour one.
And in their case,
They eat the whole apple
and excrete the seeds,
And that's how apples
spread their genes.
And sweetness was the ticket
out of that forest.
But to move farther
than bears could take it,
The apple would need
a new ally --
And found one...In us.
Part of
the apple's genius
Has been to insinuate itself
into our culture,
And art and religion, as well.
It's kind of
a botanical zelig --
I mean, it just kind of
shows up everywhere.
Even when it wasn't
really there.
One of
the best known images
Of people and apples together
Comes from the story of
the garden of eden.
Though the bible doesn't
specify what the fruit is,
We have always imagined it
to be apples.
And that's because the northern
renaissance painters,
When they thought of a fruit,
A desirable fruit
that you would put in a garden,
They immediately
thought "apple."
But it wasn't an apple.
Probably was a pomegranate,
Because apples don't do
very well
In the lands where the bible is
thought to have taken place.
One place
where apples did grow
Was ancient china.
They'd been brought there
from central asia
On the trade route
called the silk road.
The apple also traveled west,
Reaching europe
and eventually the new world.
In america,
the apple found a partner,
Someone whose love for it would
become the stuff of legend --
Johnny appleseed.
johnny appleseed the myth,
There is a real person --
john chapman.
But the myth is so powerful,
So compelling, so fascinating,
That it has completely obscured
the real person who's behind it.
John chapman was born
in 1774 in massachusetts.
In his early 20s,
he headed west.
He traveled through
the ohio river valley,
Which was then
the american frontier,
Planting and selling
apple trees.
He is said to have
likened himself to a bee --
That he had some sense that he,
like a bee,
Was spreading
these plants around.
Johnny appleseed
was --
Not to make a terrible pun --
A pretty "seedy" fellow,
you know?
Travelling around,
often barefoot,
You know,
in a burlap sack sometimes,
Sleeping in barns.
But terribly engaging.
People took him in,
And he planted the orchards,
And he told them how to prune.
But he was, um...
He was a bum.
This is doubly odd,
Because he was actually
fairly well off.
Chapman could easily
have afforded
Much better clothes --
All those apple trees he planted
made him a prosperous man.
He wasn't just
Sprinkling apple seeds
where he went --
He was a nursery man.
He understood that,
Wherever the next wave
of settlers would land,
They would want apple trees.
By law, you were required to
plant some fruit,
Because that was a symbol
you were going to stay put.
So he would find
a piece of land,
He would clear it,
And he would plant apples
from seeds,
And start a nursery a few years
before the settlers got there,
So by the time they showed up,
He had saplings for sale
for a few cents apiece.
It was a very good business.
But when I started learning
about the botany of apples,
Suddenly there was a problem
with his story --
Why would he be planting them
from seed?
The mystery stems
from a curious fact
Of the apple's own biology --
Its taste and even
its appearance
Are rarely passed on
through its seeds.
In every apple you will
find a few little seeds,
Each in their own
little chamber.
Well, every one of those seeds,
if planted,
Will produce a completely
different apple,
Looking very little, if at all,
like its parent.
They tend to be sour, bitter,
All these other
different flavors.
That's because
each apple seed
Carries genes for a wide variety
of traits --
And there's no telling
which of those genes
Will be turned on when
the seed starts to grow.
There is, however,
a very simple way
To perpetuate
the traits of an apple,
An ancient technique
called "grafting."
You take a bud from a tree
That produced fruit
that you liked
And insert it into a young,
developing tree.
The result?
An exact copy --
Or clone -- of the apple
you started with.
Many american settlers grew
their apples exactly that way.
But not johnny appleseed.
He tended to
grow seedlings
And then just let them
grow wild.
He might have done this,
we think,
Because of his
religious beliefs --
He was a swedenborgian.
The 18th-century
- christian theologian,
Emanuel swedenborg,
Preached that the natural world
is imbued with god's spirit.
Swedenborg had
taught that
Everything that was here
on earth,
That you could see, feel,
taste, touch,
Had a counterpart in
the spiritual world beyond.
For chapman,
this seemed to indicate that
He should not tamper with
all of the natural things
That he could see
in the world around him.
And this seems to be
one reason why
He grows apples
from their seeds,
And not from grafting.
Whatever his reasons,
chapman's botanical practices
Gave the apple
a golden opportunity
To adapt
to a new environment.
By going back to seed,
You are going back to
the biodiversity of your genes.
So all of those apple seeds
Produced hundreds of
different kinds of apples
With very different qualities.
And so the apple,
Just like the englishmen
who came over,
Remade itself
as americans.
Most of these
new varieties,
Because they were
grown from seed,
Turned out to be bitter...
But the settlers had a very good
use for them -- cider.
Hard cider.
Now, when we use
the word "cider,"
We picture something very sweet.
But of course,
it only stays sweet
If you have refrigeration.
So all the cider they made
went into barrels and fermented
And became what we call
"hard cider," alcoholic cider.
So johnny appleseed,
who we think of as
The most benign, wholesome
kind of character,
Turns out was
Bringing hard drink
to the frontier.
That's what people drank.
Colonial america
was terrified of water!
You know, they knew about
All the diseases of water
in europe,
And so they didn't drink it.
Cider, however,
because it had been fermented,
Had killed, in the process,
Anything that might
make you ill.
That was the beer of
its time, the wine of its time,
That's what everybody drank --
and I mean everybody.
Everyone from paupers
to presidents consumed cider.
John adams liked to
drink it for breakfast.
But over time,
cider and the apple
Became victims
of their own success.
Alcohol consumption
Started to rise
in about the 1830s.
And there's some public outrage
over that,
That people seemed to be too
interested in drinking,
Or are drunk,
So all forms of
alcoholic beverage
Begin to be criticized,
and cider is among them.
People went after
apple trees.
Suddenly the apple,
Which had been celebrated for
much of american history,
Is vilified as
the evil fruit.
It's back in the garden of eden,
in a sense.
The hatchet wielded by
the famous prohibitionist
Carrie nation,
was not just about
Breaking down saloon doors,
It was also about
chopping down this evil tree
That was getting
americans drunk.
But the apple would
be rescued from infamy
By the sweeter side
of its nature.
Even though cider was
what happened to most apples,
Apples were also eaten
as a food.
And whenever you were lucky
enough to find a sweet one,
That's what you did with it.
So with cider
in disrepute,
The race to find sweet new
varieties intensified.
Everyone who had
a cider orchard had his eye out
For that one good edible apple.
It was really well understood
That one of the tickets
To great success
and great wealth in america
Was to find a good
edible apple.
And all the famous apples
that we know --
The delicious, the macintosh,
The baldwin, the northern spy --
These had all begun
in cider orchards.
They were the stars.
Before 1900, the fate of, like,
99% of apples was to be drunk.
After 1900, it becomes the fruit
that we now know.
For 20th-century americans,
Apples became
a symbol of wholesomeness.
The apple growers
came up with this campaign --
"an apple a day
keeps the doctor away" --
And essentially rebranded
the apple as a health food.
That's all well and good,
But what it meant is that,
As soon as you're
eating apples,
You focus on those few varieties
That are really tasty
and popular,
And the industry shrank down
the number of apples
Over the course of
the 20th century.
So that, by the time I was a boy
in the early '60s,
There were very few apples
in commerce.
There was the red delicious,
the golden delicious,
And the macintosh.
That was, you know,
Easy for marketers
to get their head around,
It was all the public
seemed to want.
But for the apple,
it wasn't very good news --
Because as soon as you kind of
freeze its evolution,
The apple is kind of
a sitting duck for its pests.
Apples were
increasingly being grown
In what scientists
call "monocultures,"
Which churned out
just a single variety.
Once you rely on
the genetic uniformity
That comes with cloning
Rather than planting
from seed,
You restrict the species'
natural ability to evolve.
So you have your plants,
with their genetic combination,
Staying still,
while the pests --
I'm talking about
insects or diseases,
Viruses or bacteria --
Are always trying to
pick the lock.
And sooner or later,
They will be able to get not
just one of your plants,
But all of your plants,
'cause they're the same.
To defend them
from insects and diseases,
Most apples are routinely
sprayed with chemicals.
The bugs are clearly
Well ahead of
the human controls.
If you're talking about
a large grower,
With a couple of hundred acres,
They're probably spending
A half-million to three-quarters
of a million dollars a year
In chemical costs.
One of the biggest
consumers of pesticide now
Is the apple crop.
It's the fate of monocultures.
We'll have to
check the records
To see what the resistances are
in these,
Because these could be
real useful
In breeding right now,
I think.
