Take brilliant researchers and professors, give them some nature elements – better the whole pack – and leave them observing the life going on day after day. What you get is a new stunning discovery: plants are living beings with a secret life and astonishing behaviour we though only humans could have.
One of them is Stefano Mancuso, Professor at the Florence University and director of LINV – International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology. Then there is Pietro Maroè, who is a forest expert and professional tree climber.
These men and their researches – along with other experts we will see later – unveiled what plants do ‘secretly’, or that simply goes unnoticed because out of the corner of human eyes or it happens too slowly to be spotted. Following some weird and, at the same time, amazing examples of plants behaviour and ‘life style’:
1. Sunflowers That Play
Just after birth they seem to do movements that will teach them how to socialise with others of the same kind. It’s not totally proved scientifically, Prof. Mancuso said, but still stunning.
2. Adult Trees That Take Care Of Their ‘Babies’
When an acorn falls down on the ground in the forest, the day is quite dark down there, in the undergrowth, blocking all the precious light trees desperately need to survive. That’s when the adult trees around the acorn – belonging to the same family – start feeding it with their roots. It will grow high and strong and one day it will be able to get all the light it needs.
3. Plants That Walk
In Palermo city (South Italy) a centenary Ficus macropylla was able to do what we might consider extraordinary. Its air sprouts moved to the ground, turned into roots and generated new trunks. After 150 years of life, the tree literally moved for several metres.
But there’s more. Plants can also interact and condition the life around them. Insects, birds, little reptiles and mammals. They are equally important to plants’ life or, sometimes dangerous. That’s why you can observe:
4. Tomatos That Make Animals Eating Each Other
They produce neuroactive substances that once eaten by caterpillars make them ‘cannibals’ (a clever and ‘merciless’ strategy to reduce their enemies and save their leaves from a total death). We talked about it more in detail in the article “Stunning Self-Defence Technique For Tomato Plants: They Induce Cannibalism Among Caterpillars“.
5. Flowers That Drug Animals
They attract animals through their shape, colours and smell, so that the animal world can contribute to their reproduction process thanks to the pollination. And like humans do sometimes, in order to stimulate – and reward – their best ‘couriers’, they secrete some kind of drug to make the insects and birds more addictive and productive.
And according to Maroè, when he climbs trees he can feel better, as if they’ve been using the same technique employed by flowers to attract him. In addition, even if it’s difficult to explain why and how, some plants are more welcoming than others.
Further more, back in 1973 Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, wrote the book “The Secret Life of Plants“. According to them, plants have a kind of conscience, they are sentient in some way and can understand and pinpoint pain, and react to it. But what was labelled as pseudo-science at the time, has been brought up again in the recent years. In fact, researchers went deep into the fascinating world of plant communication, making Tomkins’ and Bird’s believes more real than we thought in the past. They collected hard evidence that plants not only talk to each other through chemical signalling, but also have senses. So they observed:
6. Plants That Can See
Every spring narcissus flowers can sense when seasons change by measuring the length of days and nights. Therefore, plants have their own sight – like us – and can perceive colours, thanks to 11 different kinds of photoreceptors – wow, 9 more than humans. This allows them to react to sunlight. You can read more about this topic on the book “What a Plant Knows” by Daniel Chamovitz.
7. Plants That Can Smell
Fragrances are part of their life. They can use them to detect and interact with the surrounding world. In 2006 a study discovered that parasitic plants use their hosts volatiles to detect them (and sap life out of them). For example, it’s been observed that the Cuscuta pentagona (dodder) seedlings can find where a tomato plant stands, and then germinate close to the nearby plant in order to feed of it. This indicates the possibility that the volatile clues emitted by the tomato are used by the parasitic plant to detect his host. This was even clearer when a wheat plant was placed in the mix and the cuscuta pentagona still preferred the tomato: an evidence that the seedlings can distinguish between the two plants.
8. Plants That Can Talk To Each Other
Few years ago researchers discovered that plants can react to oncoming herbivore invasions by warning each other and lead to a defensive reaction. They set up bean plants close to each other and when aphids attacked one of them, the nearby plants started their defence strategy: the production of chemicals, such as methyl salicylate, that repel the ‘enemies’ and attract their predators.
Perhaps the fantasy world of living, walking and talking plants we’ve seen only in Hollywood films or read in books, is more real that we may think. It’s just a matter of how we see the world and how much we are open-minded and willing to believe that we humans are not the only living beings on this planet.
It looks like the researches have just begun. So who knows what else we will discover in the near future?