In a scene right out of the 1971 sci-fi thriller, “The Andromeda Strain,” greenhouse growers across the United States are racing against time to contain the unexplained outbreak of an alien flower before it infects gardens and the people who love them—the orange petunia.
This disaster-in-the-making was by all accounts inevitable, considering Grumpy’s prescient column of April 11, 2013, “These Blooming Bells Ring My Chimes.” That post pointed out that petunias, as lovely and varied as they are, do not come in orange. Plant breeders and scientists read “The Grumpy Gardener” religiously (as do all self-respecting people) and took my criticism to heart. In their feverish ardor to bend the boundaries of nature and win my approval, some of them went too far. They created new petunias using a gene that comes not from an ornamental flower, but instead from a grassy vegetable. Corn.
That’s right. A gene from corn, an unrelated plant that could never breed with a petunia on its own, produces orange petunias like those you see above. This makes orange petunias genetically engineered (GMOs) that are illegal in both the United States and Europe.
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The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says consumers who have already purchased alien orange petunias need take no action, as petunias are not in the food chain. But what if a child eats one? Can our government guarantee that offspring from this innocent victim will not be born with orange eyes? No. Perhaps that’s why it’s making sure that growers, distributors, and retailers remove and destroy all orange petunias immediately. We can’t risk a generation of orange-eyed kids. Blue hair is bad enough.
I hope we’ve all learned something from this frightening episode. If not, what’s next? An orange hydrangea?
All we need is a single gene from a pumpkin.