In geneva, new york,
scientist herb aldwinckle
And phil forsline
are looking for
Another way to help
the apple --
By harnessing the defenses
that lie hidden in its genes.
So think what it
would be like
If it was grafted on
a dwarfing rootstock.
Probably double the size
and even more color.
Aldwinckle and forsline
Collaborate at this
apple research center,
Which is run by the u.S.
Department of agriculture.
It's a botanical version
of noah's ark.
To walk into
this orchard is to --
At first, it looks like kind of
a normal orchard...
And then you realize
as you look down the rows
That, my god, every one of
these trees is different.
There are yellow ones
and there are red ones,
And there are green ones,
and there are purplish ones,
And there are small and large
And every shape
of tree and fruit.
It is just
this vast library.
Here, there are more
than 5,000 different kinds
Of apple trees -- each with its
own distinct set of genes.
A mechanic has a wide
variety of tools
Which he hopes
he'll be able to use
To fix problems with machines
he's working on --
It's a similar situation
with apples.
We need to have a tool chest,
And the genes are what provide
the tool chest.
In 1989,
aldwinckle and forsline
Got an unexpected opportunity
to add to their tool chest
Some of the most valuable
apple genes in the world --
The genes from kazakhstan.
We regard
the kazakh apple forests
As the gene bank
of the domestic apple.
Wild forests
were being chopped down,
The trees were being destroyed,
They just wouldn't
be there anymore
Unless someone went there
and collected them
And grew them somewhere else.
We had some jeeps
we traveled around in,
And so we were able to visit
true apple forests.
It was a bit of
a culture shock
To be in central asia
for the first time.
My first impressions were,
this was in
The middle of nowhere --
what am I doing here?
But, uh...
To just see
The diversity in those apples
Is just amazing.
Once an apple tree
is chopped down,
It's gone forever.
But if we can take the seed
from that tree
And store the seed,
We can preserve the genes that
were present in that tree,
And essentially we can preserve
that tree forever.
Aldwinckle and forsline
Made several trips
to the kazakh forests.
They brought seeds back
and planted them.
We're standing in
the middle of what I call
"kazakhstan re-created
in geneva, new york."
But we're not only just
saving it,
We're developing
a library of information
On every one of these trees.
The notion of
conservation of seed
Is to conserve it --
because you don't know
What you might need it for
at some future time --
Maybe nothing.
Why do we have museums?
Well, because it's a good idea
to conserve things --
That's the primary value.
Then there's a secondary value,
And that is to u t
as genetic breeding stock
To solve problems --
To solve problems that might
enable growers
To use fewer pesticides.
In his lab,
Aldwinckle is trying to do
just that,
By moving genes that provide
disease resistance
From a wild kazakh apple
into a commercial variety.
These are pieces of
leaves of fuji apple.
And what we've got here is
an experiment
To try and transfer some genes
For resistance
to apple scab
Into fuji, and therefore make
fuji resistant to apple scab.
In the 19th century,
The repository of all
the genetic diversity
Of the apple in america
was in the cider orchard.
Today it's in these collections
That are maintained by
some visionary individuals
Who understand the importance of
preserving this biodiversity.
There's a vicious circle
That we get into, which is,
we have monocultures
In the field,
and monocultures on the plate.
Monocultures of taste.
Fruit now has to
compete with soda.
So it has got to be super-sweet,
And the modern apples all are
very sweet --
We have apples that, as one
critic said of the delicious,
It has "sweetness
without dimension."
The problem is, it's boring,
Sweetness --
if that's all you get.
In lebanon,
new hampshire,
One grower is trying to solve
that problem
By reaching back
into the apple's past.
Stephen wood is the owner of
poverty lane orchards.
He used to grow mostly
standard varieties,
Like macs and cortlands --
But found he couldn't match
the prices
Of the big commercial growers.
We realized
in the late '80s
That what we'd always done
Wasn't going to work
any longer,
And that we either had to change
quite dramatically
What we were doing, or stop
growing apples altogether.
But for wood,
Giving up on his orchard
seemed inconceivable.
You know, some people adore
antique clocks,
I adore apple trees.
How are we doing on water core?
We started some grafting trials
Of what I guess you could call
"antique" varieties --
Varieties that are not
commonly grown anymore,
But once were.
This is wickson.
This apple originated
in the pacific northwest
In the late 19th century.
It's got a beautiful acidity.
This is pomme grise.
It has very low acid,
high sugar,
And a sort of...
A sort of nutty flavor.
This apple is
calville blanc d'hiver.
It's got a little bit of
sweetness behind the acid.
You look at 17th-century
french still-lifes,
This is the apple you see
Beside the dead pheasant
and the bottle of wine.
There's a huge number of
apple varieties --
It's almost infinite.
But it's tough to
make a living
Selling only
antique eating apples.
So wood turned his attention to
Another lost chapter
in apple history --
Most of his orchard
is now producing apples...
For hard cider.
It is a gamble to plant
Acres and acres
of inedible apples...
Many of the best cider apples
are disgusting --
Bitter, astringent apples.
The decision to plant
Not just a few trees,
But thousands and thousands
of those trees,
Could be quite a good joke
if the cider doesn't make it,
Because these apples are not
going to wind up
In a kid's lunch box --
There's no secondary market
for this stuff.
Wonderful breakfast drink.
We are trying,
with a few other colleagues,
Basically to create a category
in the u.S. Wine trade
Of "fine ciders."
I think we're doing
quite well in that,
But the jury is still out.
There are a lot of fruits
That have gotten ahead in life
By being sweet
and gratifying the sweet tooth
Of mammals like us,
But there's something
about the apple,
You know -- it's so iconic
In western civilization,
And so enduring
in its relationship,
And its ability, really, to
gratify our changing desires --
For alcohol, and for
a wonderfully sweet food --
That my guess is, it will
succeed for many years to come.
The mystery is,
Why things that
bees regard as beautiful,
We also regard
as beautiful --
I mean, what are the odds that
we would have the same taste
As this little bug?
When I say the bee has a concept
of beauty,
I mean, I'm being metaphorical.
But the bee and ourselves
have a lot in common.
We really like symmetry,
We like certain patterns
Of color, and certain scents --
we agree about scent, as well.
The bee loves this flower
and moves toward it,
And this flower has evolved
to attract it.
Well, this plant has also
evolved to attract us.
To the extent that
a flower can gratify
Our ideas of a beautiful color,
A beautiful shape,
a beautiful smell,
It will dominate the landscape,
Dominate the flower industry,
Get many more copies
of itself made,
And take over the world.
And few flowers
Have traveled the road from
obscurity to fame
More spectacularly than
the tulip.
59 years ago,
I saw first tulip
in my life.
And that was in the garden
of my father.
And now my whole life
is with tulips.
Nobody knows tulips
better than the dutch --
And few dutchmen know them
better than joop zonneveld,
But he has a curious way of
describing their effect on him.
You look after every
tulip, step by step,
You get the tulip fever --
It becomes worse, worse,
and worse.
For me, it was something,
it's in me, it never stops.
Zonneveld's been
a tulip buyer, a salesman,
And now he's conservator
Of one of the most famous
tulip gardens in the world --
Hortus bulborum
in the netherlands,
A showplace for
the remarkable diversity
Of this sometimes
underappreciated flower.
In this garden,
We have 2,300 varieties.
You have dark purple colors,
You have almost black tulips,
You have lily flowering tulips,
There's a tulip
that has the shape like this,
Like a lily flower.
You have yellow, red,
Pink, orange, bicolored,
Single earlies,
single late, double late --
So there are so many things
in the tulips
That once you start,
You discover every day --
even myself, I discover
Every day new things.
Today, zonneveld is
giving a tour
To photographer ruth dundas
and writer justin spring --
Two americans who have
Come to hortus to gather
material for a new book.
This is a lovely
Tulips are about the last
subject they thought
Would ever capture
their interest.
I have to say, honestly,
That when I first started
to photograph,
The last thing I wanted to
photograph was tulips.
It's pretty boring,
It's a lollipop
on top of a stick,
You know, you get
different colors, but that's it.
It's only once
you come to gardens
Such as the hortus bulborum here
That you start to understand
That this is
a very varied flower,
And it's adapted and mutated
Into many different forms.
It's a lot of fun
to photograph,
That there's
a constant challenge
To look into this flower
And be able to see new color,
new light.
You can take a bouquet of tulips
And photograph it
every hour of the day.
And it's something quite
different each time.
Perfect, gorgeous.
It just seems so amazing
that you have
This extraordinary variety
that's been cultivated
Over centuries,
and somehow you grew up
Not knowing a thing about it.
Flowers began
flaunting their beauty
Long before there were people.
