Tuesday, June 5, 2012


In the last few hours of daylight on Tuesday June 5th, I walked over to the Drexel University observatory to watch the planet Venus cross between the sun and earth.  This will not happen again for another 105 years.

When you think about it that way, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to just sit at home and watch the Phillies blow another game. 

That’s a long time away, 105 years.  It’ll be the year 2117.  That’s five score and five years away but, as I was walking towards the university, my mind wasn’t on the future.  I was thinking about the last hundred and so years…and everything that’s happened in between.

People are always asking me: Hey, Jon Spruce, what are the five most important plant events in the last hundred years?

I’ll keep my answers local.  The five most important events in the local plant world?  That’s easy.

1. The demise of the American chestnut.   
2. The fall of the American elm.   
3. The discovery and re-introduction of the dawn redwood, once thought to be extinct.    
4. The invention of the seedless watermelon and the honeycrisp® apple.
5. The outlawing of the native plant, Cannabis sativa.

It’s been a rough hundred years.


The observatory is located on the roof of a Drexel University building, 32nd and Chestnut.  The building is easy to find but the observatory?  I figured if I kept walking up the stairs, I’d eventually find the roof but, up on the fourth floor, it’s just a maze of classrooms, studios, stairwells, a small gallery of Asian art, and a handful of faculty offices.  Like most citybillies, I have an uncanny sense of direction but it just wasn’t cooperating. 

Eventually, I opened the right door and stepped onto the roof.   

Yeah.  Lots of things weren’t cooperating that night.

What a sad crowd of city stargazers.  I couldn’t blame them for their disappointed moods.  Those low, dark clouds completely obscured any view of Venus or the sun.  Nobody was even looking at the sky.

Not a good way to start the next 105 years.

But still, I spent a few minutes taking in the long view of the city and, there on the rooftop, my mind wandered to the future, to the faraway year of 2117. 

Here are my official predictions for the plant world for the next 105 years.

1. Scientists will finally find the right hybrid combination of the American and Chinese chestnut and begin re-introducing this once mighty tree to its proper place as king of the northeast forests.

2. The woolly adelgid bug will continue its destruction of the hemlock and we will lose yet another great native tree.

3. We will elect the first farmer president since Jimmy Carter.

4. The honeybee population will continue to decline and the bat will fill this niche, becoming a common presence in suburban backyard gardens all over the megalopolis.

5. Someone will invent the pitless mango.


I also got lost getting out the building.

The stairwell wasn’t marked for each floor and I ended up in the basement.  From the landing, I looked down and saw something…something unexpected, something strange and worrisome.

I had to backtrack and find another stairwell in order to get down to the bottom of the basement.  No one else was around.  I walked down the hallway, under flickering lights, to the small, darkened lab.

What the…?

Just what the hell is going on down here?  What are they doing in this lab?  Plants hooked up to wires and tanks and machines? 

Those bastards.  They finally did it.  They finally got their way.  


Undisclosed and unforeseen, it turns out the next hundred years has already begun and, as usual, it’s happening in a basement.

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