Monday, July 7, 2014

Plants in the City: Plants respond to vibrators

Recently there's been a lot of noise in the popular press about plants responding to the sounds of leaf-chewing insects.

Even the New York Times published an article entitled "Noisy Predators Put Plants on Alert, Study Finds".

Such a headline calls into the question the validity of a previous blog here, What a Plant Hears and Chapter 4 of WHAT A PLANT KNOWS where I concluded "in lieu of any hard data to the contrary, we must conclude for now that plants are deaf".

So what's going on here? Is there finally hard data indicating that plants hear?

To really answer this question, one has to read the primary literature, and that is the research paper, "Plants respond to leaf vibrations caused by insect herbivore chewing, that was published recently in Oecologia.

Let's briefly read how the experiment was carried out: 
The green vibrator attached under the leaf
Chewing vibrations were recorded with laser Doppler vibrometry. To experimentally reproduce the caterpillar feeding vibrations, we used piezoelectric actuators supported under a leaf and attached to the leaf using accelerometer mounting wax." (see picture on right)
In other words, the scientists recorded the vibrations caused by chewing, and then reproduced these vibration with a vibrator attached to the leaf. These physical vibration elicited a chemical response in the plant similar to the chemical response to insect chewing.  This is a very interesting finding. But what it shows is the plants respond to physical vibrations induced by being attached to a microvibrator.

So if the popular press insists on bombastic news items, perhaps it would be better to say: "Scientists Find That Plants are Similar to Samantha - They Respond to Vibrators"

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Intelligent Plants for Intelligent Gardens

First there were courses for maximizing your child's IQ. Then came workshops for utilizing emotional intelligence. Now the latest fad sweeping New York and California is Intelligent Gardens - Gardens with a high VQ.

"People are no longer satisfied with a standard run of the mill  garden with dull plants. My customers demand that ionly the most intelligent plants populate their gardens" said Al Binet, the founder of IP - Intelligent Plants, Inc.

"We've developed a new scale called the Vegetal Quotient, or VQ for short, which measures the intelligence of individual plants on a scale of 50 - 150. A plant with a VQ of 150 would be considered highly intelligent (and thus highly sought after by our customers) while a plant with a VQ of 50 would not be found in a an advanced garden."

The VQ considers a number of independent parameters such as the time needed for a plant to differentiate
Dionaea muscipula, has a high VQ due
to its ability to count, remember, and move.
between wave lengths of light, its sensitivity to tactile stimulation, and its ability to communicate with its neighbors. A highly intelligent plant would also have the ability to communicate not only with neighboring plants, but with other species as well, such as insects.

"I've invested hundred's of thousands of dollars in classes for my children to make sure that they test high in academic, social and emotional intelligence. " says Raymond Cattell, "So of course I would want the surrounded only by the most intelligent plants. Mediocre and dim-witted plants have no place in my garden."