How to Look at Plants
© Copyright 2018 Matthew Tse, Ryerson University
When people think of beautiful plants, they tend to think of these grandiose, exotic flowers–maybe a purple passion flower, adorned with flashy filaments. Maybe a bushel of wisteria, covered in plentiful flowing petals that are as blue as the moon. Then there’s the classics: red roses, blooming orchids, symmetrical succulents, and even the occasional fuzzy cactus. It seems like nobody ever mentions the regular guys. Being a 21-year-old male living in a highly visual culture, sometimes people ask me: “Boobs or butt?” Basil. I’m a basil type of guy. People say, basil isn’t a very sexy plant; those people are right. Basil is an asexual plant, meaning the plant can reproduce without the opposite sex. That’s just one of the not-so-sexy things about basil.
First looking at our image, there’s nothing distinctive to stare at. Your eyes are simply met with various shades of green. Green is a common colour that occurs in our lives, both naturally and artificially. People say blue is a calming colour. That’s why some folks choose to live by the waterfront. The still surface of a lake on a foggy morning, reflecting the objects in front. People find tranquility in scenery like that. I like the sight of green grass. Ordinary as day, nothing really all that special. Maybe that’s the beauty of it–the simplicity. A wonderful sentiment, but that is just a simple first glance.
There are many types of basil, each with their own subtle differences. Judging from the round, serrated leaves, this is a common sweet basil. Sweet basil typically features simple leaves, as opposed to compound—this means that the leaf growth doesn’t separate into more than one leaflet. An example of a compound leaf would be a clover, cassava, or even cannabis. Now I’ve got you thinking, eh? Sweet basil has an opposite leaf arrangement, rather than an alternate leaf arrangement. Each leaf node has two leaves along the stem, instead of one leaf. If you look closely towards the middle of the plant, where the leaves branch out, there’s a small growth between the main stem and the two leaves. Here’s a gardening tip: if you pluck off the top of the plant and allow that two small growths to remain, the plant diverts energy to them and you’ll have two more sets of leaves for the cost of one. Do it again, and you’ll have four sets. Again, eight sets, etc.
Analyzing this photo goes beyond the processes of classification, photosynthesis, active transport, and other stimulating topics. There’s a larger statement. In an artificial world, handling nature wakes us up from our hubris. When you grow a plant, you get to watch the cycle of life unravel in front of you. From conception, planting the seed, to cessation, consumption or other means. A plant is continually growing from the moment it is given water, a chance at life. The small beginnings of growth eventually become the foundation for more foliage; that cycle happens again and again.
Elkins, James. How to Use Your Eyes. Routledge, 2000.
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