Good Vibrations

by Andy Griffin

Some people feel weird about bats which is why, I suppose, that it has fallen to birds and bees to serve as airy metaphors for sexual congress. But bats pollinate flowers too, as do flies, and the inanimate wind itself. This tomato planting I am inspecting, with its galaxy of little yellow starry flowers and scattered small, hard, round, green fruits prompts me to consider the issue further.

Every flower is a sexual organ, either male, female, or hermaphrodite. In botanical terms a hermaphroditic flower is "perfect," i.e., complete. Bees go from plant to plant visiting blossoms to gather pollen and inadvertently fertilize waiting blooms. Every fruit is an ovary. Once the female flower has been inseminated the ovary begins to develop fetal seeds. Each infant seed sends out hormonal messages back through the vascular tissue that supports it to the foliage and roots. "Send me more sugar that I may fill my fruit with sweetness. Feed me more vitamins and minerals that I may be strong. Pack me with energy that I can store." And so a pollinated fruit swells until it splits, while barren ovaries wither to husks and drop to the dirt.

The flavorful flesh of a fruit invites a bird to consume it. Undigested seeds are defecated out randomly, perhaps primed for germination by gastric juices from the bird's gut. Voilá, a simple rootbound plant species has effected courtship and procreation without even moving. But is this the whole story of sex?

No. One of my favorite plants is Carnegiea Gigantea, the saguaro cactus, which produces large, fleshy white flowers as big as two cupped hands. From dusk to dawn these luminous vaginate blooms open themselves to nectar-sipping bats who flap from plant to plant shoving their furry heads deep into the blossoms. The bats emerge with faces glazed with nectar and dusted golden with pollen. Maybe I'll tell my children about the birds and bats when the time comes.

And wind; let's not forget the wind. It is a completely anonymous process but many plants, these tomatoes, for instance, are pollinated by wind. Many insects do visit tomato blossoms but the plants are quite capable of fertilizing themselves if the wind is strong enough to set the racemes of flowers to trembling. When our kids ask us about sex should we tell them, "The answers, my friend, are blowing in the wind?"

Here comes a warm breeze right now, stirring the foliage of my tomato plants and stirring my imagination as well. As usual I begin to think about money. Even with only thirty acres and twelve employees our farm still costs us over a thousand dollars a day to operate. It has been several months since our harvest was big enough to cover costs, let alone generate a profit. Money, when it comes, will come from selling tomatoes. How long then, until these tiny yellow stars and green planets plump up into Sungold cherry toms and Early Girl tomatoes? Two weeks? A month? Can I wait that long?


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There was a time when I tried to get around this seasonal cash flow crisis by planting out tomatoes in September in a heated greenhouse hoping for a harvest from February through June. We pruned the plants to single stems and trained them to twines suspended from the roof. All fertility and water came through drip emiters. Fans gently circulated the air. It was an entirely artificial environment but I liked it. The greenhouse covering filtered the sun and created a silvery light that induced calm. All was quiet except for the bubbling of the drip system and the murmur of Alfonso's walkman playing us romantic Ricky Martin songs through his skull.

There was no wind in the greenhouse to agitate and pollinate the tomato plants. When the plants began to bloom we rented hives of bumble bees to pollinate but they couldn't do the work. It is a bumble bee's habit to fly in a high arcing pattern from plant to plant, perhaps achieving 14' of altitude. The low nine foot ceiling and crowded jungle-like conditions of our greenhouse depressed the bees. Alan, a co-worker, and I studied our greenhouse supply catalogue for an alternative. Hand-held pollinators were on sale for seventy dollars a piece. Batteries fitted into pistol-grip handles powered a slender short wand causing it to vibrate. Workers were instructed to touch the back of each raceme, each day, agitating it and causing pollen to tumble into the floral ovaries. We would need six pollinators, one each for Alan, myself, Alfonso, Adrian, Carmelo, and Gerardo.

"That's a lot of money," commented Alan. "I know a mail order ‘health' catalogue where we can buy dildo vibrators cheap. If we glue a straw to the tip I'll bet they work just as well as these official pollinators and we'll save over $300.

So we bought a case of vibrating battery-powered dildos and outfitted them with straws. And in the late afternoon when the air was dry and the light was sliver we would pass from plant to plant, dildos in hand set to a low pulse, tickling the tomatoes. Yellow flowers trembled, golden pollen fell, green fruits swelled. We buzzed like bees.


copyright 2003 Andy Griffin