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Re: HYB: Saliva, Poison

  • Subject: Re: HYB: Saliva, Poison
  • From: Glenn Simmons <glsimmon@swbell.net>
  • Date: Sun, 07 Feb 1999 18:01:47 -0600

From: Glenn Simmons <glsimmon@swbell.net>

John I Jones wrote:

> From: John I Jones <jijones@ix.netcom.com>
> dlouis@dynamicro.on.ca wrote:
> >
> > Jan there was a discussion on the Iris-L a couple of years ago about the
> > problems hybridizers were having with their stomachs after doing a
> > certain amount of hybridizing. It turned out that pollen has oxalic acid
> > on it which is poisonous for humans. The conclusion was that new
> > toothpicks should be used for each flower.
> Well yes and no.  Lets recap a little:
> Mike Moller wrote:
> >  << Please, EVERYONE, do not use the toothpick method for hybridizing,
> >   UNLESS you use a new toothpick each & every time. Remember always that
> >   the iris plant, all parts, contain oxalic acid in the form of needle
> >   sharp crystals. Oxalic acid is poisonous and can cause severe stomach
> >   upset in small amounts.  Some years ago there was a story making the
> >   rounds that a well known hybridizer of the time applied pollen to each
> >   flower with a single toothpick that was returned to the mouth each time
> >   so that the saliva would destroy the pollen grains.  This individual
> >   suffered from stomach pains which the MDs were unable to diagnose.
> >   Shortly thereafter another hybridizer was suffering the same stomach
> >   problems and realized that is was a direct result of using the toothpick
> >   method. >>
> >  This story is true!. The Famous hybridizer was Neva Sexton, who died of an
> >  unknown stomach problem. Tom Magee learned hybridizing from Neva and used the
> >  very same method. The same year she died, he was also hospitalized with an
> >  unknown stomach problem. Tom lived and he is the one putting out this story.
> >  Needless to say, he does not clean toothpicks in his mouth anymore!
> And Bill Shear wrote:
> > I'm afraid I'd need a little more data than Tom Magee's "realization"
> >  before attributing Neva Sexton's death and his stomach problems to the
> >  ingestion of minute amounts of oxalic acid in iris pollen!  Oxalic acid is
> >  a very common phytochemical, and you would get thousands of times larger a
> >  dose from eating a green salad than you would from almost any amount of
> >  iris pollen.
> >
> >  How about those hundreds (maybe) of hybridizers who DIDN'T get stomach
> >  problems from ingesting pollen?
> >
> >  The common house-plant called 'Dumb Cane' is very high in oxalic acid.  A
> >  little bit of the juice on the tongue can temporarily paralyze the vocal
> >  cords (hence the name).  But even if iris pollen were pure oxalic acid (and
> >  of course we need some evidence that oxalic acid is found in pollen), you'd
> >  need to suck in large quantities of it to get any appreciable affect.
> >
> >  Did either Sexton or Magee experience vocal cord paralysis after licking
> >   toothpicks?
> >
> >  Sounds like the iris equivalent of an "urban legend."
> BUT more importantly for hybridizing, Sharon McAllister wrote:
> >  Although I hadn't heard about the
> >  health hazards you mentioned, I was taught NEVER to just clean a toothpick in my
> >  mouth and reuse it because saliva doesn't kill pollen immediately and it could
> >  contaminate the next cross.   Ironically, it was a doctor who suggested the
> >  minute amounts of iris pollen I might ingest while hybridizing were probably
> >  good for me.   I do apologize for including Gene Hunt's comment about the
> >  protein content of pollen, though -- without cleary indicating it was a joke.
> >  Gene was known for not wasting a single grain of pollen.
> >
> >  Anyway, here's the detailed procedure for the cautious hybridizer:
> >
> >  1.     Outfit a tool kit (mine is a large tackle box) with clean condiment cups
> >  & lids, several sets of  tweezers, indelible markers, masking tape, tags -- and
> >  a box of  toothpicks.
> >
> >  2.     Harvest  the anthers with tweezers, place them in a CLEAN condiment cup,
> >  write the name or number on a piece of masking tape and stick it on the cup.
> >
> >  3.     Take a new toothpick out of the box, moisten it with saliva if necessary,
> >  then use it to transfer the pollen from the harvested anther to the stigmatic
> >  lip.
> >
> >  After the first cross, the toothpick is moist enough to pick up more pollen, dry
> >  enough to store safely in the pollen cup -- at least long enough to tag each
> >  cross.  I normally continue working with that cup until I run out of pollen or
> >  flowers to put it on.  Then DISCARD the toothpick.   There are better ways to
> >  save money and the environment than recycling  toothpicks!
> >
> Personally I have never had any stomach or (as many people would gladly
> testify) speaking or throat problems from iris pollen.....
> John

I know that John likes us all to edit "reply-to" messages to eliminate unimportant or
repetitive statements.  I apologize for not doing so but I didn't really see where to
do the "snipping!"  Also part of my comment is on the way John put this together.  You
did a good job John!  Having several letters in one place to read and compare is

I have been following the pollen/stigmatic lip thread with much interest.  I don't
think anyone will ever catch me intentionally putting pollen in my mouth, I use locking
tweezers!  :)  However, the comments about moistening the stigmatic lips was
enlightening!  I had a lot of trouble trying to cross two irises last year, either
those lips were dry or the pollen wasn't when the lips were!  I only got 8 seeds from
about a dozen cross attempts.  I have actually learned something just sitting here and
listening!  Bet I don't have this problem this year.  Thanks all


Glenn & Linda Simmons
Springfield, Southwest Missouri, USDA Zone 6

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