Decision-Making in Plants More Subtle Than in the White House


The New York Times has an astonishing piece today about plant intelligence. A plant called the sea rocket has been shown to be able recognize near relatives and will produce fewer nutrient-hogging roots near them. Another plant, a parasite called the dodder, sniffs the air like a dog, searching for the best possible victim, in whose direction it will then grow. Check out the video. Seriously, like a dog.

All this, and parrots that use language creatively, too. We are soon going to learn that every creature on this planet is so intelligent, we’re not going to be able to eat anything. The only moral choice will be, starve.


  1. I’m becoming slowly convinced that plants just LET us eat them so we will keep on growing them year after year. It’s Michael Pollan’s theory of edible plant selection, but on a much broader and possibly insidious scale…

  2. Ilex, you made me laugh. But I’m convinced that my oriental lilies are dosing me with something very sexy so I’ll keep spreading their genes around.

  3. In Tanzania one of the acacia trees, I learned, sends out pheromones when it’s attacked by browsing giraffes or other animals. The signals warn nearby acacias to pump bitter-tasting tannin into their leaves. As the giraffe moves to the next tree, the defenses are already up, and the giraffe gives up after a nibble or two. Tree communication and cooperation. Fascinating, isn’t it?

  4. I think it was in Michael Pollan’s “Second Nature” that I remember reading about “weeds” that resemble “desirable” plants somehow grow in close proximity to them. This fools the gardener into not pulling them. I remember being quite awestruck by this and have since noticed it in my own garden. Did I remember this correctly? (I loaned the book to a friend two years ago and still haven’t gotten it back.) How do they do this?

  5. A moral question. I like those. Michele does your ponder mean you think it is only moral to eat the stupid?

    How is it any different or less moral when we eat the intelligent?

    We must eat. To deny our own nature, to deny the way the nature of life is set up would, to me, be more immoral.

    When we respect and thank the life which sustains our own, the intelligence factor is irrelevant.

  6. Oh Christopher C, moral frailty is my middle name. I eat pork, even though pigs are reportedly intelligent. And I’ve always found that birds are super-smart, and I eat those, too. The stuff I’ve learned about the lowly octopus makes me sad for all ones I’ve consumed.

    I’d just prefer to eat the stupid, if possible. But it’s increasingly clear that it’s not.

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