WHAT A PLANT KNOWS by Daniel Chamovitz


A Field Guide to the Senses
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The science behind how a plant senses and adapts to its environment.

Director of the Manna Center for Plant Biosciences at Tel Aviv University, Chamovitz realized early in life that "the genetic difference between plants and animals is not as significant as [he] once believed.” Unlike animals, which can move to search for food, shelter or a mate, plants are confined to one spot. "Because of this,” writes the author, “plants have evolved complex sensory and regulatory systems that allow them to modulate their growth in response to ever-changing conditions." Through extensive research and scientific models, Chamovitz explains in accessible language how plants have somewhat human-like sensory responses to stimuli. Plants "see" by showing evidence of phototropism, the bending of a plant toward what is now known as blue light, and plant growth is affected by red and far-red light. When leaf-eating insects attack a tree, the affected tree emits volatile chemicals into the air. Through "smell," this effectively warns neighboring trees of a possible attack. Using a Venus fly trap as a model, Chamovitz proves plants feel specific kinds of "touch”—a fly trap will not shut when rain drops hit it, but only when two of its tiny hair-like projections are touched within seconds of each other. By comparing human senses to the abilities of plants to adapt to their surroundings, the author provides a fascinating and logical explanation of how plants survive despite the inability to move from one site to another.

Backed by new research on plant biology, this is an intriguing look at a plant's consciousness.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-374-28873-0
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2012


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