ITHACA, NY - For home gardeners who don't want their flowers to tip over, a Cornell University horticulturist thinks he has found the answer: just give them a nip once a while! Cause diluted alcohol (whiskey, vodka, gin or tequila) stunts the growth of a plant's leaves and stems but doesn't affect the blossoms. That is at least what William Miller, director of Cornell's Flower Bulb Research Program noticed while boozing several narcissus species.
Miller began his investigation last year after receiving a call from The New York Times about a reader that claimed that gin had prevented some paperwhite narcissi from growing too tall and floppy. The reader asked if this was perhaps caused by some ‘essential oils’ in the gin.
Intrigued that alcohol might act as a growth retardant, Miller began conducting experiments with different kinds of liquor. Dry gin, unflavored vodka, whiskey, white rum, gold tequila, mint schnapps, red wine, white wine, pale lager beer, everything he gave the paperwhites to drink.
The beer and wine did not work, likely because of their sugar content, he said. ‘While solutions greater than 10 percent alcohol were just toxic.’ Only solutions between 4 and 6 percent alcohol stunted the paperwhites effectively. Miller: ‘In some cases the paperwhites we tested were stunted by 30 to 50 percent. Their flowers stayed as large, fragrant and long-lasting as usual though.’
Miller is not sure why the alcohol stunts plant growth but he does have some theories about it. Growth is caused when plant cells absorb water and expand. One theory is that the alcohol is injuring the roots, which makes the absorbing of water more difficult which stunts the cell division. Or, second theory, because the alcohol is mixed with the water, the plant has to use a lot of its growing energy to extract the clean water from the solution. Third theory: the plant uses its growing energy to get rid of the alcohol it has accidentally absorbed.
Next to his experiments with the narcissi Miller also achieved promising results with tulips. This spring, he announced, he is going to booze amaryllises and vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers to see if it affects their growth as well. We of course have become very curious in the meantime about how Millers ‘nip-trick’ could help us in the psychoactive garden…