It was more than
100 million years ago
When the class of plants
that flowers belong to --
The angiosperms --
first appeared on the earth.
The great revolution in
natural history
Is the rise of the angiosperms.
This is the class of plants
that makes conspicuous flowers,
Forms fruit and seed.
This was a new way of doing
business in nature.
The flower of
an angiosperm
Has a male part, the stamen,
which produces pollen.
Whether transported by wind,
bees, or humans,
When pollen lands on
the flower's female part,
The pistil, it gets fertilized,
And gives rise to seeds.
The seeds contain
a mix of genes
From both the mother
and the father.
Before that, you had this
greener, sleepier world
Where things reproduce
usually by cloning,
By spores that were genetically
identical to their parents.
Evolution proceeded in a kind of
pokey pace,
Because you didn't have
as much variation.
And then you have this
incredible explosion
Of diversity that happens
with this new strategy.
It was incredibly
successful strategy.
It allowed you
to move your genes around,
It allowed you to evolve
much quicker,
Because sex creates variation.
And the more new combinations
you try,
The quicker you can adapt to
whatever the environment is.
And one particular group
of these angiosperms
Came up with a really, really
clever strategy --
And that was
To appeal not to, you know,
Bugs or birds or bees,
But appeal to us.
The first
wild tulips, scientists think,
Sprang up in the same place
where the apple originated --
The mountains
of central asia.
It was typically kind of
more open than our tulip,
So it had a kind of
hourglassy shape.
Often had a scent,
Often had a slightly different
color inside.
Drawn by the beauty
of these wild flowers,
People learned
how to cultivate them.
Under our attention,
the flower got bigger,
The colors very often
got brighter,
And then we started
experimenting with variation.
From central asia,
The tulip made its way
to turkey.
It was there that
this beautiful flower
Bewitched one of the most
powerful men in the world,
The sultan
of the ottoman empire.
The turks
at various times in history
Revered tulips.
Sultan ahmed iii
was famous
For his love of tulips,
And when they were in bloom
every year,
There was a festival.
Every night there would be
some sort of performance
To celebrate tulips.
It was so extravagant,
in fact,
That this helped bring down
the sultan.
For his spending on tulips
And other perceived failings,
The sultan was toppled
from his throne.
But it wasn't only royalty
That got seduced
by the tulip.
In the early 17th century,
The flower caused a whole
country to go mad.
It was completely irrational.
And I don't think
you can explain it
According to any logical scheme
That this entire society
went nuts.
Between 1634 and 1637,
Tulips swept the dutch
into a collective frenzy
That has become known as
"tulip mania."
Their passion for the flower
Spurred one of the biggest
investment bubbles in history,
And for a brief time,
Made the tulip one of
the most valuable commodities
In the world.
It was a pure financial
Speculative bubble --
And it was about a flower!
I mean, how amazing is that?
It was a time when
the dutch dominated world trade.
And a lot of them
were getting rich.
It became fashionable
to grow flower gardens --
And nothing said "success"
like a tulip.
In the beginning,
The rich people in holland,
They have big houses,
And they want to show
they're wealthy.
At that time, were tulips.
It really was about
the display of
The extraordinary,
the gem.
And you picture, you know,
kind of a gray, cloudy,
Dutch spring afternoon,
And that color against
that steel sky
Is a powerful thing.
For the tulip,
the dutch flower gardens
Offered a chance
to strut its stuff --
And no tulips did so
more dramatically
Than the type known as
broken tulips.
They were extremely rare,
But, back then,
no one knew why.
A break was when
The background color,
the solid, matte,
Saturated color
of a tulip
Gets a kind of flame
of a second color;
And when this happened,
This was considered, you know,
the most beautiful tulip.
The most prized of
all the broken tulips
Was one of the rarest --
the semper augustus.
It was a big,
white tulip
With a splash of carmine red
on it,
Which was really,
by general account,
Considered the greatest tulip
ever found.
This was the epitome
of tulip beauty
In the eye of the dutch.
If you wanted
a semper augustus
To bloom in your garden,
You'd need to get your hands on
a semper augustus bulb.
That's the part of the tulip
that lives beneath the soil --
And planting a bulb
is the only way
To make sure a tulip offspring
Will look the same as
its parent.
But in 17th-century holland,
Semper augustus bulbs
were very scarce.
At that time,
only one merchant in amsterdam
Had examples of this bulb.
Eventually one man prevailed
upon him to sell a single bulb,
Which was valued at the time
at 10,000 florins.
This was at a time when
the average dutch worker
Would survive with his family
for a year on about 300.
And the fact that such sales
were being made
And for such colossal sums
of money
Gradually became
more widely known,
And this really was
the foundation stone
Of what became
the tulip mania.
At the height
of the tulip mania,
One tulip sold for an amount
equivalent to the price
Of one of the grandest
canal houses in amsterdam.
Now, just to put it
in contemporary terms,
This is equivalent to, say,
a townhouse on 5th avenue.
$10 million to $15 million
for a single tulip bulb.
The tulip bulb market
hit its peak in February 1637.
There were
40 million guilders' worth
Of tulip deals outstanding,
More than six times
the total amount of money
There was in circulation.
There was an auction
held in the winter of 1637,
And some great tulip was put on
the market at a certain price.
And it didn't get that price.
And the auctioneer offered
1,000 guilders less,
1,000 guilders
below that,
And nobody bid.
The flowers were
very overvalued.
People were risking fortunes,
And of course the whole thing
came crashing down at once.
And, so
very soon after that,
All these tulips
were worthless,
And all these people
were ruined.
They had put there fortunes
in these flowers,
And now they were worthless --
They were just bulbs of plants.
And that was the end
of the tulip mania.
Suddenly, the flower
that was loved for its beauty
Became a symbol
of human folly.
There was a period of
Tulip hatred in holland
after the collapse,
Because it was blamed for
this economic disaster.
There was a famous professor
in leiden
Who'd run around with a stick
beating tulips
And destroying them,
And there were all these
pamphlets and broadsides
About the evils
of the tulip mania
And the great
whore goddess flora
Who was blamed for
bringing the dutch down,
As if, you know, it was
the flower that did it to them.
It's an extraordinary
historical episode,
And we look back and we
look down, and we say,
"how could they do this?"
but of course we've been through
Our own speculative bubbles,
And it doesn't really matter
what you're trading --
As long as the price is going up
really fast, everybody wants in.
And as long as
there's a greater fool,
A lot of money can be made.
You just don't want to be left
Holding the bag or the bulb
at the end of it.
What none of
the ruined investors
Could possibly have known
was that the breaks in color
They saw as
the epitome of beauty
Were actually caused
by a virus.
The tulip bulbs that sold for
The price of
5th avenue townhouses
Turned out to be damaged goods.
Well, this is something
That nobody understood
at the time --
I mean, no one in the 1600s
and the 1700s
Had any notion of
plant diseases,
Or any idea that the variation
in a flower
Could be caused by something
like a disease.
viruses like the one
That once drove the tulip's
value to record heights
Are the enemy of
the global tulip trade,
Because infected bulbs
cannot be exported.
So plant physiologists
like henk gude are working hard
To combat them.
A tulip that is infected
with a virus
Is not a healthy tulip --
It costs lots of energy
for the plant
To cope with the virus.
And if you replant the bulb
year after year,
Then its growing potential will
decline over the years.
So, in a few years, you will not
have a tulip left.
Gude works for
The applied plant
research center
At wageningen university
in the netherlands.
To find out if a plant is
Infected by a virus,
we have to homogenize it,
To squeeze juice from it,
And we can detect the presence
Of the virus in the juice
With lab techniques.
When we understand
how the plant grows,
We can try to make the plant do
What we want it to do --
And immediately apply it
For the benefit of growers
and breeders and exporters.
One of these people
is jan ligthart,
Who has been growing tulips
for more than 30 years
And has become one of holland's
most successful breeders.
What you see
from here to there
Is all new seedlings.
This is the first time
I see them flowering.
I wanted to be a carpenter,
Just like my father,
working with wood.
And when I saw the tulips,
I was astonished.
I said, "ah! That's what
I want to be!"
Tulip gardener.
Ligthart's first step
in breeding a new variety
Is to act like
a human bumblebee,
Moving pollen
from one place to another.
The process
is quite simple.
We use one tulip as the father
And the other just like
the mother.
And we make pollination.
The breeders
of tulips today
Are interested
in new combinations.
They're sex crazy,
They're operating these,
you know, plant brothels.
And out of that comes
a great deal of variation.
And out of that variation
is the future of the species.
Dabbing the pollen
takes just a few seconds.
But it can take years
before ligthart can be sure
That his new variety will
consistently produce flowers
With the qualities
the market demands --
Like durability,
disease resistance, and beauty.
