I confess, I’m not one who talks to plants. Although I have a huge hosta seboldiana named Bob as well as an offset that I cleverly named Bob the Second, I don’t address them personally. Maybe that’s going to change. I was very intrigued reading a recent article in Audubon magazine by Nathan Ehrlich. Scientists have discovered that plants give off electrical impulses in response to threats. Polygraph expert and former CIA interrogation specialist Cleve Backster confirmed this when, on an impulse, he hooked up a tropical dracaena to a polygraph and threatened the plant with a flame. The dracaena displayed the same electrical signals that people do when they lie. From lettuce to bananas, the results were similar.
Biologists Baldwin and Schultz have published work suggesting that some plants can communicate through the air. When the researchers threatened poplars and maples they found that nearby trees, with no physical contact, released defensive chemicals that inhibit digestion, thus hindering predators’ ability to consume the trees leaves or bark.
Plants have many ways to defend themselves. One common way is by being poisonous or irritating. You can get severe eye burn if you get the toxic sap from a euphorbia in them. You just have to accidentally rub some sap near your eyes to trigger a reaction that will require a trip to Urgent Care. The pain can last for days and has been described as a very painful experience. Euphorbias are very deer resistant and drought tolerant and are being used more and more in gardens. Great plant that requires respect.
Many of us are growing milkweed (Asclepias) to attract monarch butterflies. The milky sap from this plant protects the monarch from being eaten and can cause the same painful burning of the eye. I read of a case where a gardener’s clothes brushed some stems while she was tending the garden. Later she wiped the sweat out of her eyes and didn’t realize she had also touched her pants. She ended up with cornea burn causing temporary blindness and had to take strong pain relievers and steroids to elevate the pain. Yikes.
One of my favorite classes when I attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo was Plant Taxonomy. On the surface the subject sounds a little dry but the professor was all about plant reproduction which is quite exciting and more varied than you think.
It’s fascinating to mark time with events in the botanic world. There’s even a word for it- Phenology. Websites like USA National Phenology Network offer lots of information on the subject. Visit http://www.usanpn.org/
Phenology is the study of plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal variations in climate. When do they occur each year? Phenology is a real science that has many applications. In farming and gardening, phenology is used chiefly for planting times and pest control. Certain plants give a cue, by blooming or leafing out, that it’s time for certain activities, such as sowing particular crops or insect emergence and pest control. Often the common denominator is the temperature.
Indicator plants are often used to look for a particular pest and manage it in its most vulnerable stages. They can also be used to time the planting of vegetables, apply fertilizer, prune and so on. Record your own observations to start a data base for our area.at https://budburst.org/ Another great site is National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service at https://attra.ncat.org/ Sites like these can also help you design orchards for pollination and ripening sequence, design for bee forage plantings, design perennial flower beds and wildflower plantings as well as plantings to attract beneficial insects and enhance natural biological control. How cool is that?
But back to plant reproduction. Mosses reproduce from male and female mosses which produce spores. Conifers produce two type of cones on the same tree. Wind blows the pollen to another cone which combine to make a baby conifer which lives in a seed inside the cone.
Then there are to most advanced plants – the flowering plants. Some flowering plants have both male and female flowers. They are monoecious meaning “single house”. Dioecious plants have male flowers on one plant and female flowers on another. Plants that rely on flowers for reproduction are very dependent on outside help such as insects and animals which is where we come in. Be a citizen scientist in your own backyard.