More boneheaded plant representations from Hollywood

not poison sumac

Writing about the Star Wars Romanesco cameo reminded me of a truly egregiously bad plant representation I saw on TV recently. I have to admit that these rants probably only serve to illustrate how trashy my taste in entertainment actually is–so I have to admit that I pretty much deserve to be disappointed. Yet I cannot remain silent in the face of such horror.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 1.24.05 PM

In the deeply unpromising pilot to the YA series The 100, a group of handsome teens are walking through a stand of ferns in a redwood forest-type biome. The ferns (and, indiscriminately, the adjacent moss tufts) have been studded with purple pansy heads by the set designers. Nevermind that ferns don’t flower. One kid picks a pansy head and tucks it behind his love interest’s ear. A smarty pants kid watching this interaction notes that they’ll be sorry, because, he says, the plant is poison sumac. He’s not joking or positioned to be wrong–his character is written as somebody who knows plants.

I ask you:

Would James Bond engage in a high speed chase in a 1995 Toyota Corolla?

Would the makers Friday Night Lights have the high school football players carry basketballs instead of footballs in the game scenes, because after all, a ball is a ball?

Would Carrie Bradshaw slip on a pair of Crocs and call them Jimmy Choos?

No, no and non.

We’d never make mistakes like that justify them as being unimportant because they were just small details in a silly movie or TV show. Details matter a lot when the objects have cultural significance, as designer shoes and footballs do. This is why it is fine to be  stupid about plants, because nobody cares about plants, and we have lost every last vestige of plant literacy.

I don’t think this is a case of me being picky. I’m not being a plant geek here, pointing out some minutiae of botany. I’m talking about the misuse of really common plants that people do know, or should know.

Ferns, for example, are a plant that even the most determinedly uninterested person will still be able to identify as a fern. If you can only identify five plants, a fern would be one of them, along with grass and roses. Pansies are not as easily nameable as ferns, though they are incredibly common. Even people who don’t know what a pansy is called will still probably recognize them as a flower they’ve seen in flower beds. So why mix ferns and pansies and call the resulting Frankenplant poison sumac? This combination of laziness and arrogance takes my breath away.

More, it’s sorta dangerous. Bear with me here. In this degenerate world, no one needs to know the name of any plant to get by day to day (food plants excepted), but if a person ever intends to go outside (optional, I know) they’d better know how to identify local plants which cause contact dermatitis. Like poison sumac.

Poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) is a shrub or tree which grows in wet spots in the Eastern parts of the U.S. and Canada. It looks nothing whatsoever like a fern. Or a pansy. It is apparently even more toxic than its itchy relatives, poison oak and poison ivy. Any teen who thinks to romp in those woods should know the difference between a fern and a poison sumac bush, and The 100 is doing a real disservice to its young audience by misrepresenting that plant. May the producers be looking at their iPhones the next time they sit down at a picnic, and miss that patch of poison ivy. My curse be upon them.

Romanesco broccoli cameo lights up Star Wars film


So, who spotted the Romanesco broccoli and — bonus points here– the blurry kiwano in the latest Star Wars movie? We did, as did reader Wayde, who dropped us a note about it. It appears as a pub snack on that inexplicable Angkor Wat vacation planet, with light alien reggae stylings in the background.

I’ve discovered that the Romanesco, being a food geek favorite because of its fractal structure, did get some high level notice in the media–including Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Village Voice.

We make it a hobby around here to spot the use and misuse of plants in Hollywood. This one is interesting, because while the Romanesco is presented as a food, as it should be–as opposed to ivy vines being presented as a food crop in Maze Runner– it is an Earth food, so it’s interesting that the film makers decided to include it as part of the scenery. The only other edible in the movie is special effect-based alien food–I won’t be spoilery and say any more about that.

The Star Wars world isn’t posited as our future world, as the Star Trek world is–it’s a mythic world, somewhere long ago and far away. I doubt we’d ever see Han Solo noshing on a hot dog, for instance, whereas I can totally imagine Kirk doing so, standing by a future-utopian hot dog stand (and flirting with the sexy alien behind the stand). But a hot dog in Star Wars would be very wrong, because it’s a thing too much of our world. Its presence would collapse the fantasy. But apparently they decided Romanesco and kiwano would not. Why? Because they figured most people had never seen these foods.  I don’t know if they were right about that. And also, maybe they also realized that they could work for weeks in their art studios and never invent anything as cool looking as a Romanesco or a kiwano.

On the up side, maybe parents now have the leverage to foist healthy cruciferous veggies on a whole new generation of movie goers. The Romanesco growers must be ecstatic.