That's enough.
of the thousand seedlings
Are what I want.
The rest is not good enough.
That's the hardest part.
You have to look out
For the first,
the only good one.
This year,
ligthart is pinning his hopes
On the bulbs from one of his
latest breeding experiments.
This tulip,
that is my favorite.
I give it a big future.
Just the right color.
Pure pink.
This one I started
Nine years ago with seeds.
When I saw this tulip blooming
for the first time,
In my seedlings,
I was just amazed.
I sat there on my knees
And looked at them
for a long time.
Other tulips, you walk by
And it doesn't venture to do
anything to you.
And when you see this one,
Your heart gets...
This makes a difference.
Each time I look at it...
I fell in love on the tulip.
But ligthart's love
for his tulips doesn't stop him
And his family from ripping
the flowers
Off their stalks
every spring.
If they didn't,
The flowers would divert
nutrients from the bulbs,
Which, for a breeder
like ligthart,
Are what brings in
the money.
What I want to do
for a tulip
Is to create a much bigger
market for the whole world.
Because a tulip must make money.
It's a business.
You can't have them for fun
Because we have to make
a living.
best tulips
Often get introduced to
the rest of the world here,
At the keukenhof gardens
near amsterdam.
Every spring,
half a million visitors
Flock here to see the four
and a half million bulbs
That make it the largest
tulip garden in the world.
The dutch have mastered
the propagation of tulips.
And there are people in holland
Making great fortunes
off of tulips yet again.
It's not a bubble anymore,
it's a mature industry.
a very lucrative one,
Whose bustling
nerve center proves
Just how hard we're willing
to work
To spread flowers
around the world.
One out of every three flowers
bought and sold in the world
Passes through here.
This is the flower auction
in the dutch town of aalsmeer.
You're not allowed
on the auction floor,
Because there are
a million carts zipping around
At alarmingly high speeds.
And it is like a sea
of flowers.
It's almost like watching paint
being mixed on a palette.
You know,
you watch this line
Of yellow sunflowers
snaking their way
Through this ocean
of red tulips.
It's just dazzling
in that way.
The floor
of the flower auction covers
An area
bigger than 200 football fields,
Making it one of the largest
buildings on the planet.
Some 19 million flowers
From all over the world
change hands here
Every day.
It's an extraordinarily
complex system,
With a very simple purpose --
To move flowers from
the field to the home
As quickly as possible.
In flower business,
three things are very important,
And that's being fast,
being fast, and being fast,
Because the flower that's
fresh today
Will lose 15%
of its value tomorrow.
The minute you cut it,
it starts to die.
There is this race on
to get it to market.
Once the deal is struck,
The perishable flowers are
rushed to the amsterdam airport
And from there to flower shops
all over the world.
This incessant,
unrelenting movement
Of flowers and money
Doesn't let up for a second.
All for a product
That has absolutely
no practical value.
are exquisitely useless.
They're this great froth
or extravagance in our lives.
But that there is
a multi-billion-dollar trade
In these wonderfully useless,
Beautiful things
is kind of great.
When you begin to look
at the plant's point of view,
I suppose the greatest threat
to your survival
Is people losing interest
in you,
Falling out of fashion.
You know,
the gillyflower or the pink --
These were important
victorian flowers.
I don't even know
what they look like.
So the flower has to keep us
And one of the ways a flower
keeps us interested is changing.
The really ingenious ones
Are the ones
that figure out ways
To reengage us
every generation.
In the plant world,
Just like our own,
not everyone can be beautiful,
Or sweet.
But even a lowly weed can get us
to work for it,
And quite slavishly,
at that,
If it's clever enough
to cash in on a skill
That every plant
is born with --
Its ability
to make chemicals.
The genius
of plants
Is really the arts
of biochemistry,
Creating these really
original molecules.
Some are designed
to produce flavors.
Others are designed
to produce great beauty.
And then you've got
this class of plants
That is producing
these molecules
That, incredibly,
have the power
To alter what goes on
in the human mind.
This plant,
by making just such a molecule,
Has gotten us to spread it
All over the world.
Scientists call it
It is better known
as marijuana.
Cannabis recognized,
metaphorically speaking,
That this was its path
to world domination.
Produce more
of this molecule,
And there will be
more marijuana plants
Given more habitat
by this creature who likes
What this molecule
seems to do.
And by trying
to figure out
Just how that molecule works,
Scientists stumbled
on an amazing discovery
About the workings
of our brains.
This plant has opened up
This very fruitful
path of inquiry
Into understanding
how memory works,
How consciousness works,
how emotion works.
We have unlocked
this whole mechanism
Which we didn't know existed --
And we would not know existed,
if not for this plant.
Human beings are born
with an innate drive
To experience other states
of consciousness periodically.
I think you can see this
in young kids,
Who begin spinning
at early ages.
Amusement park rides
serve the same purpose.
There's an endless stream
of activities
That can shift consciousness --
everything from singing,
Dancing, having sex,
jumping out of airplanes.
And drugs are clearly one way
of getting these experiences.
People like to have
that altered consciousness.
I'm not saying that's good,
but it's --
Individuals seek it out.
seems to have made
An evolutionary decision
long ago that it was
Going to throw its lot in
with human beings.
From the plant's point of view,
The psychoactivity is
an attractive characteristic
Which has brought the plant
great success.
There's a lot more marijuana
being grown today,
And the reason is that
humans like it.
They like it
because it gets them high.
But cannabis
can also get them
Locked up.
There are about
750,000 arrests a year
for cannabis possession.
Makes it about third
among all crimes.
And so you've got
25,000 or 30,000
People behind bars
at any one time
For cannabis offenses.
But marijuana still entices
Nearly 15 million americans
To smoke it every month.
And nearly 100 million
have tried it.
To keep up
with that demand,
Cannabis growers cater
to the plant's every whim...
We're going to lose
that tap, aren't we?
Pampering it
like a spoiled child.
Nice and healthy.
We do anything
it tells us to.
If the plant says
it wants something,
We listen and we give it
to it.
And that's the whole thing --
Listening carefully --
and we're listening all the time
And observing all the time.
We work for them.
This man and woman
live in a state
Where growing marijuana
for medical use is legal.
We agreed to conceal
their identities,
Because they still risk
prosecution under federal law.
that's a beauty.
But whatever
the legal risks,
The horticultural challenges
they face
Would be familiar
to any farmer or gardener.
It's a daily effort,
And there are things like,
"oh, did we over-nutriate
the water?
Did we under-nutriate
the water?"
Everything has
really tight parameters,
And we try to keep as tight
as control as possible,
But it's --
it's a battle.
My associate
is really the green thumb
In this enterprise.
And I've noticed
that when she's
Not around
for a couple of days,
The plants know it.
I mean, I'm not
making that up.
They literally know it.
I mean, I almost hear them
whispering, "where is she?"
They don't do as well,
you know,
They don't seem
as happy.
Strange as it may
seem, these cannabis growers
Are part
of a very long tradition.
In every culture
and in every age of history,
An enormous amount
of human energy has gone into
The production, distribution,
and consumption
Of psychoactive plants.
The only society
that we know of
For whom there is
no native intoxicant
Are the inuits,
and that's simply because
Nothing grows up there
that they could use.
In almost every society,
One or two or a small number
of intoxicants
Are accepted --
and not only accepted,
But their use
is actively promoted --
And the rest are condemned.
But there's no agreement
from culture to culture
As to which are the good ones
and which are the bad ones.
So you have alcohol,
Which is an everyday drug
used in our society --
That has a taboo on it
in islamic society.
And though cannabis
is illegal in most places today,
Many cultures throughout history
have tolerated it.
From the time the plant
was first discovered
In india and china
thousands of years ago,
People have seen it as more
than just an intoxicant.
Long before the discovery
of aspirin,
Cannabis was used
as a medical treatment
For relieving pain.
Dealing with pain --
you know,
That's a tremendous part
of human life.
And it was a bigger part
before modern times.
We all did physical labor.
We didn't have many painkillers.
We didn't have antibiotics.
And a lot of intoxicants,
even if they don't
Diminish pain,
the way opium does,
They take your mind off it.
And that's very, very important.
In 19th-century america,
Cannabis was a popular treatment
for conditions
Such as labor pains, asthma,
and rheumatism.
You could walk
into any drug store
In america and buy
tinctures of cannabis.
Cannabis was included in all
sorts of medical preparations.
And it was legal.
But everything would
change in the 20th century,
When the plant got
its new name, marijuana.
The name came from mexico,
Where cannabis
was a popular intoxicant.
