Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Do Plants Behave?

Last month the PBS program Nature had a fantastic episode about plant behavior -- a controversial term. Do plants really "behave"? This show argues yes: plants can communicate, move purposefully, and compete selectively. They just do it in ways that are much harder to observe than the animal behaviors that usually make it into nature documentaries:

  • Parasitic plants use their sense of smell to choose the best host plants, and grow toward them.
  • Some plants can change their blooming pattern and chemical composition to avoid overpredation -- and pick up cues to do this from other plants that are getting eaten.
  • Some plants can recognize siblings, and their roots grow less competitively with their siblings' roots.
  • A vast underground network of fungi not only takes carbon from trees in exchange for nutrients, but actually helps shuttle carbon to baby trees.

In another interview, one scientist featured in this episode says, "I was raised to believe that plants are plants. You eat them, you grow them, and they look pretty, but this is suggesting that there is a lot more to them than just that. I really think that we’re at the cusp of a real paradigm shift and that people are going to be viewing plants very differently in the next ten years."

Check it out:

Watch What Plants Talk About on PBS. See more from Nature.