36 pages 1 hour read

Michael Pollan

The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2001

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Chapter 3Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Chapter 3 Summary: “Desire: Intoxication/Plant: Marijuana”

In this chapter, Pollan examines the evolutionary advantages of plants that alter our experience of reality. While most sweet plants are good to eat and bitter ones are not, there is another group entirely of bitter plants that intoxicate us. Pollan also notes that the word “intoxication” contains the word “toxic.” Among the more astounding capabilities of plants is their power to make complicated molecules, some of which are poisonous. This can be evolutionarily damaging, as it can meet with resistance in the population it is targeting. Animals were likely our guides to psychoactive substances; for example, goats, who became energized after eating coffee berries, were likely our conduit to coffee.

While modern gardens are grown mainly for aesthetics, ancient gardens were often grown as apothecaries that included psychoactive plants such as belladonna, hashish, and opium poppies. Pollan writes about how, in 1982, he decided to grow some marijuana, not out of interest in using the drug but because he, like many gardeners, wanted to regard himself like “small-time alchemists” (121). However, his tall pot plants almost got him into trouble with a local police chief in Connecticut, who was delivering wood to his house, though the police chief did not wind up seeing the plants.