Plants grow towards the light. And because getting to the light first is so important for plants, their endocrinological system, especially just after germination, is all about favouring the top branch to grow fast at the expense of other branches. The cells in the top part of the plant, known as the terminal bud, produce a growth inhibiting hormone called auxin, a class of plant growth substances with some morphogen-like characteristics. First described by the Dutch scientist Frits Warmolt Went auxin moves downward in the shoot and inhibits the development of the other branches. This phenomenon is not unlike some of the principles of dominance we witness in contemporary society. The tall grow taller, at the expense of the small.
For The Incredible Shrinking Man the staying small part of this story is interesting. Not as an endocrinological strategy to ‘favour’ the few but rather as the material expression of the possibility of abundance for all. A gardner understands the need to follow simple pruning principles to create healthy plants that provide an abundance of flowers and fruits. For all to prosper the terminal buds need clipping.