On Tuesday, Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn firmly proclaimed that Groot is dead. Let’s take a moment of silence to mourn the finality of the big friendly tree-dude’s death.
Okay, now that we’re done grieving, let’s get to the “well, actually” of the whole thing: On Twitter, Gunn said “First Groot is dead. Baby Groot is his son.” This sounds fine, until we remember exactly how Baby Groot came to be.
At the end of the first Guardians of the Galaxy, Groot gets blasted to twigs, and we’re led to understand that Rocket planted one of these twigs in a pot. During the credits scenes, we see that the twig has turned into the character we now know as Baby Groot.
But if you ask a plant scientist, this is not how reproduction typically happens, so to say that Baby Groot is Groot’s son is not completely accurate.
It’s more accurate to say that Baby Groot is a clone of Groot. The method by which Rocket grew Baby Groot is what’s known as vegetative propagation or vegetative reproduction, the process in which a part of a plant is used to grow a new specimen of that plant. This type of cloning happens often in the cannabis industry as a way for growers to trade and sell specific plants. In more mundane circles, this is how home gardeners can grow new specimens from cuttings of their favorite succulent, cactus, or other tender-shoot houseplants.
When you make a vegetative clone from a plant, it will be genetically identical to the original donor plant, but it will not be, strictly speaking, an offspring of that plant. For offspring to be produced, a plant typically must undergo sexual reproduction aka pollination. And since we have never seen Groot — ahem — pollinate a female individual of his species, it’s not exactly clear how this would happen.
Therefore, Gunn’s claim that Baby Groot is Groot’s son, while truthful in spirit, is not technically correct.