Archive for the ‘Critical Plant Studies in the Media’ Category

Rapey Plant Stories and the Challenge to Darwinian Ideas About Gender

2015 01 13 rapey plant Philodendron_martianum

I laughed when I first read that in late 18th-century Western Europe, people worried that studying botany, which focused the attention on all those plants fertilizing one another, was too racy a pursuit for proper young ladies. Now I think we have yet, even in the 21st century, to really grapple with how plant being challenges our basic assumptions about sexuality.

Do male plants rape females as a means of propagating the species? That’s the analogy that Dan Janzen used in 1977 when he applied Darwinian-based models of animal behaviour to plants.

Take a look at this thought-provoking article by Jeremy Yoder, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Plant Biology at the University of Minnesota, who writes about how scientific theories of sexual selection, themselves originally based in human analogy, have ended up reframing not only stories of animal and human sexuality but also our understanding of plant reproduction.

Thanks to Eric Michael Johnson for passing this along.

Marder: Is it ethical to eat plants?

2014 11 01 ethical eating marder

Michael Marder’s work on the philosophy of plant being necessarily raises the question of ethical eating. The Irish Times promotes Marder’s new book, The Philosopher’s Plant, and dips a toe into the question in a recent interview.

“… sentience as a criterion is insufficient, and the notion of respect is inevitable in any postulation of an ethical diet,” says Marder.

The Most Versatile Impressionist In the Forest

2014 10 17 Boquila Vine

The Boquila vine shape-shifts itself to look like the leaves of whatever plant it is entwined with.

“Gianoli noticed that the leaves on one particular shrub seemed to be growing from two very different stems—one much thinner than the other. He eventually realised that the thin stems actually belonged to a Boquila vine, whose leaves were exactly the same as the shrub’s. He walked on and found Boquila entwined around many different trees; in most cases, its leaves matched those of its host. It looked like a mimic, and one with many guises.”

“This vine seems to mimic many specific models, depending on its host—something we’ve previously only seen in animals.”

Can Plants Think?

2014 10 08

This video by AsapScience, which does amazing things with whiteboard marker, offers an easily consumable summary of most of the research on plant communication: ethylene signalling, odour mimicking, tannin production, fungal network communication (the Wood Wide Web). Even corn that can hear!

“If you define intelligence, or thought, as the ability to solve problems, interact with an environment, or even work in groups, then plants are incredibly smart.”

A good resource to introduce the breadth of plant communication to learners.

I am Groot: The Fantasy of the Renewable Body

2014 09 09 movie poster groot-guardians-of-the-galaxy

“Groot is a Flora Colossus from Planet X, the capital of the branch worlds. The Flora Colossi are tree-like beings whose language is almost impossible to understand due to the stiffness of their larynxes, causing their speech to sound like they are repeating the phrase “I am Groot”.” More on Groot from Wikipedia.

In the recent and hugely popular action movie Guardians of the Galaxy, Groot is a woody superhero played by Vin Diesel, able to lose limbs defending his human friends, seemingly without too much loss of power.

At salon.com, Sarah Todd argues that the movie “attempts to bridge the cognitive dissonance of loving nature without caring for it by making Groot practically invulnerable.” “Guardians” evade[s] any kind of reckoning with its own short-sighted environmental politics,” writes Todd. “If Groot can give and give and then grow right back, there’s no need to worry about asking too much from him.”

Dancing baby Groot here.

Vampire Plant ‘Sweet Talks’ to Victims While Sucking Out Vital Fluids

 

2014 08 24 vampire plant on sugar beet

Could predatory behaviour in plants engage in the same twisted emotional BS as human exploitation? One write-up of new research published in Science suggests that some manipulative whispering is going on when strangleweed gets in at the DNA/RNA level and “tells its victims how to grow.”

“At the same time, the parasite weed was also getting feedback on how things were going with the victim plant and somehow perhaps acted concerned, letting the Arabidopsis victim ‘know’ things such as ‘I feel your pain’ as creepy and unbelievable as that sounds.”

Strangleweed sounds like a real jerk.

Newsweek’s report on the same paper is a bit less provocative.

Here’s the actual Science paper. Enjoy!

#vherbage site launched!

2014 04 25 vherbage

This week, the students of CRWR260 at the University of British Columbia Okanagan and I launched our collaborative digital writing project, #vherbage! #vherbage is the second student-centred collaborative work coming out of the institutional practice side of The Plant Intelligence Project. #vherbage is a celebration of language, plant subjectivity, connectivity and dendricity!

Students took their inspiration from ecopoet angela rawlings’ digital project gibber in a number of ways: #vherbage, like  the Twitter poem #gibberese, is a collaboratively written ecopoem composed in real time on Twitter. The curated poem appears animated on the site. The project also sees students combining image, sound, animation and text to create their interdisciplinary texts. Further, groups of students read rawlings’ more theoretical thoughts on asemic writing to come up with their own ideas about how the semiotic signalling of plants helps us think about our own use of language.

Just like last year, creative writing students connected with plant science students in Dr. Susan Murch’s plant biochemistry class to share discussions on metaphor and creativity in science and to source texts for found poems. Congratulations to all the authors on a beautiful finished project. Read more about the project and its authors here.

 

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