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Brillian Green coverBy Stefano Mancuso and Alessandra Viola
Island Press
ISBN 13: 978-1-61091-603-5
ISBN 10: 1-61091-603-4
March 2015
Botany or Molecular Biology
Translated from Italian version Verde Brillante: Sensibilita e intelligenza del mondo vegetale, 2013 Giunti Editore S.p.A. Firenze-Milano

The revelations of this book begin with the basic differences between plants and animals, and how humans have been led to believe plants are purely vegetative with no ‘intelligent’ qualities. They talk about  how science disproves all those human assumptions and about plant supremacy. Everyone seems to know plants can live without animals, but not even humans can live without plants. They (plants) also reign on Earth as 97% of all life is plant, and the remaining 3% is animal, including humans.

Mancuso and Viola describe how plants organize their ‘bodies’ on an equivalent basis for all parts rather than the specialization of specific organ systems like animals. This provides plants the chance to recuperate even after losing up to 95% of their body. The authors explain how plants have all the senses of humans but use different methods. Plus they have many more sense. Humans, it seems, must change their thinking to see the truth of how smart plants really are. Plants hear, see, speak, feel, and smell but in different capacities using energy waves and operating at the molecular level. They seem to be great molecular manipulators. They also covered how plants communicate, both within body using three different systems, and outside the body by producing different scents. They provided some striking examples of how adept plants, who remain in situ, are at contacting other plants and animals.

orchid photo Ophrys apifera

Photo taken by Bernard Dupont, Creative Commons.

Plants as well as communicating with animals can manipulate them. For instance think about this example from the book: “Ususally, when we speak of mimesis we think of animals such as chameleons or walkingsticks. But their considerable mimetic abilities are as nothing compared to what an orchid like Ophrys apifera can do …Its flowers are able to mimic perfectly the shape of the female of certain nonsocial hymneoptera [wasp] …And that isn’t all: besides the female insect’s shape [and color], the orchid imitates the consistency of its tissues, its surface (including the fuzz on its body), and of course also its scent, secreting pheromones identical to the ones produced by females ready to mate” (page 113).

This was only one example, there are more. Some plants can call predator friends in the air or underground to attack their own predators. The question eventually becomes do humans manipulate plants with selective propagation and gene manipulation for their own purposes, or have plants been partners in this endeavor all this time? And don’t tell me it’s all evolution, because that same evolution brought us to where we are today.

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110 Plants to Feed the BeesI discovered this book on Net Galley and opened it out of curiosity. Bees and their populations are a huge environmental issue right now. I think I’ve mentioned in my last post and in other posts, the volume of honeybees in my area has declined drastically in the last few years. Hopefully this book will help gardeners become aware of plants to draw bees and maybe as gardeners we can provide a welcoming and safe environment for these extremely important insects.

100 Plants to FEED THE BEES: Provide a Healthy Habitat to Help Pollinators Thrive – The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
Publication date: December 2016
Publisher: Storey Publishing, LLC
ISBN-10: 1612-12701-0
ISBN-13: 978-1612-12701-9

While this book is a handbook of plants insects need, it is an important book for every gardener. The book begins with a very interesting short version of the multi-million year history of how plants and insects evolved into essential partnerships. For those who have ignored environmental problems, bees have been disappearing, and bees and humans also have an essential partnership. The DNR claims bees pollinate approximately roughly 75% of the vegetables, fruits, and nuts we eat. Personally, I love those plant products and want to keep bees around to do what they do best. Unfortunately, I’ve also noticed a distinct decline in the number of honeybees visiting my plants.

100 PLANTS TO FEED THE BEES offers an extensive list of plants whose flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees, and not only honey bees but native bees and other pollinators such as moths, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Each plant section contains a photo of the plant, the plant’s botanical name, and some basic information on the plant, plus a map of where it grows. Interesting information and sometimes warnings about the plant are also included. An example of a warning is mustard, which is considered a noxious weed in some locations, and illegal to grow.

Included in the 100 plants are native wildflowers and non-native or introduced wildflowers (weeds), garden plants, herbs, trees and shrubs, and even pasture plants. I was glad to see many of the plants I’ve recognized growing in my area, and my garden holds many other recommended selections. I was surprised to see Tilia Americana or the common basswood tree, until I remembered standing under my trees when in bloom and hearing myriad bees busy in the tree’s unseen upper stories. I appreciated the list of insects each plant attracts far beyond bees, too. I looked over an online version of the book, and then pre-order a volume. I recommend all gardeners purchase a copy of 100 PLANTS TO FEED THE BEES, and a big thanks to Xerces Society authors Eric Lee-Mäder, Jarrod Fowler, Jillian Vento, and Jennifer Hopwood for this work.

photo of plant's complex societies

Complex societies

Since 2000, scientists, and in particular botanists, have been delving into the sentience of plants. They’ve made some amazing discoveries. Plants are not the insensate lifeforms Homo sapiens has believed for so long.

Most people, in the past and still today, think of plants as living, but sedentary things that just grew and either thrived or didn’t, but which provided humans food, medicine, and clothing. People presumed they lacked the ‘anima’ or movement and cunning of the upper echelon of life forms, animals, of which we humans, with our self-awareness and intelligence, dominate all other creatures and even the planet Earth. At least, again, that is what many think. We are now learning that we can change the Earth, but it isn’t always a smart thing to do, and that plants and ‘lower’ lifeforms might not be so much lower, and even in someways, smarter.

