A super hero movie for plant geeks? Yes, please

Photo from Simple Most dot com

By Robert Burgess
Tower Hill staff

What do you get when you cross a plant lover and a superhero fan? A deep discussion over the resurrection of one of the most beloved characters in the Guardians Of the Galaxy blockbusters.

We at Tower Hill love when pop culture inspires the general public to think about horticulture. In this case, the character known as Groot – a tall, strong, walking, talking, fighting good guy tree alien – (SPOILER ALERT) sacrifices himself to save his companions.

Big Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1. Variety dot com image.

His comrades, in their mourning, take a tiny piece of his shattered body and put it in a small container full of soil. End of Vol. 1.

In the opening scene of Vol. 2, we see a small good guy tree alien sapling dancing happily amid an interstellar battle. Movie goers began to ask, is that Groot’s baby? His twin. Or maybe it’s Groot himself coming back to life.

Leave it to a plant geek to weigh in on the matter. James Wong, a best-selling author and botanist, shared some deep thoughts via Twitter.

“Baby Groot is the result of a form of asexual reproduction known as vegetative propagation. Plants, unlike most animals, retain their stem cells through their lives. So cloning them is super easy. Baby Groot is therefore a perfect genetic clone of Big Groot.”

Many gardeners are familiar with this process. Taking a fallen branch of a tomato plant and putting it in water to grow roots of its own will create a clone of that original plant, producing the same tasty fruit.

One of Tower Hill’s heirloom apple trees decorated for the holidays.

Cutting a scion from an apple tree and grafting it to another tree or rootstock creates a clone of that original tree. Tower Hill Botanic Garden has an orchard of grafted heirloom apple trees with varieties dating back hundreds of years, each clones of the trees caretakers decided to make duplicates of once upon a time. Tower Hill, a nonprofit organization, also sometimes offers classes for the public to learn how to graft themselves.

If Baby Groot was the son of Big Groot, the process of pollination would have been involved and Baby Groot would inherit a combination of the DNA of his parents. This is why you can’t grow a McIntosh apple from seed; that seed will have a mix of the characteristics of its parent trees which bees brought to the blossom.

An apple blossom at Tower Hill.

Here’s a twist though. Will Baby Groot know what Big Groot did? “Even Earth plants can process complex information about the world around them & retain it without the need for a centralised storage organ like animals need (ie a brain),” Wong says. “If Baby Groot is a cutting, it is likely it retains Big Groot’s memories!”

We’ll have to wait until Vol. 3 to see if Baby Groot has grown into Adolescent Groot and what he has to say, beyond, of course, “I am Groot.”