A grow

A New York Times story (“Deep in California Forests, An Illicit Business Thrives”, by Jesse McKinley, 8/22/09) tells us about Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department officers hunting for

… workers at one of the scores of remote, highly organized outdoor marijuana “grows” that dot the vast forests of California, largely on federal property.

Of course, I picked up on the nouning grow (a count noun meaning, roughly, ‘plot of land under cultivation for a crop’). And was shocked, shocked to realize that the English language had no word for this concept — no “word”, in the sense ‘ordinary-language fixed expression of some currency’ (see discussion here). Appalling! What simple creatures English speakers must be, able to make specific distinctions — fields, vineyards, (rice) paddies, orchards, gardens, (pot) grows, etc. — but hobbled by their inability to conceive of the overarching abstraction! But that’s the way of primitive peoples.Of course, my real interest here is the nouning grow, which was new to me. Apparently the NYT writer (or editors, or both) assumed that the word would be unfamiliar to most readers, since it was printed in quotation marks, indicating that the word was an innovation or a bit of specialized vocabulary (used by law enforcement, and possibly also pot growers).

Lots of people are down on nounings (see here) — why do we need these new words? grumble, grumble — but there are good reasons why other people like them, though the reasons differ from case to case. The nouning grow strikes me as an elegant and compact solution to the problem of referring to these particular plots of land for crop cultivation, since the land in question is too rugged and precipitous to count as a field, too commercial in use to count as a garden, etc. Plot by itself seems too unspecific, though pot plot might do (or stand of pot). But grow packs things into a single word.

(I now wonder, idly, what the growers and the law enforcement people call the indoor stands of marijuana, grown under lights. Are they grows too, or what?)

A side matter: the NYT story refers to a “criminal agricultural enterprise”, for the project of growing pot (rather  than the plots of land on which it is grown). Do we need a word for that? Maybe yes, maybe no, but criminal agricultural enterprise is unlikely to succeed.

In any case, there is some question about what would fall under this rubric. Does, for instance, growing Papaver somniferum, a staple of some American and European gardens, count? This is the “opium poppy”, so called because opium is derived from the plant’s seed capsules when they are green. (The mature capsules, dried, are often used in dried arrangements, and the seeds are the familiar poppy seed used in baking (from which the alternative common name “breadbox poppy”.)

We cultivated this gratifying annual flower in our garden in Columbus, Ohio, where we started with several named varieties of very specific colors — the Sunset Western Garden Book (2001 edition) lists “white, pink, red, purple, deep plum” — which then hybridized and mutated to yield intermediate shades, plus striped and streaked and spotted variants, some flowers with fringed petals, some single and some double. Every summer brought new surprises.

But there’s a snake in this garden, hinted at in Sunset‘s entry for Papaver somniferum:

Because of its narcotic properties, this species is not as widely offered as many other types [of poppies].

Indeed, after a brush with the DEA a few years back, the British seed and plant merchant Thompson & Morgan stopped selling the seeds to U.S. customers.

The law is murky, as Michael Pollan observed in his celebrated 1997 article in Harper’s Magazine, “Opium, made easy: One gardener’s encounter with the war on drugs” (the comma appeared in the original, but has disappeared in most reproductions and citations of the piece). As Pollan tells it, the issue is whether the law prohibits growing P. somniferum, period (many writers on the subject say flatly that it does not), or whether the law merely prohibits growing the plant in the knowledge that opiates can be extracted from it (which would give law enforcement considerable latitude in how aggressively to pursue prosecution); the law does seem to clearly prohibit extracting opium from the seed pods. Pollan himself, seeing that he had “tasted of the forbidden fruit of poppy knowledge”, was made so uneasy by the situation that he simply stopped growing the plant.

(Pollan’s article made considerable use of the experiences and writings of Jim Hogshire; see Hogshire’s Opium for the Masses, first published in 1994 with the subtitle A Practical Guide to Growing Poppies and Making Opium, now about to be re-published with the somewhat less direct subtitle Harvesting Nature’s Best Pain Medication.)

Pollan brings us back to the original topic of this posting, the cultivation of marijuana, since his 2002 book The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s View of the World has a chapter on the subject (along with chapters on the apple, the tulip, and the potato).

4 Responses to “A grow”

  1. theophylact Says:

    Why isn’t the word “farm” okay, perhaps modified by “clandestine”?

  2. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To theophylact, on farm: this might work in this particular case (though these pot grows are pretty far off my images of farms), but of course it won’t do for the larger category.

  3. Postings on nounings « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

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