The Intelligence of Smart Plants

March 3, 2011 by  
Filed under Creativity


Do Plants Really Think?

There’s new research indicating that smart plants really are intelligent. They can communicate with  each other, and even call in reinforcements when the going gets tough.

Who says so? Australian gardener Don Burke and Australian National University chemistry Professor Ben Selinger, in reviewing research on smart plants over the past 10 years, have come to the conclusion that many plants are actually very smart, and have qualities that can only be called “intelligent.”

Smart plants communicate with each other using a range of chemical signals. “If a plant muncher such as a caterpillar … starts chewing on a plant, the plant will start sending chemicals to its leaves in an effort to repel the chewer,” Burke said. “(And) nearby plants will also start emitting these same chemicals, anticipating that they’ll also be attacked.”

Burke also said plants are also smart in another way — they’re capable of releasing specific chemicals that attract certain protective insects.  “So …  they call in good insects to fight the insects that are attacking them,” he added.

Scientists have identified the plant genes responsible for these “smart plant” actions, and are trying to combine it with other plants, Burke said. The breakthrough, recently published in the journal Science, suggested that its possible gardeners and farmers may not have to use pesticides any more.

“It has huge implications for the world,” Burke said. “In years ahead, instead of pouring vast amounts of toxic chemicals all over the world and therefore ourselves in one form or another, we should be able to add these genes, which are naturally occurring genes in plants, to other plants, so that they can also repel insects.”

Burke said plants also used a lot of other smart qualities. “Venus Fly Traps or sensitive plants can move, pitchers plants can eat animals, peaches and cherry trees can count the number of cold days each year before they produce their leaves in spring,” he explained.

Australian National University chemistry Professor Ben Selinger described the smart plant research as astounding. “Plants have always been sort of relegated as primitive compared to animals and it’s just not true,” he said. But there’s still room for a lot more research in the smart plants area.

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Posted by Jill Ammon-Wexler
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