One of the most breathtaking elements of the little piece of heaven that I get to call home for six weeks is the abundance of roses. Castiglion Fiorentino is absolutely bejeweled with these bright and beautiful blooms. On one of our first days in the town, our class went on a short hike and talked about some of the local flora that we happened upon. During the hike, a brief mention was made about a wild rose that was spotted. I glanced around and saw nothing that I would classify as a rose, with my untrained eye. Dr. Leo was referring to a less than spectacular five petaled white flower- an example of what the roses that I am familiar with, look like before cultivation and domestication.
As it turns out, most of the plants that I am most familiar with are domesticated to have specific characteristics that are aesthetically pleasing to the human eye. Often, the wild plants that they are derived from look completely different. Domestication is the process of changing the evolutionary trajectory of an animal or plant and cultivation is the process of growing a plant as a crop. Evidence of these processes is everywhere you look, whether it be flowers, food, or Fido.
Some of the characteristics that humans find to be beneficial are actually negative attributes to the plant. Loss of fertility for example; we eat bananas without seeds because a bite full of banana seeds would be gross. Unfortunately for the plant, this makes the plant dependent on humans for reproduction. We eat nuts with thinner shells because they are easier to consume but they lose their defense mechanism in the process. Plants lose their spines, their toxicity, and many other features that are meant to protect them. As was the case with the rose that we spotted, we also change the structure of the plant so that the organs that are beneficial to humans are optimized. Whether it be larger fruit on the tomato plant or the big red rose boom, we choose the biggest, the brightest, and the tastiest of everything we grow.
This study abroad being my first experience with horticulture other than killing a few succulents here and there, opened my eyes to just how many plants have been domesticated and cultivated. I did not think that people foraged for the lettuce I buy at Kroger, but I definitely did not know the level of cultivation and how much we affect the structure of so many plants to the extent that we have. It's everywhere. Next time I stroll through the grocery store I will be looking at the food with new eyes and have a new appreciation for the work it took to produce enough food for so many people and make plants optimal for human use.