In fact, pancho villa's
rebel army
Sang a marching song
about a cockroach
Who fueled himself
with marijuana.
During the 1920s, many mexicans
Immigrated to the United States.
And some brought the custom
Of marijuana smoking
with them.
Cannabis was certainly
More common among
mexican americans,
And to some extent,
among african americans
In the '20s and '30s
than it was among whites.
I mean, you'd find it,
you know, very popular
In the music scene
in new orleans,
Very popular among
african american musicians.
The jazz world was really
soaked in cannabis.
The great
louis armstrong
Felt marijuana enhanced
his ability to improvise.
Cannabis proposes
this idea
Of time stopping,
being able to explore
The present moment -- forget
the past, forget the future,
Just be there and see
what you can come up with.
Even if it's a song
you've played
A million times before,
it becomes new,
Strange, wonderful.
You see new possibilities
in it that weren't there before.
In the 1960s,
use of marijuana soared.
The drug had been illegal
for more than 20 years.
But that didn't stop an entire
generation from embracing it.
It was well suited
To the spirit
of that time.
You know, every drug
has its character,
And cannabis's character
Is not about being hyper
and working really hard.
It is a drug that makes you
not want to strive.
It's about kicking back,
listening to music.
So it just kind of fit
the spirit of the '60s.
Marijuana seems
to second the motion,
No matter what the motion is.
To many americans,
The fact that millions
of young people
Were smoking marijuana
Threatened the very fabric
of society.
Those fears prompted
the government
To take action.
Operation intercept
is designed to make it
More difficult
to bring marijuana
Into the country.
Most of the marijuana
was coming in from mexico,
And the plant soon found itself
under attack.
The weapon -- a toxic chemical
called paraquat.
We have to remember that
in the evolution of a species,
Everything counts as a factor
of natural selection,
Including things like,
oh, the decision
By the United States government
in the '70s
To pressure mexico to spray
Herbicide on their pot fields.
From 1975 to 1983,
mexican pilots
Doused the country's
cannabis fields with the poison.
There was some concern
that it would
Get into the product
coming north
If it was cut
right after it was sprayed,
And that, as people
inhaled this, it probably
Wasn't very good for you.
This is
a drug-testing lab
In palo alto, california.
The people here are receiving
300 samples of marijuana a day
from smokers
Who want to know
if their pot is contaminated.
People are extremely
Anxious about this problem,
And frankly,
I don't blame them.
Mexican marijuana
Began to develop
a very bad name.
This had
the unintended consequence
Of creating a domestic
marijuana industry
That hadn't really
existed before.
It was concentrated
In california, hawaii,
and other states
Whose climate was favorable
for the tropical plant.
Once this american
marijuana agriculture
Got started,
it was very, very successful,
And the government was
kind of shocked to find one year
That the total amount seized
Exceeded their estimate
of the total size of the crop.
And they realized, "ooh, I think
we're missing something.
There must be
a lot more marijuana out there."
And indeed, there was,
all over the west coast.
The government
dispatched helicopters
To find the fields and force
e ers out of business.
When local and federal
agents raided
This marijuana field
in northern california today,
They found
more than $50,000 worth
Of marijuana
ready to be harvested.
A task force is waging
an all-out war against pot.
So, with the rise
of the drug war, in a way,
You've got a threat
to this plant.
And it's very interesting
to see
How the plant coped.
as plants so often do,
Found a way not only to survive
the threat,
But to come out ahead.
And what happened?
Well, the growers
and the plant
Adapted --
they moved indoors.
The problem
with moving indoors is,
This is a 12-foot-tall plant.
So what they needed were
The genes of a shorter
cannabis plant
To breed
with their tall plant.
So the pioneers
of indoor growing
Cross-bred the tall warm-weather
species, cannabis sativa,
With a low-growing mountain
species found mostly in asia,
Cannabis indica.
They brought together
these two great strains
In the marijuana family
And created a plant that was
short, fast, and strong.
The plant, which had once
Been a skinny little
piece of ditch weed,
Is now a pampered,
spectacularly good-looking,
rich, resinous being.
Hardly the species it was before
at all.
It's turned completely
into something else.
Nurtured by creative
indoor gardeners,
Cannabis is now
a far more potent plant
Than it was
a generation ago.
The key to that transformation
was stripping away
The rule of nature
and replacing it with our own.
It's an artificial
Completely artificial.
about our natural world
Is unnatural, everything.
It's really
like a super-plant.
In the natural world,
the plants here would be
Six to nine months
from seed to harvest.
That's just simply
You couldn't justify
an operation
With such a slow turnaround.
So, instead of six to nine
months, in my world,
These plants live their entire
life cycle in 90 days.
To get them
to do that,
The plants are subjected
To precisely controlled amounts
of nutrients, water,
And light.
They're under lights
that are blindingly bright,
Thousands of watts,
24 hours a day.
And these plants
are just, like,
Soaking up this light --
they love it.
I mean, they're just bathing
in light and growing so fast,
You can almost hear
the creak of their cells
As they stretch
and divide.
All that light generates
A tremendous amount of heat.
If I didn't have
air conditioning
And air circulation
and ventilation fans
Moving the heat
out of that room,
These plants would cook
in a matter of hours.
It's so complicated,
we're not smart enough to do it.
We have to have a full-time
electronic nanny
Watching the plants
all the time.
So these aren't normal plants.
These are super-hyper plants
That are right on the edge
at all times.
It's not just
a quicker harvest
The growers are after,
But a bigger bud
and a stronger high.
To achieve that,
They interfere
with the natural process.
Female marijuana plants produce
a sticky resin
That catches the pollen
that male plants produce.
That resin is
highly psychoactive.
To trick the females
into making more of it,
The growers keep male plants
exiled from the grow room.
So, in essence,
what you're seeing
Is extreme sexual frustration.
This is a room full of women
Who are looking for some guy
to come by
And give them some pollen
so they can create seeds.
And they try harder and harder
as time passes,
And the more unsuccessful
they are,
The more the production
of the resins
That is intended
to attract pollen
Increase, and that increases
The psychoactive elements
of the plant.
They are the best
gardeners of my generation,
I realized at a certain point.
You know, the best gardeners
of my generation
Are not hybridizing roses,
are not, you know,
Working with orchids.
They're working with this
incredibly valuable,
Incredibly interesting plant
called cannabis.
If this turns
into anything good,
Though, look at it,
I mean,
This is how thick
the stalk is
When it's just
gone to bloom.
It's got
a beautiful shape.
It is nice.
I mean, think about it.
This thing's a weed.
It's a weed.
It's a weed that's worth,
you know, in the open market,
Like, you know,
$6,000, $7,000 a pound.
Pretty good for a weed, huh?
But cannabis only
fetches that price
Because of that one particular
molecule it makes
That gets people high.
Its name is thc,
and it was discovered
Back in 1964
In a lab in jerusalem
by chemist raphael mechoulam.
Cannabis had not
been well investigated,
Which was strange -- after all,
it was being used
Illegally or legally
by millions of people.
And yet we didn't know
that much about it.
So I thought, it's a good idea
to look at it again
From a modern point of view.
In the lab,
mechoulam and his colleagues
Broke cannabis down
and zeroed in
On the chemical components that
might be causing its effects.
We isolated
about 10 compounds.
Surprisingly, out of
the 10 compounds we isolated,
Only one --
Which now is known as
in short, thc --
Only one causes
the well-known high.
We tested it in humans --
many of my friends.
And we saw that the compound
is effective,
As we expected it to be.
The identification
of thc answered one question,
But raised another --
just what did it do
To the brain?
I had always assumed
That people knew
how marijuana worked.
It surprised me, actually,
when I began
Looking in the research
literature, that --
That it was really clear
That no one really knew
how it worked.
In 1988,
allyn howlett found the answer.
She discovered that,
deep inside the brain,
Thc molecules activate
a previously unknown network
Of specialized
chemical receptors.
So that was proof
that there is
A receptor protein
in the brain
That combined to the thc
like a key in a lock.
It was very exciting, because
what that meant to us was,
We had a tool that could be
used for studying,
And other researchers
could use it, as well.
And people could study where
the receptor was in the brain.
Howlett and other
scientists found the receptors
In the hippocampus,
which forms memories;
The cerebellum,
which controls movement;
And the frontal cortex,
where we think.
Here were these
receptors that this chemical
Produced by a plant
out in the world
Just so happened to have
The precise combination
to unlock.
What an extraordinary thing
that is.
Is that why that
receptor network existed,
So that people could get high?
We don't have those receptors
Just so that people can get high
smoking pot.
Receptors are developed
In neurons so that
they can communicate
With a chemical
that the body makes.
