Todd's blog

The roots of plant intelligence

Plants behave in some oddly intelligent ways: fighting predators, maximizing food opportunities ... But can we think of them as actually having a form of intelligence of their own? Italian botanist Stefano Mancuso presents intriguing evidence.

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Talking Tree

Talking Tree commissioned by EOS Magazine

A 100 year old tree, living on the edge of Brussels, was hooked up to a fine dust meter, ozone meter, light meter, weatherstation, webcam and microphone. This equipment constantly measures the tree’s living circumstances. And translates this information into human language. Then, the tree lets the world know how he feels. Follow the life of the talking tree via Twitter, Flickr, Soundcloud and friend him on Facebook.

Making of video on Vimeo

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Carnivorous plants losing ground in the U.S.

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Photo: Amina Khan / Los Angeles Times

Decades ago, lush stands of Darlingtonia californica — emerald plants coiled like fanged cobras ready to pounce — grew at this spot [Quincy, CA] in the northern reaches of the Sierra Nevada.

Deep in the ravine, the air is hot and dead. Pieces of bark that have sloughed off trees make every step a danger — nature's equivalent of a thousand forgotten skateboards cluttering a driveway. Slate tinkles underfoot, and the ground feels like stale angel-food cake: stiff yet porous.

[Barry] Rice, a botanist at UC Davis, is not the first to hunt the cobra lily here in Butterfly Valley. In 1875, amateur botanist Rebecca Austin fed the plants raw mutton and carefully observed how they digested it.

Yet to this day, much of the plants' biology and habitat remain unknown — which is why Rice is here, trying to find established populations.

Near the bottom of the crevice, the ground becomes moist. The air cools and softens. This is where the cobra lilies would be. “When you see them, they look almost like animals,” Rice says.

But there are none to be seen.

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Plants fight predators with chemical signals

Plants have developed a sophisticated defense system. They can not only directly fend off herbivores by producing toxins, but also do so indirectly by emitting odorant molecules into the atmosphere that are perceived by predatory insects; these predators are lured to the attacked plant and feed on the herbivore or parasitize it – thereby providing a benefit for the plant.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology have discovered that saliva from tobacco hornworm larvae (Manduca sexta) activates a substance in tobacco leaves, producing an odorous attractant. The attractant is picked up by carnivorous insects that feed on the hornworm larvae and eggs.

(Via) Press release PDF at Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology

David Benqué's Acoustic Botany

The debate around Genetic Engineering is currently centered around vital issues such as food, healthcare and the environment. However, we have been shaping nature for thousands of years, not only to suit our needs, but our most irrational desires. Beautiful flowers, mind altering weeds and crabs shaped like human faces all thrive on these desires, giving them an evolutionary advantage. By presenting a fantastical acoustic garden, a controlled ecosystem of entertainment, I aim to explore our cultural and aesthetic relationship to nature, and to question its future in the age of Synthetic Biology.

Acoustic Botany - Selective Breeding

"Desired traits such as volume, timbre and harmony are acquired through selective breeding techniques."

Acoustic Botany - Harmony Grafting

"Grafting, an age old practice (since at least 2000 BC.), is used to create harmonic notes combinations on a single tree."

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