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The Straight Dope


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'Scuse me, but ... how do they grow more seedless fruit?--Just askin', Salt Lake City, Utah

Guess you can't just plant more seeds, huh? But the fact is, you probably wouldn't want to plant seeds even if you could. Sexual reproduction, which is by and large what you're talking about when you grow things from seeds, is too chancy. Many of us have had occasion to think this, but few are more acutely aware of it than commercial fruit growers. An important function of sex, after all, is to shake up the gene pool. While that lends a certain charming variety to the offspring of us humans, it's not something you want to encourage in, say, a Thompson seedless grape.

Luckily, sex is only one method of propagating a species. There's also asexual reproduction, such as that engaged in by our parents. By means of cuttings, grafting, or what have you, it's possible to make multiple copies of the parent plant. What's more, the offspring plants have the advantage, from a horticultural standpoint, of being perfect genetic duplicates or clones of the parent plant. So once you've bred the ultimate begonia, you can crank out exact copies unto the hundredth generation. And people do just that. Some grape "cultivars," as human-bred (and often human-dependent) varieties are called, date from Roman times--that is, the plants we have today are exact genetic copies of ones first grown 2,000 years ago.

What I'm telling you is that seedlessness is no big obstacle, plant reproductionwise. Most grape varieties, seedless or not, are reproduced by grafting. Ditto for citrus and fruit trees in general. (Actually I believe they "bud" fruit trees, but let's not trouble ourselves with details.)

So, you think you understand? Time to obfuscate the situation. It is possible to buy seeds that, when planted, produce seedless watermelons. Whence cometh this seed? It's the product of an unnatural union between different varieties of watermelon, resulting in a hybrid that, like many hybrids, is sterile. You plant the hybrid seeds, and you get a plant whose fruit matures but whose seeds are underdeveloped. To make more seed you have to keep mating the mommy and daddy plants. There is vastly more to it than that, but that's about all I can explain without charging you quarterly tuition. Pass me a grape.

After a passionate lovemaking session with a girlfriend of mine (I'm bi), she asked if I knew what Zovirax was. When I said "Huh?" she showed me a swinger's magazine with the following ad: "Attractive m/w/c, late 20s, seeks other very attractive, new to swinging couples/females familiar with Zovirax for special times, once everyone is comfortable.... Only sincere people who use Zovirax or know what it is for (don't get scared, get informed) need reply with photos showing face and SASE. Proof of AIDS test required [etc]." What is this Zovirax they are talking about? A drug? A sex toy? A man thing or a woman thing? Hetero or homosexual exclusive? Does it need batteries? --C. E., College Park, Maryland

This one threw me for a sec too. Zovirax is the trade name for the drug acyclovir, the only effective treatment for genital herpes. It comes in both oral and ointment forms. When I first read "swinging couples/females familiar with Zovirax for special times" I had the idea the m/w/c in question wanted to buy a gallon jug of it and smear it over their (and potentially your) ripe young bodies. "Ooh, baby, when you topically apply that Zovirax to your cold sores it makes me so hot," you know? On rereading, however, I think we are the victims of a couple with (one hopes) a better command of body English than the written kind. They want somebody who (1) is a swinger and (2) already has herpes, not somebody who uses Zovirax to swing. On the other hand, if you answer the ad and it turns out I'm wrong, promise you'll send me a video.

Is there something you need to get straight? Cecil Adams can deliver the Straight Dope on any topic. Write Cecil at the Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611, or E-mail him at

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Illustration/Slug Signorino.

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