WhatTheyThink    WhatTheyThink.com    Blogs    PrintPlanet


The Trouble with Triffids

By on June 14th, 2012

Okay, I may stand corrected, perhaps the concern with protecting trees and other plants is akin to the animal rights movement. That is, maybe plants are more sentient than we give them credit for. Vegetable rights!

Seriously, though, a post over at Discover asks the question, “How Smart Are Plants?” Treebeard notwithstanding:

plants are in fact complex organisms that can interact with their environment, sense smells and sounds, communicate with each other and with insects, and even process information.

Said Daniel Chamovitz, a plant biologist and author of What a Plant Knows, in a recent interview in Scientific American:

Plants definitely have several different forms of memory, just like people do. They have short term memory, immune memory and even transgenerational memory! I know this is a hard concept to grasp for some people, but if memory entails forming the memory (encoding information), retaining the memory (storing information), and recalling the memory (retrieving information), then plants definitely remember. For example a Venus Fly Trap needs to have two of the hairs on its leaves touched by a bug in order to shut, so it remembers that the first one has been touched. But this only lasts about 20 seconds, and then it forgets. Wheat seedlings remember that they’ve gone through winter before they start to flower and make seeds. And some stressed plants give rise to progeny that are more resistant to the same stress, a type of transgenerational memory that’s also been recently shown also in animals. While the short term memory in the venus fly trap is electricity-based, much like neural activity, the longer term memories are based in epigenetics — changes in gene activity that don’t require alterations in the DNA code, as mutations do, which are still passed down from parent to offspring.

It’s tempting to think that a new science—some sort of botanoneurology or something—is on the horizon, but likely not. When I talk to my plants and they talk back, perhaps I’ll reconsider…