Archive for July, 2013

Learning Plant Learning – Ariel Novoplansky


I was lucky enough to be invited to talk about The Plant Intelligence Project at the first North American Plant Signaling and Behavior conference in Vancouver last week. At the three-day conference we heard amazing presentations of findings that plants respond to the sound of caterpillars chewing leaves; that mimosa pudica plants can learn not to shut when it isn’t necessary if appropriately taught; and of work to develop robots that mimic plant roots.

Can plants learn from past experiences?

One of the presenters, Ariel Novoplansky, is a leading researcher in this area of inquiry into plant behavior. Novoplansky takes great pains to try to communicate his group’s work to the wider public. Check out his TEDx Talk on plants’ eavesdropping and learning here.


At the Plant Signaling and Behaviour Conference – Vancouver


Today I’m introducing the Plant Intelligence Project to this like-minded group of scientists at their first North American conference. Got to meet Michael Pollan, and hear Michael Marder, Stephano Mancuso and others … more news to come! Thank you Susan Murch for inviting my participation!

Do Dying Trees Lead to More Human Deaths?


Folks at the U.S. Forest Service have found an associative, though not direct, causal link between the death of trees and the death of humans. I wonder if they would have gotten funded for asking directly about such a link. It seemed they stumbled on the finding when researching trees and urban property values.

Aspen Public Radio broke the story last month and PBS picked it up. The takeaway?

“Maybe trees are not only essential for the natural environment but just as essential for our well-being. That’s the message for public health officials.”

But some PBS viewers were not convinced. So PBS did a follow-up with research forester Geoffrey Donovan, in which Donovan explains their results in more detail.

“I appreciate the questioner’s skepticism,” Donovan writes at one point. “Human health is indeed an enormously complex thing, it would seem impossible to pin down the effect of something like trees. This is why the spread of the emerald ash borer was such a unique opportunity.”