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The Secret Life Of Plants
This nOde last updated April 24th, 2003 and is permanently morphing...
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_The Secret Life of Plants_
by Peter Tompkins, Christopher Bird
Paperback - 416 pages (February
HarperCollins (paper); ISBN: 0060915870 ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.94 x 7.98 x 5.29
Short of Aphrodite, there is nothing lovelier on this planet than a flower, nor more essential than a plant. The true matrix of human life is the greensward covering mother earth. Without green plants we would neither breathe nor eat. On the undersurface of every leaf a million movable lips are engaged in devouring carbon dioxide and expelling oxygen. All together, 25 million square miles of leaf surface are daily engaged in this miracle of photosynthesis, producing oxygen and food for man and beast.
Of the 375 billion tons of food we consume each year the bulk comes from plants, which synthesize it out of air and soil with the help of sunlight. The remainder comes from animal products, which in turn are derived from plants. All the food, drink, intoxicants, drugs and medicines that keep man alive and, if properly used, radiantly healthy are ours through the sweetness of photosynthesis. Sugar produces all our starches, fats, oils, waxes, cellulose. From crib to cofffin, man relies on cellulose as the basis for his shelter, clothing, fuel, fibers, basketry, cordage, musical instruments, and the paper on which he scribbles his philosophy. The abundance of plants profitably used by man is indicated by nearly six hundred pages in Uphof's _Dictionary of Economic Plants_. Agriculture-as the economists agree-is the basis for a nation's wealth.
Instinctively aware of the aesthetic vibrations of plants, which are spiritually satisfying, human beings are happiest and most comfortable when living with flora. At birth, marriage, death, blossoms are prerequisites, as they are at mealtime or festivities. We give plants and flowers as tokens of love, of friendship, or homage, and of thanks for hospitality. Our houses are adorned with gardens, our cities with parks, our nations with national preserves. The first thing a woman does to make a room livable is to place a plant in it or a vase of fresh cut flowers. Most men, if pressed, might describe paradise, whether in heaven or on earth, as a garden filled with luxuriant orchids, uncut, frequented by a nymph or two.
Aristotle's dogma that plants have souls but no sensation lasted through the Middle Ages and into the eighteenth century, when Carl von Linne, grandfather of modern botany, declared that plants differ from animals and humans only in their lack of movement, a conceit which was shot down by the great nineteenth-century botanist Charles Darwin, who proved that every tendril has its power of independent movement. As Darwin put it, plants "acquire and display this power only when it is of some advantage to them."
At the beginning of the twentieth century a gifted Viennese biologist with the Gallic name of Raoul France put forth the idea, shocking to contemporary natural philosophers, that plants move their bodies as freely, easily, and gracefully as the most skilled animal or human, and that the only reason we don't appreciate the fact is that plants do so at a much slower pace than humans.
The roots of plants, said France, burrow inquiringly into the earth, the buds and twigs swing in definite circles, the leaves and blossoms bend and shiver with change, the tendrils circle questingly and reach out with ghostly arms to feel their surroundings. Man, said France, merely thinks plants motionless and feelingless because he will not take the time to watch them.
Poets and philosophers such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Rudolf Steiner, who took the trouble to watch plants, discovered that they grow in opposite directions, partly burrowing into the ground as if attracted by gravity, partly shooting up into the air as if pulled by some form of antigravity, or levity.
Wormlike rootlets, which Darwin likened to a brain, burrow constantly downward with thin white threads, crowding themselves firmly into the soil, tasting it as they go. Small hollow chambers in which a ball of starch can rattle indicate to the root tips the direction of the pull of gravity.
When the earth is dry, the roots turn toward moister ground, finding their way into buried pipes, stretching, as in the case of the lowly alfalfa plant, as far as forty feet, developing an energy that can bore through concrete. No one has yet counted the roots of a tree, but a study of a single rye plant indicates a total of over 13 million rootlets with a combined length of 380 miles. On these rootlets of a rye plant are fine root hairs estimated to number some 14 billion with a total length of 6,600 miles, almost the distance from pole to pole.
As the special burrowing cells are worn out by contact with stones, pebbles, and large grains of sand, they are rapidly replaced, but when they reach a source of nourishment they die and are replaced by cells designed to dissolve mineral salts and collect the resulting elements. This basic nourishment is passed from cell to cell up through the plant, which constitutes a single unit of protoplasm, a watery or gelatinous substance considered the basis of physical life.
The root is thus a waterpump, with water acting as a universal solvent, raising elements from root to leaf, evaporating and falling back to earth to act once more as the medium for this chain of life. The leaves of an ordinary sunflower will transpire in a day as much water as a man perspires. On a hot day a single birch can absorb as much as four hundred quarts, exuding cooling moisture through its leaves.
No plant, says France, is without movement; all growth is a series of movements; plants are constantly preoccupied with bending, turning and quivering. He describes a summer day with thousands of polyplike arms reaching from a peaceful arbor, trembling, quivering in their eagerness for new support for the heavy stalk that grows behind them. When the tendril, which sweeps a full circle in sixty-seven minutes, finds a perch, within twenty seconds it starts to curve around the object, and within the hour has wound itself so firmly it is hard to tear away. The tendril then curls itself like a corkscrew and in so doing raises the vine to itself.
A climbing plant which needs
a prop will creep toward the nearest support. Should this be shifted, the
vine, within a few hours, will
change its course into the new direction. Can the plant see the pole? Does it sense it in some unfathomed way? If a plant is growing between obstructions and cannot see a potential support it will unerringly grow toward a hidden support, avoiding the area where none exists~
Plants, says France, are capable of intent: they can stretch toward, or seek out, what they want in ways as mysterious as the most fantastic creations of romance.
Far from existing inertly, the inhabitants of the pasture or what the ancient Hellenes called botane-appear to be able to perceive and to react to what is happening in their environment at a level of sophistication far surpassing that of humans.
The sundew plant will grasp at a fly with infallible accuracy, moving in just the right direction toward where the prey is to be found. Some parasitical plants can recognize the slightest trace of the odor of their victim, and will overcome all obstacles to crawl in its direction.
Plants seem to know which ants will steal their nectar, closing when these ants are about, opening only when there is enough dew on their stems to keep the ants from climbing. The more sophisticated acacia actually enlists the protective services of certain ants which it rewards with nectar in return for the ants' protection against other insects and herbivorous mammals.
Language: English / French
Color: Color (Metrocolor)
Sound Mix: Dolby
It originally appeared in theatres in the USA for about two weeks (and then only in "artsy" theatres), and reappeared once for a week several years later. It is not currently available on video. The story is a documentary of research that shows fairly conclusively that plants are actually aware of what goes on around them, even miles away.
A seed's a star
A seed's a star's a seed
A star's a seed
A star's a seed's a star
And some believe antennas
are their leaves
That spans beyond our galaxy
They've been, they are and probably will be