So that was the logic
behind going in
And trying to extract
a compound in the brain
That would act just like
marijuana did.
And in 1992,
proof came that the brain
Does make a compound
very much like thc.
It was discovered by none other
than raphael mechoulam,
Who named it anandamide.
We call it "the brain's own
marijuana" because the compound
That is made by the brain --
anandamide --
Shares all the properties,
In terms of at the receptor
level and cellular level,
That thc has.
It turns out
that when anandamide
Is released in the brain,
like marijuana,
It affects such basic things as
appetite, pain, and memory.
And it plays a critical role
In a sometimes underappreciated
mental function --
When I first heard that,
It didn't seem adaptive to me,
to have a drug for forgetting.
Memory, we understand,
has great survival utility.
You know, you learn that that's
a poisonous mushroom
Or that's a dangerous animal,
And you stay away
and you remember that.
But why would forgetting
be adaptive?
And I asked mechoulam
this question.
And he said, "well, tell me,
do you really want to remember
All the faces you saw
on the subway this morning?"
Forgetting well is almost
As important
as remembering well.
Forgetting is about editing.
It's about taking the flood,
the ocean
Of sense information
coming at you
And forgetting everything
but what's important.
So life is not just about
accumulating new memories.
Memory can cripple us, too.
You have soldiers
Returning from war zones,
That are traumatized
by experiences
That in effect
they can't unlearn.
So if you could help them
unlearn that --
Essentially, a productive
kind of forgetting,
Either with a drug
or some other kind of regime --
That would be
incredibly useful.
And that's exactly
What aron lichtman
is trying to do.
He's studying how mice
remember -- and forget.
First, he trains them to find
an underwater platform.
The mice
are natural swimmers,
But they're looking
for a way out.
They swim all around
the perimeter of the tank.
They're swimming, swimming,
Sometimes they bump
into the platform by mistake
And they climb onto it.
Other times,
they never find it.
So at this point,
It's been at it
for a while.
And the experimenter
has to gently guide them to it
Or place them on the platform.
Then, lichtman takes
the platform away.
A normal mouse quickly realizes
the platform is gone.
But a mouse whose anandamide
receptors have been blocked
Is unable to forget.
They don't learn
To give up.
They keep on looking
for that platform,
Even though it's gone.
Scientists like
lichtman hope
That learning how to regulate
anandamide may one day
Lead to treatments
for people
Who are haunted
by their memories.
If they can elevate
Naturally occurring anandamide
in humans,
We might be able to have
whole new
Therapeutic targets to treat
post-traumatic stress syndrome.
By using a plant
that has been around
For thousands of years,
we discovered
A new physiological system
of immense importance.
We wouldn't have been able
to get there
If we had not looked
at a plant.
These plants are
constantly undergoing
This revision
and this re-revision
In our cultural imagination,
Depending on what uses
they're playing for us.
Are they demons or are they,
you know, saviors?
We see it with the apple,
Which went from evil
to wholesome to evil.
And we see it with marijuana,
which also has had
These periods of evil
and this period
Of being celebrated
by the counterculture.
Is it more uplifting
or more relaxing
For your body
that you're after?
One place that's well known
For celebrating cannabis
is amsterdam.
We have the shiva,
which is lovely.
Though marijuana is
not fully legal here,
It can be legally sold
and smoked
In licensed coffee shops,
Drawing tourists
from around the world.
let's do that for 10.
You can walk
down the street
And catch the whiff
Of marijuana smoke
coming out of bars --
"cafes," as they're called --
And you can choose exactly
What kind of experience
you want.
That's milder,
more dreamy.
I think just
the bud.
Thank you.
Okay, bye.
You look at the scene
and you marvel at it.
It is no different than people
sitting around,
Enjoying their glass of wine
or cigarettes.
Amsterdam even has
special garden shops
For cannabis growers.
You repot it
into a bigger pot.
You put this one
straight in the pot.
You don't
have to break it or --
Its owner,
tim a'court,
Came here from new zealand,
Where his passion
for growing cannabis
Had run him afoul of the law.
We sell everything
for the home grower here,
From the smallest set-up
To really large set-ups.
And included in that is
as much of the high-tech stuff
This one's
a nutrient monitor.
These are obviously
for two lights,
For four lights,
for six lights, eight lights.
This goes right up to
100 lights, if you so require.
That is a second timer.
Sometimes we need to have timers
right down to the second.
This is a camera.
And it's the same sort of camera
you would buy
From the spy shop for spying
on your wife or whatever.
In this case, we're spying
On our crop and making sure
people aren't coming in and out.
You can also buy seeds.
You can buy, you know,
all female seeds
Of any given strain you want.
They're out there
in little six-packs,
Just like at your garden center,
selling petunias.
I don't think
there would be
A plant on earth that comes near
to the amount
Of equipment and technology
Available to grow it
to its potential.
It's more than just a hobby.
It's a whole life's work.
Some people --
that is their whole life.
They're so enthusiastic
about their so-called hobby.
It's unexplainable.
It's not just something
about drugs or money,
But there really is
a deep fascination
With the marijuana plant.
The way
I see plants,
They're just as advanced
as we are,
From an evolutionary
point of view.
While we were working on
Consciousness, language,
All these things we judge to be
so wonderful and important,
They were working on
different tools.
And their tools are just
as sophisticated as ours.
The fact that this plant,
cannabis, for example,
Can actually change the texture
of consciousness -- you know,
This is ingenious.
We would not be the same,
if not for cannabis.
And cannabis certainly
is very different
For its relationship with us.
It's one of the great winners
in this dance of domestication.
Looking down
at it from the air,
You might not guess that
southern idaho is a desert.
The big green circles
are crop fields.
They get their water from
a vast irrigation system
Of underground pipes
and giant sprinklers.
This is one of the most
productive farm areas
In the United States,
And one of the principal sources
Of a food crop that feeds
millions of people --
The potato.
The desire, I think,
that the potato
Has evolved to gratify,
in large part,
Is our desire for control --
control over our fate.
It gives us that by providing
An immense amount of food
per acre.
An individual with half an acre
of potatoes
Can grow enough food
to keep himself alive
Or his family alive
for a year.
It's kind of extraordinary.
When you lift up the soil
and you see these
Beautiful potatoes
that are so nutritious
Growing underneath them, it's
just -- it's really, you know,
Exciting to see how productive
and how amazing this crop is,
That it can take
this little tiny plant
And produce this great food.
The story that we've
been telling so far
Is the story
of the symbiotic relationship
Between humans and plants.
But with the potato, we enter
Into a very new chapter
in that relationship --
The genetic modification
of plants.
For the first time,
we are taking
Genes from one distant species
And introducing it into another.
That represents
a real quantum change
In our relationship to plants.
Our relationship
to the potato
Began in the andes mountains
of south america.
In places like pisac in peru,
People have long depended
On the potato for survival.
To make sure they grow
enough potatoes,
They've developed
an astonishing degree
Of agricultural creativity.
We reckon that there are
More than 5,000 different potato
varieties in the andean region.
There are tremendous
Of colors, as well as shapes.
You find very elongated
potato tubers
That don't look potatoes
at all,
To very, very strange,
With very different
That look very,
very strange to you.
It was in the andes
that peopleces,
First domesticated the potato
plant around 8,000 years ago.
To do that, they had to overcome
a big obstacle.
The potato in the wild
is poisonous.
You know, it's one of those
crops that produces solanine,
Which is an alkaloid
which is poisonous.
And, in fact, potatoes
still produce it, by the way.
If you allow your potato to get
exposed to light
And it turns green,
it's producing solanine,
And you shouldn't eat it.
But in the plant world,
There are always
exceptions to the rule.
Genes inevitably mutate,
and plants change.
People did a lot
of trial and error,
Tasting potatoes
and spitting them out,
Or getting sick.
And then, eventually,
you find one --
Like, "hey, this one
doesn't have that taste.
Maybe this one's all right."
And those would be
the potatoes that we would save.
Over time,
the peruvians achieved
Great success as potato farmers,
Not by trying to control nature,
But by adapting to it.
Whenever you're moving
up in altitude,
You're having a radical change
in climate.
And one side of a hill will have
A very different climate
than another.
The way the early peruvians
dealt with that
Was to grow many different
varieties of potatoes
And preserve the diversity,
so that on a plot
Of this kind of facing
toward the sun
At this kind of altitude,
you plant this one.
And on this plant -- just on
the other side of the hill,
You plant this potato.
And this was a way of gaining
control over their fate.
Because if something happened
On that one plot
at that altitude,
They would still have
other potatoes.
The andean region has many
niches for growing crops.
