NYT: The Secret Social Life of Plants

Originally published June 2008 on The Uber Index

Plants can recognize their relatives, in some cases better than animals. Certain parasitic species can “sniff” out the chemical benefits of their neighbors, and then in turn make decisions about their future hosts based on what they smell. Continuing research into such botanical arenas is not only fascinating to readers beyond the audience of the journal of the United Kingdom’s national academy of science, but it also has the readers of those journals up in arms.

Science has its methodology of observation and experimentation, which moves slowly by design in order to provide accurate, reproducible data. But when the findings from such studies are as fascinating as those discussed in the New York Times story below, it’s inevitable that writers, artists and even scientists will start to imagine all sorts of possibilities for plants, calling it consciousness, sentience or just intelligence.

This tends to put a twist in the panties of a lot of mainstream scientists. Which seems like a good thing to us, as such flights of fancy have inspired the work of visionary ecological thinkers from Amazonian shamans to Goethe to Michael Pollan. We’d also say that a lack of imagination when it comes to botanical science is partly to blame for the fact that its taken Western science centuries of plant research to recognize such profound things about the organisms that comprise 90 percent of the Earth’s biomass.

Read on in the New York Times: “Loyal To Its Roots” by Carol Kaesuk Yoon

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