Portrait of a botanist standing behind a table on which a book with pictures of plants lies.
In his left hand a lily of the valley, in the right hand a hatchet.
Top right the family crest.
Top left: QVID FLOS / + ÆTATIS: 25~ / Ao 1603. ~
(What Bloom / age: 25 ~ / Ao 1603. ~)
Book illustrations are clearly from The New Herbal of Leonhart Fuchs (1501 – 1566)
On the left-hand page: Arum maculatum L, also known as Cuckoo Pint, Jack in the Pulpit, Lords and Ladies, and Wake Robin
On the right-hand page: Convallaria majalis L, Lily of the Valley,
[a perennial plant that forms extensive colonies by spreading underground stems called rhizomes. New upright shoots are formed at the ends of stolens in summer, and these upright dormant stems are often called pips. Pips grow in the spring into new leafy shoots that still remain connected to the other shoots under ground]
How Plants Think
by Richard Mabey
When the much-missed neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote that “there is nothing alive which is not individual”, he meant nothing which is alive.
Discoveries about intricate cross-species communication in plants have opened a new frontier in botany, revealing that the plant kingdom has more than 20 different senses, and examples of what can only be described as vegetal intelligence.
Beans locate their poles by echolocation.
A Patagonian vine can change the colour and shape of its leaves to match those of the trees it is climbing over.
Mimosa, the “sensitive plant”, can learn which stimuli are worth curling its leaves against in defence and which are not – and retain this knowledge for 10 times longer than the memory span of bees.
Entire forests are linked by an underground “wood wide web” of fungal “roots” that transport and balance nutrient flows and carry signals about disease and drought throughout the network.
Traditionalists have derided attempts to describe problem-solving and learning as “intelligent” in organisms that lack a brain.
The philosopher Daniel Dennett, in a neat parry, has mocked such views as “cerebrocentrism”, and lamented the fact that we find it difficult (and maybe humiliating) to conceive of intelligence as existing in any form other than our own brain-and-neurone variety.
But however they are defined, these new findings validate Sacks’s belief in plants as individuals – active and adaptive agents.
Some of the last pieces he wrote were enthralled appreciations of what is provocatively called “plant neurobiology”.