Take brilliant researchers and professors, give them some natural elements, and let them observe life going on day after day. What you get is a stunning discovery: plants are living beings with a secret life and astonishing behavior we thought 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, with their research and books, unveiled what plants do secretly. Things that may go unnoticed because happen too slowly or remain hidden. Let’s discover some amazing examples.
1. Sunflowers That Play
Just after birth, it seems they do movements that teach them how to socialize with others of the same kind. “It’s not totally proved scientifically,” 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 can be quite dark down there, in the undergrowth, blocking light trees need to survive. That’s when the adult trees around the acorn, belonging to the same family, start feeding it with their roots. In this way, the acorn will grow high and strong getting all the light it needs.
3. Plants That Walk
In Palermo city (South Italy) a centenary Ficus macrophylla did what we may 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 meters.
But there’s more. Plants can also interact and condition life around them (insects, birds, little reptiles, and mammals). These creatures can be either vital or dangerous to the plants’ life. In fact, here is what you can observe in some flowers and vegetables:
4. Tomatoes That Make Animals Eating Each Other
They produce neuroactive substances that make caterpillars, that feed on them, cannibals. This is a clever and merciless strategy to reduce their enemies and save their leaves from 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 with their shape, colors, and smell so that creatures like birds and insects can contribute to pollination, and by consequence, to plants’ reproduction. Moreover, to stimulate – and reward – their best couriers, they secrete some kind of drug to make these animals more addictive and productive.
What Maroè told in his book “La Timidezza Delle Chiome” may confirm this phenomenon. He declared when he climbs trees he feels better as if they’ve been using this same technique.
In addition, 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 because they can understand and pinpoint pain, and then react to it. This was labeled as pseudo-science at the time, but it’s been brought up again in the recent years.
In fact, researchers went deep into the fascinating world of plant communication, making Tomkins’s and Bird’s believes more real than we thought in the past. They collected hard evidence that plants have senses and can talk to each other through chemical signaling. This is what they observed:
6. Plants That Can See
Every spring narcissus flowers can sense when the season changes by measuring the length of days and nights. This means plants have their own sight – like us – and can perceive colors thanks to 11 different kinds of photoreceptors. This allows them to react to sunlight. You can read more about this topic in the book “What a Plant Knows” written by Daniel Chamovitz.
7. Plants That Can Smell
Fragrances are part of their life. They use them to detect and interact with the surrounding world. In 2006 a study discovered parasitic plants use their host’s volatiles to detect them (and sap life out of them). For example, it’s been observed the Cuscuta pentagona (dodder) seedlings can find where a tomato plant stands so that it can germinate close to the nearby plant and feed on it. This indicates volatile clues emitted by tomatoes may be 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 tomatoes. This is the evidence that the seedlings can distinguish between the two plants.
8. Plants That Can Talk to Each Other
A few years ago, researchers discovered that plants can react to oncoming herbivore invasions by warning each other so that they can react and protect themselves. They set up bean plants close to each other. When aphids attack one of them, the nearby plants start their defense strategy: they produce chemicals, such as methyl salicylate, that both repel their enemies and attracts their predators.
Perhaps the fantastic world of living plants doesn’t exist only in Hollywood films or fairy tales books, but is more real than we may think. It depends on how we see the world, how much open-minded we are, and willing to believe that we humans are not the only living beings on Earth.
The research has just begun. Who knows what else we will discover in the future?