Thieves purr

Today I found a cool website – it’s an anagram generator (http://wordsmith.org/anagram/).  The title of today’s post is the first of the 553 anagrams generated from the word SUPERthrive.

I’ve been getting free samples of SUPERthrive for a long, long time.   For those of you living on a remote desert island, SUPERthrive is a product invented and sold by “Dr. John A. A. Thomson (in 27 different title Who’s Who Directories),” according to one of the promotional flyers.  The same flyer features Nick Federoff (“ ‘Most Listened-to’ Radio Garden Expert”), who says of Dr. Thomson “he has saved far more trees than anyone else in the world.”

Space constraints and my patience limit how many of the product claims I can include.  Here’s one from the package:  “Dozens of the world’s science miracles in each drop!”  Well, what are these science miracles?  The only identified compounds on the label are Vitamin B-1 (which plants make themselves, and which I’ve written about here), and NAA, an artificial auxin used as a rooting hormone.   The rest are mysteriously referred to as “crystalline compounds of C, H, O.”

Since this product has been around since 1940, there should be plenty of documented research on its efficacy.  But thorough searches of the plant science databases turned up only two:  one on growing hydroponic orchids (where SUPERthrive is used as part of the experimental protocol but not as a treatment) and one on rooting stem cuttings of Intsia bijuga, an Indo-Pacific tree in the pea family.  Sadly, SUPERthrive was not as effective in promoting rooting as were traditional rooting hormones (IBA and NAA).  An online research report from TAMU found SUPERthrive to have no effect on cotton.  Even California Science Fair participant Chingiz R. Bigalimov was disappointed that SUPERthrive did not enhance rooting of narcissus bulbs.

Why would Dr. Thomson, who “by 1979 had received a Ph.D in biochemistry and nutrition, and a Doctor of Arts in biochemistry and horticulture,” claim that SUPERthrive is a “billions-proven extra-life-maker” without the science to back this up?   I tried to find more information on Dr. Thomson’s doctoral research at Columbia Pacific University (an unaccredited distance learning school in California), but it had been closed by court order in 2000 for, among other things, failing to employ duly qualified faculty and failing to meet various requirements for issuing PhD degrees.

I think all of us GPs would agree that if you like a product and it causes no harm, more power to you.  But please consider these last few caveats, especially if you are a Master Gardener or garden professional:

  • There is no established science supporting the use of SUPERthrive;
  • NAA is an artificial rooting hormone classified by the EPA as a pesticide, making SUPERthrive an unregistered pesticide.  Some states ban the sale of this product.

Think I’ll go play with the anagram maker some more…

Published by

Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and an Associate Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - www.facebook.com/TheGardenProfessors "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - www.facebook.com/groups/GardenProfessors Books: http://www.sustainablelandscapesandgardens.com

18 thoughts on “Thieves purr”

  1. I have been meaning to ask if you or Jeff have taken on Superthrive yet… The ads are, er, amusing. Very fun to try to decipher. Guess they’re doing some good busine
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    ss because they can afford full page ads in everything from American Nurseryman to Horticulture. If you go to their “typical results” tab on the website, you get more weirdly-worded stuff like [quote] “strengthened, increased, caused to grow better by far.” – U.S. NAVY [unquote]. Wha??

  2. I had no idea that Superthrive helped win World War II or can combat psychological problems and even create jobs and reduce crime! (Seriously, all of these things are claimed on their web site.) How could anyone take a product with such outlandish claims (and such atrocious grammar) seriously?

  3. Karen, I haven’t a clue why people take it seriously. Yet using SUPERthrive as part of an experimental protocol is pretty common at universities (not as a tested material, but as part of a propagation technique, for instance). You can see which universities simply by Googling “Superthrive site:.edu”.

  4. I have always looked at SUPERthrive as one of those products that are all marketing, after all, if it looks like snake oil, talks like snake oil and makes all the snake oily claims… isn’t most likely to be snake oil?

    However I did get involved with a discussion (argument?) with a grower I respect on it’s benefits… he claimed it helped plumpin
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    g up the caudex of Adenium obesum… and he certainly grows nice ones! So all though I could see nothing in the ingredients that would cause stouter caudex… I decided to trial it with my next crop. I used SUPERthrive on 100 seedlings, liquid kelp on 100, alfalfa tea on another 100 and (in honor of Dr. Bibey, my high school biology teacher) kept 100 control seedling without treatments other than standard organic fertilizer that they all got.