Root Simple: 2015 in Review


In my yearly review of the many blog posts and podcasts we created over the years I like to use the number comments they received as a gauge for their relevance. I’ve noticed over the years that the most commented upon blog posts tend to track where Kelly and my interests intersect as well as the general cultural resonance of the eclectic topics we discuss. As we enter our tenth year of blogging, I thought I’d take a look back at the blog posts that most resonated for us and for readers in 2015.


Everything Must Go!
The series of blog posts Kelly did on decluttering, that spanned late 2014 and early 2015, are the most commented posts of the past year. The series began with Kelly’s review of Japanese cleaning sensation Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Cleaning Up and continued with our, mostly successful, struggle to declutter our tiny bungalow. During a burst of last minute Christmas shopping, I kept seeing Kondo’s book everywhere from clothing stores to high-end museum gift shops. It says a lot about our culture that it can simultaneously offer up Kondo’s decluttering tome amidst the annual Christmas orgy of consumption. There’s an unhealthy Ying/Yang relationship here that is worth further exploration in the coming year.


A Post-Wild Front Yard
The second most popular posts were about Kelly’s ongoing efforts to create a “post-wild” landscape in our challenging, sloped front yard. The last installment of these posts, Our New Front Yard Part 6 shows where we’re at now. We’ll continue, of course, to chronicle the transformation of our garden in the coming year.


Not Going With the Flow
I don’t like to go negative, but after receiving dozens of emails and Facebook links to the Flow Hive, I felt I needed to write about this gadget (Kelly, by the way, re-edited my first draft heavily and made it much better). The post, The Flow Hive: A Solution in Search of a Problem, was the single most commented upon blog post on Root Simple in 2015. Subsequently, I heard from more experienced beekeepers than myself who felt the same way I did about this contraption and added additional concerns. By of the end of 2015, the Flow Hive folks had raised an astonishing $12 million and are in the process of shipping over 20,000 units. It will be interesting to see what happens to the people who bought Flow Hives and the bees they attempt to keep. I’m not optimistic about this but I hope to be proved wrong.


Honesty in Urban Homesteading
We don’t do nearly enough blogging about the many hair brained notions and failed projects that transpire here at the Root Simple Compound and Labs. We did mange to chronicle a few of our shortcomings, such as our lack of a clothes line (Busted: Drying Racks, Clothes Lines and Cheese Puffs), the train wreck that was our summer garden (Our Disasterous Summer Garden and Our Grape Arbor is a Stacking Function Fail) as well as incompetent animal husbandry (A Painful Beekeeping Lesson) and our ongoing raccoon wars (My Apologies to the Skunk Community).

FeuerbachAmazonenSchlacht copy

Internet Issues
I have a love/hate relationship with the interwebs. On the one hand this blog reaches a lot more folks than my 1990s bus riding zine Power to the Peoplemover did and I don’t have to make runs to the post office or to Kinkos! On the other hand, I find the internet to be a source of incredible distraction and dubious ethics. Speaking of ethics, our unease about being an Amazon affiliate got a lot of comments (Our Amazon Problem) as did my post on Facebook distraction (Is Facebook Useful?).

rye bread loaf

How-to posts
I really wish that I could do more how-to posts, but the fact is that they are the most time consuming. We did manage to do a few good ones: Stuff you Learn When the Power Goes Out (with El Niño storms approaching, it’s time to review this one), Restoring a Built-In Ironing Board, Three Things I’ve Learned from Baking Bread with Whole Grain and How to Make Hot Sauce.

Podcast Comments
Due to the nature of the medium it’s difficult for me to gauge the reaction of listeners to our podcast but I think the two most popular may have been the interviews we did with Larry Korn (064 One Straw Revolutionary Larry Korn) and Robert Kourik (069 Understanding Roots With Robert Kourik).

Half-Baked Thoughtstylings
In going through the past year’s blog posts I found quite a few unfinished ones. I’ve learned in the past that most of these should stay unfinished. But one of those posts caught my eye, “Is Freekah the New Quinoa?” (freekah is a kind of roasted grain from the Middle East that you cook whole). Perhaps I should rework it with a new headline, “Freekah Out”.

cat in window

A Big Thank You
Lastly I just want to say how grateful I am to our many blog readers and podcast listeners. When our young heart patient cat phoebe died in June there was an outpouring of caring and compasionate comments (just as when our beloved Doberman passed a few years ago). Many, many thanks to all of you for your support over the years. Like everyone, I have moments of cynicism, self-doubt as well as periods when the muses simply leave the building.  It means a lot to Kelly and I to receive so many thoughtful, loving comments and emails.

I hope that 2015 was a good year for you and best wishes for a happy 2016!