And the potato was able
to adapt to different areas.
That's why there were
so many varieties
Developed for different uses
and different purposes
Along the andes.
Faustino pacco is 24.
His family has been growing
potatoes here in the andes
For hundreds of years.
These andean farmers
are the descendants
Of one of the great
civilizations of history --
The incas.
They presided over one
of the most sophisticated
Agricultural systems on earth,
Based in large part
on the potato.
But when the spanish invaded
in the 16th century,
They destroyed the inca empire
And set the potato --
and our relationship with it --
On a new phase of its journey.
When the potato got to europe,
It changed the course
of european history.
Before the potato,
The northern tier of europe --
the population was
Relatively small and was held
back by regular famines
Caused by failures
of the grain harvest.
The further north you go,
the dicier it is to grow wheat.
And so the center of gravity
in europe before the potato
Was the mediterranean, where you
could grow grain more reliably.
The potato did very well
at the more northerly areas.
It did very well
in wetter areas.
And it did very well
in really poor soils.
And so suddenly there was
This vast new source of calories
that could underwrite
The growth of the population,
Such as never would have
happened without the potato.
Since one individual can grow
so much food,
You need fewer people
in the fields
To support an urban population.
So it's really hard to imagine
The industrial revolution
proceeding as it would
Without the potato
to kind of support it.
This new world food
remade the old world.
The potato thrived
in the soils of northern europe,
Most dramatically in ireland,
A country sorely in need
of a hearty food.
For the irish,
The potato initially was
a godsend.
Ireland's poor
farmland and bad weather
Made it a tough place
to grow crops.
But the potato plant
actually prospered
In this soggy environment
And seemed to end the country's
long struggle with hunger.
If you had potatoes
and cow's milk,
You had a complete diet.
You had calories, obviously,
And you had the full complement
of vitamins.
So they became very dependent
on the potato.
And in fact,
the population grew.
The problem was, however,
that the irish
Were planting
almost exclusively
One kind of potato -- the potato
they called "the lumper."
And they planted the lumper
all over ireland.
So the irish had really
made themselves
Dependent on this one strain
of potato.
And in 1845,
some ship from south america
Was carrying a fungus,
And it was a wind-spread spore,
And over the course
Of a very few weeks,
The spores spread
across all of ireland,
And within days of infection,
the fields went black
And the potatoes in the ground
turned to mush.
The irish potato
famine lasted for three years.
In the end, the famine killed
one million people --
One out of every eight people
in ireland.
So the irish famine
is, in a way,
The great cautionary tale
Of putting all your eggs
in one basket,
And the great cautionary tale
about monocultures of all kinds.
It's a parable about
the importance of biodiversity
And the dangers of monoculture.
And it's a parable we forget
at our peril,
But, in fact, we're in
the process of forgetting today.
And what's making us forget
Is one of our favorite foods.
Each year, americans consume
About 7.5 billion pounds
of french fries.
They are the most popular
fast food in the country.
We love
our french fries.
We like them really long.
Mcdonald's kind of pioneered
that beautiful red box
And the long french fries
That have to be tall enough
to kind of sprout out of the box
Like a little bouquet
of potato flowers.
And to make those
long french fries,
The fast food industry relies
Almost exclusively
on one variety of potato --
The russet burbank.
And that's what
mcdonald's buys,
All over the world.
Because mcdonald's wants people
to have the same experience --
The same beautiful, golden
mcdonald's french fries,
Whether you're in prague
or london
Or beijing or new york or idaho.
Mcdonald's buys
its french fries
From potato processing companies
like the j.R. Simplot company.
This is one of its plants,
in nampa, idaho.
The potato we process the most
is the russet burbank.
The russet burbank
gives us pretty much
The ideal quality attributes,
if we're going to convert them
Into the product
that our customer wants.
So you see
how monocultures
On the plate lead to
monocultures on the land,
And that a desire for something
like that perfect french fry
Has a whole, you know,
carries a whole chain
Of consequences, all the way
back to the farm.
This idaho farm,
Whose fields extend
for nearly 100 miles,
Is run by ryan cranney
and his family.
Like most idaho potato farmers,
The cranneys sell
most of their crop
To the processing companies
that make
Frozen french fries.
If you want to get them in
before they get frozen,
Then we need
to keep digging.
So, to satisfy
their customers,
The cranneys grow mostly
Russet burbanks.
That ought to make
good french fries.
I think there are
other varieties
That are easier to grow,
But that's what the consumer
demands, is the russet burbank,
And I'd be shot
for suggesting otherwise.
Despite the demand
for russet burbanks,
The business of growing them
is far from a sure thing.
Each year,
cranney and his family
Have to shell out
millions of dollars
For water, seed, fertilizer,
chemicals, and labor.
But they have little control
over the price
Their potatoes will sell for
at harvest time.
It's very risky,
growing crops.
We had some really huge losses
economically here on the farm.
I don't even like to think
about it, how bad it was.
All righty.
A lot of the people
in the community,
Farmers that we grew up with,
That have been here
as long as we have,
No longer have their operations.
Many of us, the only way we
could survive was
To re-mortgage our farms
and re-mortgage our land,
And that's how we stayed
in business.
You can only do --
dip into the well
For so long
until the well goes dry.
And many of us have been
to that point.
Well, it's not too bad here,
Because you're running
enough volume.
They're flowing
pretty good, but...
In addition
to the economic perils he faces,
Cranney must contend
with biological adversaries --
The insects, fungi, and viruses
that prey on his plants.
And his russet burbanks
are especially vulnerable,
Because they are grown
in a monoculture,
Just like the lumper potatoes
were, back in ireland.
If an enemy can kill one
of cranney's russet burbanks,
It can kill them all.
My role as a farmer
is to help the plant
the different pests,
Whether that be weeds
or whether that be insects
Or a fungus of some sort.
It's a constant battle
that we have to fight those off
And to protect against those.
It's a race to the finish line,
whether the pests win
Or whether
the potato plant wins.
To help his potatoes
win that race,
Cranney, like
the great majority
Of large-scale potato growers
in the United States,
Uses chemical pesticides.
The chemicals the cranneys use
can be toxic,
But they follow epa guidelines
That establish levels
that are considered
Safe to use.
I don't necessarily
like to apply
The insecticides --
or any chemical of any sort --
But it's something
that needs to be done
In order to keep
the plants healthy.
We don't use a chemical
unless we need to,
And it's kind of
by prescription, by field.
So you just don't go in
and just blanket
Excessive amounts of chemicals
and fungicides on.
If that potato doesn't need any,
we won't apply it.
If it does, we do.
You know, we love
our children, too.
And we don't want to put
anything on the food
That we eat any more -- to taint
it for us, any more than you.
You know, the control
of nature is expensive.
To spray all those pesticides,
to have 10 sprayings
Of fertilizer over a course
of the season,
To water, to buy all that water
and pump all that water,
It's enormously expensive.
These farmers are really living
on, on very thin margins
And very little room for error.
And, you know,
it's easy for us
To sit here and criticize them
for spraying
These chemicals on our food,
but the fact is,
If they were to give up
on a single spraying,
They risk their livelihood.
In 1995, ryan cranney
and farmers like him
Welcomed the news
of an agricultural breakthrough
That promised to cut down
their use of sprays.
Monsanto, the world's biggest
biotechnology company,
Came up with
a much less toxic method
For killing one of the potato's
most deadly enemies --
The colorado potato beetle,
Which can pick the leaves
off a plant
Virtually overnight.
Colorado potato beetle,
Worldwide, is probably the most
serious insect pest in potatoes.
We still estimate that,
you know,
Out in the western u.S.
And probably across the u.S.
As a whole,
About 40% of the insecticides
that were applied
Were applied for
colorado potato beetle control.
Monsanto's innovation
was to create
A new kind of potato,
called the newleaf potato.
It was the first potato to be
genetically engineered
To contain genes from
a different biological species.
Genetic engineering is
a radically new technology,
Compared to traditional
It allows us
to move genes
Without regard
to species barriers.
It allows us to move a gene
from a butterfly,
You know, into a corn plant,
From a starfish
into a wheat plant.
Monsanto's newleaf
potato used a gene
From a common soil bacterium,
One that makes a protein
that kills potato beetles
Without causing harm to humans.
The bacterium is called
bacillus thuringiensis,
Or bt for short.
To help market its bt potato,
Monsanto hired plant
physiologist michael thornton
To be one of its liaisons
to farmers in idaho.
Monsanto was able
to identify
The gene in that bacterium,
the bt gene
That was responsible for
production of that protein.
And they could use a process
to insert that gene
Into a potato variety,
one that growers
Were already familiar with.
