Friday, June 19, 2020

Microstory 1390: Growth

Fiore Stern: Hello? Mr. Botany Professor?
Botany Professor: Yes, that’s me. Office hours begin in a half hour, but I think I can make an exception. Are you struggling with the cambium assignment? I can give you an extra day, if you need it.
Fiore Stern: No, sir. I’m actually not a student yet. I was hoping to interview you, so you can help me get accepted into the program.
Botany Professor: Well, Botany is part of a liberal arts and sciences degree. All you have to do is get into the school, and you can choose Botany as your major—if you’re really sure this is what you want to study, that is.
Fiore Stern: You don’t think you could give me an edge? Maybe write me a letter of recommendation?
Botany Professor: Not really. This is Hillside University. They let pretty much anyone in who’s graduated from high school. The failout rate is lower with that method than you might think, because our professors are really invested in student success. Once you’re accepted, and start classes, you can join the program, and I can become your advisor. But I doubt you’ll need help being accepted.
Fiore Stern: Well, the truth is, I’m a...I’m a felon. I got out of prison a few months ago, and I’m trying to get my life on track.
Botany Professor: I see.
Fiore Stern: I don’t even know if the college will accept me with all that.
Botany Professor: I believe this institution does have a way of doing that. You have to acknowledge it on your application, but then they’ll have you meet with some special advisor. That has nothing to do with me, though, so I’m not completely clear how it works.
Fiore Stern: Can I still ask you a few questions?
Botany Professor: Yeah, that should be fine. Students probably will start coming in fifteen minutes from now, though.
Fiore Stern: Okay. So. How would you define botany?
Botany Professor: Botany is the study of plants, and pretty much everything that goes with that. It’s about how they convert energy, and grow, and support the environment.
Fiore Stern: What is the difference between a plant, and a flower?
Botany Professor: Well, a flower is just one part of a plant. Not all plants have flowers, because they have different ways of reproducing and spreading, other than sexually.
Fiore Stern: I have heard that. Plants have sex?
Botany Professor: Flowering plants reproduce sexually, yes. The male will transfer its gametes to the female. We call that pollination. It’s not quite the same as the way animals do it, though.
Fiore Stern: Interesting. Do you teach plant toxicity? Will you teach your students to tell the difference between a poisonous plant, and one that’s safe to eat?
Botany Professor: That sort of specificity isn’t what we do in the undergraduate department. Poisonous plants do not all share a single trait you would be able to use to determine if it fits into the category. You just kind of have to know what’s good, and what to stay away from. As far as edibility goes, there’s something called the universal edibility test. It involves a long process of slowly interacting with the fruits, roots, or leaves, to find out whether it’s safe to eat. It takes a really long time, and we don’t teach that here, because we don’t expect our students to find themselves in a survival situation where such knowledge means life or death. It’s a liability issue too. I’m not even allowed to tell you how to learn about the test.
Fiore Stern: Well, let’s say someone does die, because they ate the wrong thing. If a decomposing body helps fertilize the soil, in the circle of life, will plants and flowers grow out of the dead body?
Botany Professor: Um. Well, no. A dead body is not an ideal environment for growth. Sure, a lot of nitrogen will be released into the soil, which may support any life growing around it, but the body itself doesn’t just isn’t fit for that. Why?
Fiore Stern: No reason. Thanks for talking to me. It’s been really helpful.
Botany Professor: Yeah...okay.

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