An Orchard Invisible: A Natural History of Seeds by Jonathan Silvertown

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By Jonathan Silvertown

The tale of seeds, in a nutshell, is a story of evolution. From the tiny sesame that we sprinkle on our bagels to the forty-five-pound double coconut borne by way of the coco de mer tree, seeds are a perpetual reminder of the complexity and variety of existence on the earth. With An Orchard Invisible, Jonathan Silvertown offers the oft-ignored seed with the ordinary background it merits, one approximately as different and excellent because the earth's plant life itself.

Beginning with the evolution of the 1st seed plant from fernlike ancestors greater than 360 million years in the past, Silvertown contains his story via epochs and around the world. In a transparent and fascinating sort, he delves into the technology of seeds: How and why do a little lie dormant for years on finish? How did seeds evolve? the big variety of makes use of that people have constructed for seeds of every type additionally gets a desirable glance, studded with examples, together with meals, oils, perfumes, and prescription drugs. An capable consultant with an eye fixed for the weird, Silvertown is excited to take readers on unexpected—but continuously interesting—tangents, from Lyme disorder to human colour imaginative and prescient to the Salem witch trials. yet he by no means shall we us overlook that the driver at the back of the tale of seeds—its subject, even—is evolution, with its irrepressible behavior of stumbling upon new ideas to the demanding situations of life.

"I have nice religion in a seed," Thoreau wrote. "Convince me that you've a seed there, and i'm ready to count on wonders." Written with a scientist's wisdom and a gardener's pride, An Orchard Invisible deals these wonders in a package deal that might be impossible to resist to technology buffs and eco-friendly thumbs alike.

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By arriving a few days after pollination, nonpollinating cheats can lay their eggs after the risk of fruit abortion has passed. The cost to the yucca is severe because cheats can triple the numbers of seeds lost to moth larvae. There seem to be about as many species of cheating yucca moths as there are pollinating species. Some cheating species have evolved from yucca-pollinating ancestors, while others belong to a group that has evolved alongside the pollinators. The pioneers of pollination biology were frequently accused of telling tall tales, as Darwin found to his cost with the Madagascar star orchid.

The ancestors of the Moraceae had wind-pollinated flowers. Pollination by the tiny wasps that parasitize their flowers originated at least 60 million years ago, and since then the wasps and the figs have coevolved in a relationship that has driven the production of new species in both plant and pollinator. Figs have been unusually successful with a pollination mechanism that normally carries the ever-present danger that pollinators will consume too many seeds. The secret of this success appears to be that the plants are in control.

In the early 1870s the French wine industry was on its knees due to the accidental introduction and spread of the grape phylloxera aphid from North America. The aphid feeds on the roots of vines, and Riley reasoned that North American vine species would be more resistant to the native phylloxera aphid than were European vines that had evolved in isolation from it. When a population is exposed to a natural enemy such as phylloxera, more resistant individuals have an advantage because they survive better and leave more offspring than do susceptible individuals.

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