Here is the next Nature miniseries: "The Secret Lives of Plants". Since we are in the middle of the growing season, it's time to take a close look at plants and some of the amazing things they do, the hidden battles they're engaged in, and the tactics they use to survive. No shame in anthropomorphizing, it's the best way to make people take note. So even if you've lived somewhere for a while, maybe there are some secrets that you haven't uncovered yet!
Part 2, Secret Lives of Plants. This isn't a flower... it's hundreds of flowers masquerading as a single giant, gorgeous blossom. Organizing all its tiny flowers into a bigger target for pollinators has made our native annual sunflower a hugely successful plant throughout the western U.S-- so successful that most states consider it a weed. Pretty smart for something that doesn't even have a central nervous system.
Part 3 in "Plant Secrets" miniseries: It's all about light when it comes to quaking aspen. How to get more of it, how to make the most of it... because the hardest thing about being an aspen is getting enough photosynthesis time in. Where they live, leaf-destroying frosts keep the growing season short, and dark conifers threaten to shade them out. So their secret strategies include off-season photosynthesis through their bark, quivering outer leaves that let light reach their inner leaves, and a clonal lifestyle which lets them rise up to the light once again after their rival conifers have been driven off.
Part 4 in "Secret Life of Plants". No, it's not an alien life form, it's a flowering woodland pinedrops which grows in the West and Northeast, and in this case, at the foot of a towering ponderosa pine in California. Unlike its cousins in the Heath family, this species has pretty much done away with its chlorophyll, opting to get its food from the roots of coniferous trees. But instead of tapping in directly, it extorts food from a fungus which has struck up a deep co-dependency with the tree. The fungus swaps minerals and water with the tree for food, and the pinedrops siphons off some of this food... makes me wonder what the pinedrops has on the fungus? There could be similar situations going on in your own backyard!
Part 5 in “Secret Lives of Plants” You’re missing out on so much on your mountain hike if you just know the names of plants... what if you knew a bit about their secret lives too?
Wouldn’t that be more fun?
Well, the plants probably know about them, but they are secrets to us. I'm talking about the wondrous and little known characteristics, strategies and inner workings of plants. Remembering high school or college biology, if you were like me, every now and then you would have been roused from teenage torpor for a moment of true amazement. It would come when the teacher described some perfect little molecular mechanism within a cell, or a species that had some awesome capability, or a complex ecosystem that achieved balance. The revelation was always that Nature was infinitely artful and complex, and that was comforting to me. So cut to being a grownup, when life gets repetitive, complicated, and ruled by convention. We drive and walk by masses of greenery daily, giving them little thought. But there are miracles of evolution in every sunflower, dandelion and marigold that represent a sea change in pollination strategies. Trees we hardly notice are engaged in long-term silent struggles with one another and the elements. If we looked closely at them, we'd see how they've armed themselves for these battles. There are a bevy of hangers-on, parasites, best buds, and ne'er-do-wells out there in the plant world that make a living following these strategies.
And then there is this example--monument plant, green gentian, tower plant--call it what you will. What possible advantage does it gain by spending the vast majority of its 20-80 year life hunkered down as a nondescript rosette, then erupt with a pillar of flowers, only to die that very same year? That's a secret only the green gentian knows. And one that enlivens my everyday life with a tingle of wonder, if I stop to think about it.