Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What Plants Talk About

We don't normally think of plants as anything but passive, do we? They don't put up much of a fight when we dig them up, nor do they leave the spot we tuck them into. They don't complain, even as we consume them. Or so it seems.

I wanted to take a quick moment during this Spring Break week to pop in and tell you about the new episode of Nature on PBS tonight called, "What Plants Talk About," so you don't miss it.

"What Plants Talk About" highlights the research of several scientists who build a case that plants actually behave; they actively respond to the environment, communicating with both enemies and allies in various ways to achieve results beneficial to the plant or its young—they are a lot more like us than we ever realized.

Take for example the wild tobacco plant which has different responses depending on which insect attacks. It uses poisonous nicotine to ward of some insects, but for those unaffected by that, it releases another chemical message which attracts that particular insect's natural predators! And, incredibly, one tobacco plant emitting that chemical alerts other tobaccos nearby to produce the same deterrents, giving them protection before they are even attacked.

How about the plant roots that grow faster as they approach a nutrient-rich patch of soil, then slow down and consume their fill once they've arrived—pretty animal-like, wouldn't you say?

One researcher determined that Douglas firs and fungi communicate, with the end result of providing for one another, rather than competing for food and light. Resource-sharing community is a brand new way of seeing the forest.

Some plants like the knapweed below don't "play nice," but others mingle and peacefully co-exist, like the group at the top of this post.  Why is that? Much of plant behavior is still a mystery, but what exciting research!

The Nature series has won hundreds of awards. We can count on it to be gorgeous, as well as educational and entertaining.

Nature's "What Plants Talk About," will air tonight at 8:00 pm on UNC-TV.

Photo credit (photos 1, 2, 4): Plant Films, Inc.
Photo credit (photos 3, 4): Ian Kerr, CSC


  1. I just read your post this morning. I hope they will show this special again. I would love to watch it. The research they are getting in the plant world right now is fascinating!

    1. Karin, it will be coming on again soon, just check your local listings. You can also watch it online at

  2. I managed to catch that program and found it fascinating, and not just because I am a plant geek.

    1. Les, I think it's the kind of program that could make a plant geek out of anyone. Nature presented in a new way—that's pretty exciting.

  3. Damn, missed it too! I will head over to PBS online to see it. Sounds very interesting.