09 May 2021

Proof that plants don't "eat" dirt

"A seventeenth-century Flemish scientist by the name of Van Helmont... planted a willow sapling in a container that held 200 pounds of soil and, for five years, gave it nothing but water.  At the end of that time, the tree was found to weigh 169 pounds, and the soil 199 pounds, 14 ounces - from just two ounces of soil had come 169 pounds of tree."    
---Michael Pollan, Second Nature: a Gardener's Education. Grove Press, 1991


  1. Weight ! ... from the sum of the sun came some.

  2. I was just that thinking about that the other day when I watered a philodendron I have in a six inch pot. I bought when it was just a wee thing five years ago. Today, it has over 30 feet of fronds (or whatever you call them). It dawned on me that since I've never had to add dirt to the pot, all that plant stuff must be made solely from water and air and a tiny bit of minerals from fertilizers. Nature is crazy.

  3. This clip of Richard Feynman explaining how trees come out of the air is pretty interesting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITpDrdtGAmo

  4. There's a nice passage about this (and also where the growth actually occurs on the tree itself) in Richard Power's The Overstory. Minnesotastan - I bet you would enjoy this book if you haven't already.

    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Overstory

      Sounds interesting. And Man Booker shortlisted.

  5. They might eat dirt and poop other dirt.


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