Plant Camouflage

Fritillaria delavayi is a species of flowering lily which grows among shaly scree in southwest China. Called pinyin in Chinese, this plant has long been used in traditional medicine to treat coughs and lung congestion.

Pinyin in a population with high harvest pressure.

Pinyin can color itself to match its background, but only bothers to do so if the need arises. “The degree of background matching correlates with harvest pressure, with plants being more cryptic in heavily collected populations,” reports Chinese botanist Yang Niu. “Many plants use camouflage to hide from herbivores that may eat them. But here we see camouflage evolving in response to human collectors,” adds British botanist Martin Stevens.

Pinyin in a population not facing harvest pressure.

In order for a pinyin to camouflage itself, it must know the visual background surrounding it. This adaptive feat seems impossible for an organism lacking vision. One theory is that the plant captures the wavelengths of light reflected around it, correctly translates those into colors and the appearance of textures, and passes this information on to its seeds, which then sprout with camouflage. Any other method would be even more mystical.

The other thing a plant needs to know is that others in its community are being snatched, or for a plant to anticipate its own murder, and so – again – pass this premonition on to its seeds.

Both the expectation of danger and knowledge of effective camouflage indicate a force of fierce intelligence backing a plant’s play. This field of savvy is called coherence. Coherence is the universal impetus which constantly and instantaneously creates the illusion of a material world; a unified field which localizes to adaptively guide cells and organisms in their evolution.


Ishi Nobu, “The mechanics of existence,” (10 December 2019).

Yang Niu et al,Commercial harvesting has driven the evolution of camouflage in an alpine plant,” Current Biology (20 November 2020).

Plant evolves to become less visible to humans,” (20 November 2020).