Archive for March, 2013

Plant Intelligence Project featured on UBC Sustainability’s Homepage!

UBC Sustainability (Vancouver) has featured the Plant Intelligence Project and our CRWR 260 class! This week when you land on their homepage, we’re the top story.

Fascination of Plants Day: Sweet peppers in slabs of Forteco Profit

Nic SosefSweetpointGemaakt op :06-02-2004

An image to ponder (click to enlarge). From Wageningen University and Research Centre, the image is being used to promote Fascination of Plants Day, which will take place for the second time on May 18, 2013.

From the EPSO website: “The second international ‘Fascination of Plants Day’ will be launched under the umbrella of the European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO). The goal of this activity is to get as many people as possible around the world fascinated by plants and enthused about the importance of plant science for agriculture, in sustainably producing food, as well as for horticulture, forestry, and all of the non-food products such as paper, timber, chemicals, energy, and pharmaceuticals. The role of plants in environmental conservation will also be a key message.”

If you look closely, you’ll see the plants are growing in “substrate slabs” made of coconut husks by the company van der Knapp. The clearly visible brand names of the slabs are Forteco Profit. The plants are sweet capsicum (i.e. sweet bell peppers).

Here are a few more images from the Fascination of Plants Day website:

Fasc of Plant - Dee-Rawsthorne-collection-of-mutant-brachypodium-plants-JIC Fasc of Plants - Dee-Rawsthorne-Aqualegia-seed

Window boxes Chile (c) Zoe Popper

Window boxes Chile (c) Zoe Popper

Pflanzen im Mittelalter and Portal der Pflanzen des Mittelalters

umschlag_pflanzen im mittelalter

Thanks, Mark Vessey, scholar extraordinaire of classical and Christian traditions in European literature, for pointing me to this recently published book, Die Pflanzen im Mittelalter (Squatriti), by German literature scholar Helmut Birkhan: the title means roughly “Medieval Plants.”

Here’s what Paolo Squatriti had to say to the Medieval Review about the book: “Die Pflanzen im Mittelalter was probably not conceived as a book to be read in the traditional manner, beginning at the beginning and ending with the conclusion, for it is a (modern) herbal and, like older herbals, is designed foremost for ready reference and occasional consultation, using the compendious index of species (293-310). As a book to be dipped into, it is excellent, consistently delivering data of great interest along with the author’s acute observations on medieval plant lore.”

Looking for a bit of background on the book led me to The Medieval Plant Survey, “a web portal for interdisciplinary and international research of medieval plants and their lore.” The site is like the medieval German doppelganger to our anglo-centred yet extra-linguistically oriented Plant Intelligence Project!

The Medieval Plant survey looks to bring together plant lore of interest to botanists, pharmacists, medievalists, herbalists and anthropologists. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as though there has been any activity since last September. I’ll put the Medieval Plant Survey in the links and keep checking back in.

Plants Have a Social Life, Too

baisplants - from plants have social life too

The Plant Intelligence Project notices that the words “social” and “sociality” are now words being used to describe certain behaviour in plants.

One of the landmark papers in Plant Behaviour comes from Canadian biologist Susan Dudley. “When Dudley was in school in the 1980s, the very idea of plant sociality was practically taboo among scientists.”

Her groundbreaking work in Kin Recognition in an Annual Plants is referenced in this 2009 article in Wired that brings together a few papers to discuss observations that plants recognize and respond the presence of family members.

The Oxford English Dictionary has an entry for “social” as pertains to plants that dates back to 1764:

 c. Bot. Of plants: growing in a wild state in clumps, patches or masses with other members of the same species, typically so as to cover a large area.

1674   W. Bates Harmony Divine Attrib. viii. 152   Resemblance is the common Principle of Union in Nature: Social Plants thrive best when near together: Sensitive Creatures associate with those of their kind.
1811   J. Black tr. A. von Humboldt Polit. Ess. New Spain II. 455   With the exception of a few gigantic arundinaceous which are social plants, the gramina appear in general infinitely rarer in the torrid zone than in the temperate zone.
1855   A. Pratt Flowering Plants & Ferns Great Brit. III. 268   One of the plants which the botanist terms social because never found growing singly, but always in numbers.


The corresponding use of the word “social” as pertains to humans, according to the OED, is one that emphasizes the need to live in community:

 a. Of a human being: living or disposed to live in groups or communities; naturally inclined to be in the company of others. Also of a person’s nature: characterized by a need to live in groups or communities.


Uses of the word “social” that emphasize friendly interaction, cooperation and communication are generally reserved for humans (too many to quote here – check out the OED entry on social).

The interesting shift from a cultural studies perspective is for an interactive, cooperative and sometimes exclusive sociality to be granted to plant life.

1874   C. Hodge What is Darwinism? 39   He teaches that man’s moral nature has been evolved by slow degrees from the social instincts common to many animals.

Without the teleological assumption that all life proceeds toward the perfection of instinct into the sociality and morality of humans, “social instincts” and “moral nature” become the terrain of all life. You could then argue that survival of the fittest is the only morality, or you could interpret the same democracy of instinct and morality to mean that the idea of interspecies cooperation is “moral nature” itself.

Swiss Fucking Chard

swisschard nutritional motherfucker tumblr_mjl3p5VkRK1r4qrdyo3_1280

I could write a short essay on the literary shit behind why this works. Maybe when my defense is done I will! See more of these b*tchin pro-veggie images at thugkitchen.com

The Secret Life of Plants (A Cento) by Linda Russo

Russo - Cento - Secretlifeofplants

appeared in Horse Less Review (10, winter/spring 2012)
horselesspress.com/horse-less-review/

Poet Linda Russo from Washington State, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at both the Convergence on Poetics in Bothell, WA and the conference on ecopoetics at Berkeley this year, shared this great poem with the PIP.

It shouts back to The Secret Life of Plants, and forward, in its reference to “redistributed chaos” to algorithmic botany and The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants, both books that would be in the Plant Intelligence Project’s canon, if such a canon existed.

It’s from her current ms-in-progress. Thanks Linda!

The Smarty Plants Episode

Smarty Plants - The feeling is mutual - image

This post reaches back to a year or so ago to grab this piece for the PIP archive.

I think plant intelligence getting its own Nature of Things episode was a big deal: a moment of visibility in the popular imaginary that suggests the timeliness of the question. David Suzuki says!

‘“Twenty years ago just uttering the words behavior and plants in the same sentence would have resulted in scientific excommunication … And that’s because for a long time, I think, we were hung up on the fact that plants are sessile, they don’t move, or at least we don’t see them move. And because of who we are, I think we’ve always equated behavior, even intelligence, with movement,”’ says ecologist JC Cahill.

Right on, Dr. Cahill. UBC forestry prof Suzanne Simard was also involved in this episode. Represent!

As you know, I’m more interested in what we can rethink about intelligence in ourselves once we look at the plants. Oh, the humanist bias. But onward.