Monday, March 19, 2012

Intelligence of Plants.

Grapevine tendril- Wikimedia
We tend to think of intelligence as being limited to animals, creating a hierarchy with humans at the top.  Allowing the exceptions of some examples from political debates and selected aspects of pop culture, human's standing at the top of the pyramid seems reasonable.  But what about plants?

I would suggest you begin with this Wimp.com video by Professor Stefano Mancuso from Florence, Italy.  It is 14 minutes long (if you skip the cartoon at the end).  It is a very interesting introduction to his concept of the intelligence of plants.  Plants are able to move, grow in specific directions, and communicate with animals.  They even create electrical action potentials, as do animal nerve cells.

The grapevine pictured here was able to extend a tendril upward and find a structure to cling on to, a tendril that has no purpose except support.  Even if it reached out randomly, it had to sense that this was something to cling to, then begin to wrap around the structure.  Amazing when you stop to think about it.

Although technology has been developed to "let your plants talk to you," it is based on sensors that measure the moisture of the soil.  The plants actually have nothing to do with it, even though the Scotch moss plant in this example "speaks" with a Scottish burr.

Now it seems unlikely that any current plant will write a blog, make a political speech or (heaven forbid!) create a reality TV show, but Professor Mancuso's International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology is studying some interesting plant actions.
"In addition to studies on the effects of music on vineyards, the center's researchers have also published papers on gravity sensing, plant synapses and long-distance signal transmission in trees. One important offshoot of the research activity is an international symposium on plant neurobiology. Next year's meeting will be held in Japan." Wired.com
I don't know where to draw the line between chemical reactions that evolved over millions of years and "intelligence", whatever that is.  If you are now as curious as I was, you can delve further into the subject in Wikipedia  and read more about Professor Mancuso's studies at Wired.com.  I think you will find it interesting at the least and without the threat of brain damage from an hour of watching Jersey Shore.

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