is my potato breathing?

Is your potato breathing? Yes it is, but very slowly.

I was reading an article on Thursday by a science reporter and he wrote a line something like: "Unlike animals, plants don't breathe oxygen or exhale carbon dioxoide instead..."

That mistaken notion is one of my pet peeves and I've seen it made many times. Sometimes even by biologists. Let's set the record straight. Plants breathe oxygen just like you or I--they just don't use lungs. We're all descended from the same unicellular creature billions of years ago--but don't expect a tree, bush, or head of lettuce to attend your family reunion. We have been drifting apart from plants for quite some time.

In case you're wondering why in frickin' Hell you should care that plants breathe (actually the correct term is respirate as in respiration), it's because it changes the way we should treat them. If you want to slow down a plants internal processes, just deprive them of oxygen and slow down their respiratory rate in any way possible.

Both of these goals can be accomplished by lowering temperature and wrapping in plastic. Kinda sounds like the way lettuce is treated in a grocery store, doesn't it? Plants, just like animals, differ in the speed of their respiration. Lettuce is very metabolically active and it'll wilt in hours, potatoes, on the other hand, have a metabolic rate just one twentyfourth as active. They can be stored for up to 6 months versus the week or so for lettuce.

Lettuce can actually last for around 3 weeks if you treat it just right. Load it up with water by plunging in ice water which will both hydrate it as well as cool it off, then dry it--to keep mold from developing--wrap in a dry paper towel, place in a sealed plastic bag with all the air squeezed out, and then place in the crisper drawer of your 'fridge.

In case you're wondering why you remember that plants give off oxygen instead of taking it in--that's due to photosynthesis being emphasized so much in school. While both plants and animals conduct respiration--taking in oxygen and giving off carbon dioxide--only plants conduct photosynthesis which uses chlorophyll (and is powered by sunlight) to change inorganic carbon dioxide into glucose, with oxygen being given off as a waste byproduct.


moon said…
I always knew that potato's breathed, because they sucked the LIVE OUT OF ME every yr it was time to plant a fricken acre of them when I was growing up lol
here from Michele's, have a great weekend
Bothaniel said…
Nice blog. Lettuce costs 67 cents a head, what you don't eat, throw away. I always let my potatoes breathe just before I put the cheese and sour cream on. I do this using a sharp metalic (a non-ferrous metal alloy)...stainless steel, knife to open the cooked exterior, revealing the soft starchy pulp which I eat.

So, see, I agree.

Michele sent me.
tiff said…
What I find so marvelous is that without photosynthesis, we wouldn't be here.

Nature, and the science behind it, has many mysteries and vast miracles, doesn't it?
Pearl said…
That's fascinating. If I ever had a clue to that I definitely was due a refresher. Thanks! I love seeing the mechanism of how.
Carmi said…
You are a great teacher. I knew this, but I've never seen it explained as well as you have done here.

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