    It was sort of a fun trip of nostalgia back to lab class in high school and collage… (I guess that makes me a nerd). After nine months I measured the caudex of all the plants. The alfalfa tea and kelp plants were the most robust, the combined measurements being pretty much equal, the ST and control group where also so similar that the size was basically the same, however they were 12% smaller that the kelp and alfalfa treated plants.

    I will admit my test was not totally controlled, measurements of the ST and other growth stimulants were a teaspoon and not perfectly accurate. And while all the seedlings were on the same bench, there might have been some shading issues. In the end it did make me add more kelp and alfalfa meal to my standard soil blend. The remainder of the bottle of SUPERthrive went to the counties toxic waste disposal…

  5. Linda, I would never have guessed this product is used in universities – fascinating! Do you think the ones that use Superthrive do so because they believe it has benefit, or because it’s been a part of their standard protocols for so long and they prefer to stick with a proven method (even if it has some unnecessary steps/products)?

  6. Karen, I think it’s just sloppiness. Generally, university protocols will use known materials (like IBA or NAA) and not unknowns, like SUPERthrive, because no one knows what’s in it. But it could be that someone had a free sample and continued to use it…or used it at home…or succumbed to advertising. I must say I was surprised to see that researchers at (gasp) Michigan State, U. Hawaii, U. Idaho, and (double gasp) U. Minnesota use the stuff!

  7. I have always wondered about the real history behind SUPERthrive. Personally it’s always looked to me like something that would be sold in the back of a comic book right next to the sea monkeys and we know how cool those were. Yet, I have people who swear by it and won’t stick a plant in the ground without it.

  8. Interesting article. Glad to see some critique of this product. A few years back SAF (Society of American Foresters) sold ad space for this product (the entire back page of the Journal of Forestry) every month when my journal would arrive I would cringe and swear I was going to contact the Society office. I never got around to it,it probably ran for over a year of two, and then fortunately they stopped running the ad.

  9. Superthrive uses archaic and corny advertising but the product works. I started using it on my potted plants that are outside and in the shade from October until May. I began using it in October with even higher doses than recommended. So Cal has had a miserable, wet, cold, dreary winter and my plants are exploding. You can criticize the 1940s motive advertising but don’t overlook the product. I would say try it. I don’t even know why I bought it. I’m not a shill but after 5 or six uses there is a major difference. The plants have been so saturated that is all the opportunity I have had to experiment. I think in a month or so when the sun moves further north and spring is here in the southern latitudes the results will be awesome. Try it if it doesn’t work send it back. I plan to use it.

  10. George, check the end of the column: “I think all of us GPs would agree that if you like a product and it causes no harm, more power to you.”
    But we cannot recommend products and practices that have no established science supporting their use.

  11. Ernie, I just don’t know. It’s a proprietary recipe, and the inventor has chosen not to publish an MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) on it. So all we can do is speculate…

  12. But when, then there would be negative effects on plants, or not? I mean some says the effects are positive, and some says it does not work. But when there is Dioxin in it it will have a negative effect even, when it is dilutet, or not? I used it one time and had contact with the crystals from the rim of the bottle and sniffed it. Does i have to worry about my health?

  13. Ernie, this product has been around since the 1940’s and my guess is that it doesn’t contain any synthetic substances. It certainly wouldn’t have any herbicide like Dioxin. The crystals on the bottle were likely from evaporated fertilizer salts, like ammonium chloride or something else used in small quantities in Superthrive. It’s basically just water, so I don’t think you need to worry.

  14. Linda, thanks for your quick answers. So you think, that I don´t have to worry about carcinogenic or mutagenic effects. Is it possible, that plants cede possibly bad substances in the air so that superthrive users inhales it ever and anon indoor ? I hope you know what I mean, i am not a native speaker.

    Do you know, that it is basically water, or is it only a assumption?

  15. I really don’t think you have anything to worry about. Plants tend to break down toxic chemicals or store them; relatively few things are routinely given off as gases other than water vapor and carbon dioxide.

  16. Hello Linda,
    did you ever used superthrive?
    Is it true, that superthrive is basically just water with probably no toxic-effects on human when you use and sniff it one time? Was there any researches on that product? The inventor said it it WARF-tested and non toxic. But when i asked WARF, they answered that they never testet superthrive on its possible toxicity.

  17. It says it is vitamins and hormones. Plural. But the label only gives B-1 and NAA, singular. It does smell like vitamins. So I believe there is at least vitamin B-1 and NAA hormone. What else is in it is unclear. I have used it last season with fertilizers, and fertilizers alone without Superthrive. Did not notice any differences in growth first season. Will see how it looks this season. It is difficult to compare results unless everything is exactly equal. It sounds like it should help plants.

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