For many gardeners, the reasons for gardening come down to stimulating and satisfying our own senses: the scent of a summer rose, the feel of a freshly mowed lawn under your toes, the sound of morning songbirds, the taste of a homegrown tomato, or the sight of the saturated color of the season’s first peony bloom.
But are our senses the only ones being stirred in the garden? According to a remarkable video and an equally remarkable book, the answer is “no.” Our senses, it seems, are in good company with the senses of our plants.
About a year ago, I discovered a Smithsonian Channel video, which is now available on YouTube. Although the video was educational, I could never figure out how to say what I wanted to say or how to use it in a way that would make sense. What I do know is that the video has remained in my brain and at the top of my post wish list.
See what I mean? Very cool stuff.
A few weeks ago, my father phoned me and told me to watch “CBS Sunday Morning,” and an interview with biologist/author Daniel Chamovitz. In easy-to-understand language, he explained that human senses are not the only ones stirring in the garden. In a sense, said Chamovitz, plants have their own “senses” that are not too different from our own — and it’s not nonsense. It’s science.
Chamovitz’s ideas are more deeply explored in his newly published What A Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses, a well-researched book that is informative, intelligent, educational, and very user friendly — a kind of Sense and Sense-ability for gardeners.
As a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University, Chamovitz was drawn to the idea of how plants use light — and his scientific questioning led to the discovery of a specific set of genes that enable a plant to determine if it’s in the light or in the dark. Much to his surprise, these genes are also a part of human DNA. The discovery began a lifetime of questions and research into the similarities between plants and humans.
The result is this book, which is as much a tribute to the wonders of plants as it is to the wonders of the scientific process.
Chamovitz devotes each chapter to a specific sense, with his words peeling away the mystery of why plants do what they do. To illustrate, Chamovitz recalls the work of earlier researchers and their discoveries, as well as the behavior of specific plants — such as Cuscuta pentagona. More commonly known as dodder, the plant is a parasitic vine without chlorophyll. In order to survive, it “smells” for a host plant and actively grows toward the source of the aroma.
Yes, this is that kind of book. It will make you sit up and say, “Wow!” It will make you ask questions. It will make you appreciate even more the wonder that you cultivate in your gardens.
I can hear you all saying, “If plant can do all this, what else can they do? Talk?” Well, yes, they can. Cue the video, also from the Smithsonian Channel.