Innovation/Global Crisis Blog

Sex, Drugs & Plants:  How Plants Think, And Why Flora Resemble Fauna

By Shlomo Maital



 Bee orchid — it’s NOT a bee!

 Do plants think and feel?  Are people who talk to their plants, and play Bach or Mozart for them, nutty?   Yes – and no. 

    A National Geographic documentary, Sex, Drugs and Plants, shows how plants can think, feel, camouflage…and seduce.   After you watch it, you feel badly about how humans are abusing the world of plants and trees, and how closely similar humans are, not only to apes but also to dandelions. 

  • Try this at home.  Attach a sensitive voltmeter to a plant.  Now, burn a leaf. (Don’t worry – plants are smarter than humans, we can’t grow a new leg or arm, but they can quickly regrow a damaged leaf).   Check the voltmeter. You will see a 50 millivolt current race from the leaf down to the root, signaling the root to send up the stalk important liquids and ‘food’, to help regrow the damaged leaf.  The current is stronger than that inside our brains, when neurons communicate.  This system is remarkably like a human nervous system.
  • Some plants disguise their flowers as colorful wasps or bees.  The male wasps show up and try to copulate with them.  In doing so, they of course gather pollen…which they distribute onto the next flower, when they give up and try another seductive target.  This is indeed sex, but not the kind wasps really enjoy.  Bee orchids attract pollinator bees simply by resembling them. (See photo).
  • Some flowers live in soils that lack nutrients or grow in water.  Like humans, they need protein. Where to get it?  Why not lure insects onto the plant, with sticky smelly slippery sap, then have the insects slip and fall into the bottom of the ‘pitcher’, into rain water mixed with digestive chemicals.  There, the ‘soup’ dissolves the insects and is then used by the plant for nutritional food.  Yum!

What is quite amazing is that all these incredible innovations in the plant world have occurred through evolution – through genetic accidents that just happen to work at the time.  Nature simply tries a huge variety of experiments, and then leverages those that work.  This is how we human innovators should work, too.   Innovations, like plant mutations, can only be tested in the tough competitive world of real life.