In reading a 2015 publication, Brilliant Green, The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence, Ismarty-plants’ve learned philosophers since before Aristotle have wondered and postulated about plants, and whether they have souls, a sign of intelligence. Even Darwin and his son had views on plant intelligence which seemed to have been largely ignored. The authors of this book go on to describe plants’ ability to communicate, to remember, and to feel, see, hear, taste, and touch.

Programs like Nature on PBS are also creating shows like “What Plants Talk About,” (also known as “Smarty Plants” in Canada) which cover the discoveries about the ignored nature of plants. On Ted Talks, Stefano Mancuso  speaks on “The roots of plant intelligence,” and The New Yorker’s video “Do Bean Plants Show Intelligence,” based on the research of Michael Pollen, show scientists’ perceptions of plants are changing. Many videos are available on line to show the extraordinary discoveries about plant behaviors.

I’m sure most readers know that plants can survive without humans, but most ‘higher’ life forms cannot survive without plants and their ability to use sunlight, carbon dioxide from the air, and minerals found in the soil to produce sugars and other food substances. Depending on the species, they can live one season or for thousands of years. They clean air, water, and the soil that humans pollute. As mentioned, they take carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen back into the air. What we often don’t know is they live in complex societies both above and below the soil, and when we decimate a forest for wood products, we can also decimate the society of entities that made the forest a healthy and productive ecosystem in the first place.

It is time for humans to stop taking plants, and other life-forms for granted and to use the products and life forms on Earth in a responsible way. Our existence depends on it.

At my garden club’s flower show last Friday, my 22 year old Mammillaria elongata cactus took the Award of Merit (orange ribbon) in the houseplants class of the horticulture section. Yeah! (Except there were some very worthy entries just as deserving!)

Cactus winner

We had over twenty inches of snow a little over a week ago. Yesterday I was out collecting greens to make a wreath and the snow was nearly completely melted. Underneath the pine I clipped I found this moss, bright green and spongy. You can see a small clump of ice still on the ground. In botany we are concentrating on vascular plants and, in particular, dicots and monocots, but these tiny little plants are beginning to intrigue me.

Moss underfoot

Moss underfoot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then while walking the road I saw these two tree trunks. I believe the trees are popple, but they are so different from the normal greyish-cream color.

Popple trunks

Popple trunks on a damp November day.

 

Cattails

Cattails or scientifically speaking, Typha latifolia

Ohh-Oh, this botany class is a lot of work, even for someone just auditing the class. I’m planning on using My Mile of Country Road page (now pages) as my project, so it is undergoing changes, the inclusion of more scientific language. I’m planning on adding more information, too, and include photos of trees, berried fall shrubs, ferns, maybe even some mosses. Wish me luck.

Fractals in Nature
While this is a garden blog, I frequently float away from reality (what is reality?) and into the scifi/fantasy aspect. It’s always bubbling on a back burner. Just how do you mix plants and gardening with fantasy and science fiction? Perhaps considering plants gives me insight into not only basic survival, but also the universe beyond mere biology.

fractiles

Fractiles in nature

For survival read any of my posts on plant intelligence: Corn Clicks, More Signs of Intelligence,and Considering Aliens… Like Trees.

For other survival traits, consider plant chemistry. While many of our medicines come from plant compounds, so do many of our most dangerous toxins. Even some edible fruits like tomatoes, can be toxic if eaten green, although cooking destroys the toxicity. Early man had to learn the hard way how to distinguish good plant from bad. Doesn’t that create scifi ideas about man on a foreign planet? Or perhaps a fantasy about sorcerers, who know the inner workings of strange plant abilities, or because they can commune with plants thousands of years old, have greater insight into the world? Or how about this: a change occurs in Earth’s plants, and they gain sentience (If they don’t already have it)? Oh! Oh! Or how about a plant that if eaten can confer a sixth sense or some other paranormal ability? Or perhaps human scientists transfer plant genes for longevity and self-healing into humans?

How about mathematics and the fractal nature shown by many plants? Now I can’t explain the actual mathematics behind fractals, even after reading Wikipedia. If you are unfamiliar with fractals, Google plant fractals. These beautiful designs are often replicas of designs found in geographic features of the world, too, and this makes me speculate on the quantum theory and the universe’s struggle between order and chaos.

Perhaps the Earth is the center of the universe, despite our ‘scientific’ discoveries and theories, and maybe the Earth, or Gaia, the great mother, is a plant eons old. Maybe an ‘intelligent’ plant can move from one continent to another by sending rootlets through the Earth’s crust, and can also move throughout space? I know, I know, far-fetched. Still… seeds floating the ocean’s currents have been known to move plants to new lands.

Another fractile example

Another fractile example

Other ideas come to mind. How about if a lotus-type seed, already known to stay viable for centuries, is somehow lifted into the atmosphere and then flung into space? The seed travels on solar winds, and ends up germinating on a foreign planet capable of sustaining life. What if the seed had been genetically altered to carry a copy of the human genotype? If it grows, will humans have successfully established themselves on another world?

Plants are miraculous life forms. In some ways they control the atmosphere and climate, so control our lives. Don’t believe me? Consider the droughts effects on grain crops in the West and Mid-west, and get prepared to pay much more for food. Is this partially due to the rainforests destruction and their atmosphere cleaning capabilities? Maybe. Plants can grow in the harshest locations and have many unique characteristics. Maybe the first aliens will be plants.

Playing with the concepts about what everyone thinks they know is what creates fantasy and science fiction. Got any ideas? Have fun imagining! However, keep in mind, humans have to have plants to survive, and global changes threatens many plants we need.

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