Firmly Planted : Studying plant behaviour

Books copulate, plants talk.

I love David Suzuki almost as much as I love what he says and how he says its. His flagship show The Nature of Things is so frightfully informative.  His voice so soothingly Canadian. His foundation so socially responsible in its mission.

David Suzuki, TIME Magazine’s “Hero of the Environment”

But the long-running program–now in its 50th year on the air– is also educational, opening up our imagination and ideas. One show in particular aired on the CBC weeks ago. It explained what we’ve always suspected: Plants can communicate and do things like other animals (see promo).


“Smarty Plants: Uncovering the secret world of plant behaviour” was directed by documentary filmmaker Erna Buffie.  It follows JC Cahill, an ecologist and scientist set to show us the complex but familiar behaviour among diverse plants in places across the globe. We’re talking self-preservation and even plant manipulation in these climate-changing times.  The footage is stunning in its robust time-lapse photography and computer-generated images (CGI).  As the title suggests, “Smarty Plants” presents a light-hearted approach; but what it reveals is amazing. The discoveries easily shift our stagnant ideas of plant life.

So much so there are discussions raised about a moral reassessment of eating plant organisms. I kid you not. Research Professor of Philosophy and writer Michael Marder wrote in the New York Times about this very topic, saying:

“When it comes to a plant, it turns out to be not only a what but also a who — an agent in its milieu, with its own intrinsic value or version of the good. Inquiring into justifications for consuming vegetal beings thus reconceived, we reach one of the final frontiers of dietary ethics.”

– Michael Marder,“If Peas Can Talk Should We Eat Them?” New York Times, April 2012.

Yes, my thoughts exactly: I too had to read his article slowly just to understand. Who writes like that? I’m not being critical–more like, Who writes like that? Who thinks like that? Cahill and Marder do. It  starts with a question, a type of “imagine-that” query that opens us to another persuasion of thought, another idea about  the life forces surrounding us. I can only speak for myself when I say something as invisible as a house plant or  as majestic as a maple tree makes me reconsider the environment we share. There’s no such thing as a stupid question; not when fertile  pondering can deepen our discoveries and make us stretch a little further.


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