The beetle eats that leaf
And gets that bt protein
inside it
And it disrupts
its digestive system,
And that eventually kills
the colorado potato beetle.
I came from the standpoint that
technology and new improvements
Were a good thing
for the potato industry,
So I was very excited to see
something that was
Kind of a quantum leap
in technology for the industry
Be introduced.
The promise here was
That you could diminish
You might pay a little bit more
for these potatoes,
But since they generated
their own pesticide,
You could give up
some of your sprayings.
And this was very attractive
to a lot of potato farmers.
We were really excited about it
And thought that it was
really going to take off.
In 1996, the newleaf
potato began making its way
Into fast food chains
and supermarkets.
As time went by,
millions of people
Were eating the genetically
modified potatoes,
But hardly any of them
realized it,
Because the government
had ruled
The potatoes didn't need
to be labeled.
I realized
as I did my reporting,
I'd eaten them already.
I'd been in a mcdonald's.
I'd bought frito-lay chips.
And the thing I learned
that iadn'bere of,
Because we hadn't been told,
is that we americans
Had been eating these potatoes
already for a couple of years.
The potato was
the same, nutritionally,
Had the same level of vitamins,
things like that.
It just had this one additional
gene that codes
For a protein that makes up less
than a tenth of one-percent
Of the total protein
in the plant.
And the decision by
The food and drug administration
was that,
Unless it's substantially
different --
Unless there's a new toxin,
Unless you've changed
the nutrient profile --
It does not need to be labeled.
Now, it seems to me
that the potato
Never before produced
this pesticide.
So to say that potatoes
producing pesticide
Are substantially equivalent
to potatoes that don't
Seems to involve a certain
suspension of disbelief.
Hey, hey!
Ho, ho!
We don't want no gmos!
Hey, hey!
In the late 1990s,
as the newleaf
Was making inroads
into the market,
The issue of genetically
modified organisms, or gmos,
Was arousing intense opposition
all over the world.
We don't want no gmo!
Hey, hey!
Ho, ho!
I want to know
what's going on
In my body
and my daughter's body
When they feed corn to --
to us
That's been
genetically altered.
They don't know.
They can't tell you.
What do we want?
Safe food!
When do we want it?
The bt potato
offers farmers
Reduced cost.
It doesn't offer consumers
And so a lot of consumers,
if they were given a choice,
Might say, "well, it doesn't
provide an advantage for me.
"and therefore, not knowing
a whole lot about it,
I might --
I might simply say no."
I do know
mcdonald's was getting
A certain number of calls
and letters asking them,
"is it true that you are serving
genetically modified potatoes?"
This is a company,
like many food companies,
Exquisitely sensitive
to public opinion.
And they probably
saw a potential
Public relations disaster.
They didn't want to, you know,
ruin monsanto's business,
But they very quietly said that
after the following year,
They would no longer
be taking them.
And with that,
the newleaf potato was over.
That was it.
In 2001,
monsanto stopped selling
The newleaf potato.
It had captured only about 5%
of the market.
Both mcdonald's and monsanto
Declined to be interviewed
for this program.
I was very
disappointed -- to see
This whole dream
just kind of being shut down
Over relatively a short period
of time
Seemed to me to be a tragedy.
I don't think it was
a tragedy.
I think it was part
of a very large debate
About how our society
ought to respond to the use
Of a radically new technology
like genetic engineering
In agriculture.
But since the demise
of the bt potato,
Monsanto has been
very successful
Selling other
genetically engineered crops --
Like corn, soybeans,
and cotton.
Entomologist bruce tabashnik
has been studying
The bt cotton crop in arizona.
We're in a special
situation in arizona right now
Where about 98% of the cotton
grown is bt cotton.
It's being used as part
of a program to eradicate,
Or at least greatly suppress,
pink bollworm.
The bollworm
is as dangerous
To the cotton crop
as the colorado beetle
Is to potatoes.
We have lots of damage
inside the boll here.
One or more caterpillars
has been feeding
On the seeds inside the boll,
Which is great for the insects,
But not good for the plant
or for the farmer.
Tabashnik has been
One of the major concerns
about bt crops --
The degree to which insects
evolve resistance
To the bug-killing protein.
Some of his work is
partly funded by monsanto,
Which is legally required
to monitor bt resistance.
For years, organic farmers
have controlled pests
With a spray form of bt.
But now that bt
has been engineered
Into crops, exposing insects
day in and day out,
Tabashnik has found
that the bugs
Are more likely
to develop resistance.
In the decades of use
Of bt sprays, there's only one
insect that evolved resistance.
On the other hand, after about
a dozen years of bt crops,
We already have three examples
Of insects that have evolved
But tabashnik still thinks
Genetically engineered crops
Do more to help the environment
than to harm it.
I think that
You can't be absolutely sure
that no harm will come,
But when you're using bt crops,
The benefits are
reduced insecticide use.
The risks are much more
difficult to quantify
And much more uncertain.
In my own mind,
it seems like it makes sense
That we could go to more
genetically modified
Type plants.
That would allow us not to apply
these chemicals on the plants,
And they would have a natural
resistance to these insects.
It seems like the logical way
to go for me,
And I assume someday
it will go there.
But for food crops
like the potato,
Genetic engineering
and chemical pesticides
Are not the only choices.
You know, as long as
you're growing monocultures,
You sort of
have to choose between
Lots of pesticides
to keep them going,
Or genetically modified crops
to keep them going.
But if you're willing
to abandon monoculture,
There are other ways
to do it.
Mike heath,
who grows potatoes in idaho
Just 60 miles from the cranneys,
Is an organic farmer.
In a conventional system,
You're trying to control.
You're trying to control nature.
We're trying
to work with it as best we can.
While his neighbors
devote most of their acreage
To the russet burbank,
heath is
More of an equal-opportunity
We have 16 varieties
altogether this year.
So we're pretty diversified.
As far as I'm concerned,
That's our main strength,
is our diversification.
Heath grows
Red norlands,
all blues, and elbas.
By planting lots
of different varieties
And controlling pests with
natural enemies like ladybugs,
He farms without using
toxic chemicals.
The conventional farmers
Know how to farm with chemicals.
I -- I myself, if I had to go
back to that,
I'd -- I would quit.
Heath's labor costs
are high.
He doesn't cultivate
as many acres
Or grow as much food
as the cranneys.
But since he spends
next to nothing on pesticides
And gets good prices
for his organic potatoes
In specialty markets,
He usually earns
more money per acre.
I used to be really
pretty stupid,
You know, as far as my neighbors
were concerned, pretty silly.
But I have
a lot more respect now
Than I did 10, 15 years ago.
They can see that I'm
still in business,
And we've got good markets,
And we grow a good product,
And I'm proud to be
an organic farmer.
You know, there are
other ways to skin a cat.
And farmers are figuring it out.
And they're figuring out
How to grow food
without pesticides,
And the key -- the key insight
that you find
In all the creative farmers
who have solved this problem
Is getting away
from monoculture.
The answer to the problems
of monoculture
Is not new technologies,
it's not band-aids.
It's getting away
from monoculture.
I think
if we could learn
From the peruvians,
if we could step back
And appreciate the diversity
that they've given us
In the potato
And take advantage of it
in our agriculture,
That is the way forward.
I think
some of the methods
They've developed in peru
to use genetic diversity
By planting a whole range
of varieties within one field
Is a very good strategy,
But I just don't see
how we readily adapt that
To a production system
that not only
Has to feed people
in the u.S.,
But feed a worldwide population
With a product
that's a certain quality.
The order
we impose on nature
Is never more than temporary
or illusory.
In the end, the logic of nature
will win out
Over the logic of capitalism,
the logic of the factory,
The logic of efficiency.
It's always been so
and it always will be so.
Nature is stronger
than any of our designs.
And nature resists
our control.
For me,
the most important lessons
To take away from these tales
is that we are not simply
Standing outside
the web of life,
But that we are part
of that web of life
And that everything we do --
What we choose to eat,
What flowers we choose
to put on our tables,
What drugs we choose
to take --
These are evolutionary votes
We are casting every day
in many, many different ways.
When we use these metaphors
and we talk
About plants having a strategy
to do this
Or wanting this
or desiring this,
We're being metaphorical,
I mean, plants
do not have consciousness.
But this is a fault
of our own vocabulary.
We don't have a very good
vocabulary to describe
What other species do to us --
because we think we're
The only species that really
does anything.
But to the extent
that you can put yourself
In the place
of these other species
And look at the world
from their point of view,
I think it frees us from our
sense of alienation from nature,
And we become members
of the biotic community,
One among many species,
all of them together
Creating this wondrous web
that we call life.