This site is for people who like plants -- growers, enthusiasts, aesthetes, novices and professionals, those who appreciate wild things and those who appreciate the cultivated. I garden in Chelsea, and I've been visiting people's yards for 20+ years in the course of my work. My goal is to make this blog a community project, so if you share my interests, please consider becoming a participant and contributing content -- Guerin. Info:

Sunday, January 30, 2011

1.5 billion poplar clones

And on the other side of the planet . . .

Jonathan Watts, in his spectacular 2010 book When a Billion Chinese Jump: How China Will Save Mankind -- or Destroy It,  introduces us to genetics professor Zhang Qiwen, known in her country as "Mother Poplar."  Watts posits that Zhang "was arguably responsible for changing a bigger chunk of the Chinese landscape than the emperors and engineers behind the Great Wall, the Three Gorges Dam, or the Sky Train railway to Tibet."

In 1980 Zhang began importing hybrid poplar seeds and saplings from Italy and North America. One plant, PH107, was a hybrid between our Eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) and the European Populus nigra, and it was found to grow up to 60% faster than a wild poplar. To Zhang it was love at first site: "Compare it to a baby: Imagine you have 10 children with you. We choose the best one, chop off its arms and legs, then cut the torso into ten pieces, and plant them in the ground."

Within just five years, 1.5 billion clones of this single specimen were planted along the roadsides, eventually covering a fifth of China's entire forest area.  Watts describes driving through the countryside for hours without feeling any sense of progress -- like "watching a minute-long clip on a daylong loop."

Watts concludes, "PH107 cultivation denied sex, destroyed beauty, and replaced local diversity with a superefficient standard. In that final narrow sense along, PH107 might be considered a good thing. But you could have too much of a good thing."

And to think of the fuss we made here about overplanting ash trees . . . 

No comments:

Post a Comment