The Web of Life (86) Plants Synopsis


▫ The chemical energy rumbling in rocks is a leftover from Earth’s energetic origin. Though this energy sustains some microbes, life would have been severely limited had it been restricted to the geological produce of geysers and hydrothermal vents.

By harnessing the inexhaustible energy supply of sunlight, photosynthesis vastly expanded the possibilities for life to evolve. Beyond being a power plant for oceanic life, plants parlayed photosynthesis to establish themselves on land and become the preeminent life there.

▫ Plants are hardy. Plants have persisted, relatively unchanged, across extinction events that radically altered the mix of animal life. When climactic events affected plant populations, they were always quick to make a comeback; such is their savvy adaptability.

▫ Plants manage their own microbiome, which is carefully cultivated. A subset of bacterial and fungal species in the nearby soil cluster about roots; an even smaller subset is allowed inside as a merit reward for productive service.

The same stresses that affect plants affect the microbes that live among them. Microbes help plants adapt more quickly than they could otherwise.

▫ Plant immune systems are more sophisticated than those of animals. Unlike animals, plants are actively aware of an infection at the molecular level, and consciously decide how to deal with it.

▫ Plants are highly intelligent. Plants are self-aware. Plants learn. Plants possess long-term memory. Unlike animals, all plant functions and behaviors are under conscious control.

A plant acquires the collective wisdom of its roots and combines it with the knowledge learned aboveground by branches, leaves, and flowers. From this, a plant fully appreciates its situation in life, and creates social interactions which favor its prosperity.

Plant epigenomes provide an incredibly extensive database of knowledge about numerous life forms, including animals. Unlike animals, plants can consciously tap into and use this knowledge acquired by evolution.

Plants make rational reward/risk decisions, incorporating a richer set of information than animals employ in making judgments.

▫ Plant behaviors comprise chemical concoctions and changing phenotype as well as movements.

Plants have a variety of strategies to optimize health, growth, and propagation.

Plants have a diverse variety of micromanagement techniques to cope with various stresses, including too little or too much water, temperature extremes, and toxic pollution. Plants learn from episodes of stress to better manage future responses.

Most of plants’ abilities to alter cellular chemical compositions and dynamics to deal with various stresses are little understood.

▫ Metabolites are the chemical products of plant metabolism. Primary metabolites are those essential for a plant to live. Secondary metabolites are specialties produced for defensive purposes or as chemical propaganda (such as putting caffeine in nectar to enhance pollinators’ memories).

Many secondary metabolites are poisonous, targeted at specific species. The production of secondary metabolites is timed to correspond with specific need, including accounting for the activities of the pests that prey upon plants.

Secondary metabolites have been the primary source of medicine for humans throughout history.

▫ Plants are adroit chemists, and sheer wizards at understanding the intimate chemistries of other life forms.

Some secondary metabolites demonstrate plants as having intimate knowledge of the life cycle of their predators at the cellular level, such as being able to retard development. Other metabolites change animals’ behaviors. Some act as chemical cries for help to a predator of the pest preying on the plant.

Unlike animals, which rely upon brute force to eradicate viruses, plants can rob invading viruses of their ability to hijack plant cells for replication by knowing exactly what it takes to silence a virus’ RNA. How plants possess such fantastic hidden information to outwit an infection or fend off predation is not known.

▫ Plants are social: recognizing their relatives and adjusting their growth patterns to accommodate kin, while vigorously competing against unrelated vegetation.

Plants have a most varied sociality, including cooperative relationships with bacteria, fungi, insects, birds, and with each other. They also have various stratagems for dealing with pests.

Ever molecularly verbose, plants communicate with one another and with other species. Various advertisements by plants are employed to foster growth and health, eliminate rivals, and attract assistance, such as for pollination, and help killing parasites.

▫ Microbes and plants share the ability to selectively alter their genetic composition, and are thus able to evolve rapidly, and intelligently adapt to changing environmental conditions. It is this coherent flexibility that renders plants the foundations of the world’s terrestrial biosystems, upon which all other land life forms ultimately rely.

Plants’ effect on the planet created conditions favorable for all other macroscopic life. Plants made animals possible. Loss of plant life can only be a harbinger for the fate of animals.