Garden centers and bloggers have been flooded with queries about genetically engineered or modified organisms (GMOs). I've tried to explain the problem in the past, but many still think GMOs are just hybrids, and wonder "what's the beef?"
I'll explain in a different way: We all know that Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip are parents to Prince Charles, and he and Princess Diana were parents to William and Harry. If they were stabilized, inbred plants instead of humans, Prince Charles and Princess Diana would be F1s (first crosses), and William and Harry would be hybrids, all results of conventional breeding. All 100 percent human.
But if someone injected Prince Harry, for example, with plant genes, he might grow a fine head of green grass. Then Prince Harry would be a genetically engineered organism or GMO, the result of injection of a gene from another Family (plant) into a human member of the animal family. It could not happen in nature, without the intrusion of man.
The controversial genetically-engineered food crops are essentially new life forms. They do not nor could they arise in nature. How does this happen? A breeder may start out to breed a better strawberry, and look for one that's resistant to frost. There isn't a strawberry that is resistant, so the breeder goes to something that is resistant, for instance a sea urchin, from which he extracts a gene and injects it into the strawberry plant. And now it withstands several degrees of frost.
What do these genetic changes do to humans? Nobody knows for sure. The manufacturer says they're harmless, but that company will profit from the sale of genetically-engineered seeds. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says if it looks and acts substantially like an unaltered food, it is that food, and they're not going to test it.
Europe bans these foods, and some European scientists have challenged their safety, but they're so intrusive in American food that efforts to get labels identifying GMOs have failed so far.
SPROUTS OF SPRING
A hint of spring is all many of us need to get outdoors and thrust hands in soil. Smells good, and feels good. My "Breath of Spring" honeysuckle has fat buds, one opening at a time, and the aroma is slowly building. A few feet distant, a few delicate species crocus have popped up in the grass, after I thought squirrels had dug and eaten them all.
In the shade bed, fat red stalks of Hellebores are poking up, backlit by nodding snowdrops and cheerful yellow winter buttercups (winter aconite). East of the house, yellow buds are swelling on my primroses that survived this winter too, to my surprise.
Two purple iris reticulata add sparse color to the bed.
My helper dug the last of the parsnips last week, so we sent about a half bushel of beautiful white roots to the Foodbank. It's odd how parsnips weather winter so beautifully, while carrots left in the ground split and deform, invaded by wireworms.
Species tulips are bursting forth, ready to carpet a flower bed with color, and in the middle, a bright yellow flower I don't recognize. It looks like a dwarf iris, perhaps Danfordiae, from Brent and Becky's bulbs. "One of the first to bloom" describes it accurately.
Send garden questions to email@example.com or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.