Of potatoes and blue roses: be a mad plant tinkerer

A few weeks ago, I saw an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal (of all places) talking about people who are bioengineering plants at home to develop, among other things, a true blue rose.   I love to see this.  “Tinkerers” have long been a proud tradition of people who make true impacts and discoveries.  I think of the ultimate plant “mad tinkerer” Luther Burbank who established himself as a foremost expert on developing new plants all from his crazy tinkering that developed the potato that you’ll find at nearly every fast food joint and created plants such as the shasta daisy and the wonderberry.  I also think of a contemporary plant tinkerer – my friend and fellow GP Joseph Tychonievich.  I love seeing all of his new plants and envy his creativity.

I can only hope that more and more people, and younger people especially, have an interest in amateur plant science. We live in a time when science education has reached a fervor, with about every school and youth program focused on STEM education.  We even have 4-H clubs that meet in our office that are completely focused on robotics and coding.  While this focus on science is great, my issue is that it focuses mainly on the “sexy” disciplines (engineering, chemistry, physics, etc) and little on life sciences like plant biology.

I’m heartened to see many many schools adding gardens to incorporate into the curriculum.  Here in my county we’ve helped build and advise over two dozen school gardens.  I’ve also seen some new tools to inspire young plant scientists, including an online community of scientist mentors who give guidance to budding plant science students (Planting Science). Who knows, maybe we’ll inspire a new generation of Luther Burbanks.  We can only hope.

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John Porter

John Porter is a horticulturalist located in Omaha, NE. He is a former extension educator with UNL Extension and county agent with WVU extension. In addition to using his horticulture and extension skills in his home garden, he is a sometimes garden writer and lecturer, a trial judge for All-America Selections, and mentor for local school horticulture and agriculture programs.

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