Tag Archives: Plants

How Plants Learn

Plants may lack brains and neural tissues but they do possess a sophisticated calcium-based signally network in their cells similar to animals’ memory processes, they write.
The researchers concede that they do not yet understand the biological basis for this learning mechanism, nevertheless their set of experiments has major implications – not least, it radically changes the way we perceive plants and the boundaries between plants and animals, including our definition of learning (and hence memory) as a property special to organisms with a nervous system function of a nervous system.

More here.

When we finally grock that everything is sentinent, everything is alive, everything is divine, we’re going to have to rethink how we harvest, slaughter, and eat everything.


And here’s some food for thought.

Monday Night PotPourri

*Here, via @gleamchaser on the Twitterinator is a great article about a common sense worldview that embodies (did you see what I did there?) a bit of thealogy, to wit, “All Acts of Love & Pleasure Are Rituals of the Goddess.” The article contrasts Dutch and American experiences of teen sexuality.

So, why do you think the Americans and the Dutch responded so differently to the sexual revolution?

A couple of pieces are important. One is that [the birth-control pill was] quickly disseminated in the Netherlands, starting in the ’70s; teen pregnancy started to drop. There wasn’t this association between teen sex and danger and lives ruined that we have in this country.

There’s also a cultural piece. Coming out of the sexual revolution, the Dutch really decoupled sex from marriage, but they didn’t decouple sex from love. If the first piece is that there weren’t these immediate associations of teen sex with danger, the second is that it remained anchored in the concept of steady relationships and young people being in love.

There’s a strong belief in the Netherlands that youth can be in love — boys as well as girls — that makes sex in many ways seem safer and more contained because it’s embedded in a relationship.

It seems terribly sad to me that we view teenage love as being about “just hormones” and teen boys as incapable of being in love — but then we turn around and bemoan this culture of “hooking up,” when we’ve basically given adolescents no space to actually have loving relationships.

I do think this is something that resonates with a lot of people. Every culture has those aspects of human [nature] they celebrate. And the U.S. celebrates individual development and freedom, so there isn’t a good language for talking about social cohesion, whether between two teenagers or whether as society as a whole.

One of the things I really emphasize is the need for a better cultural narrative for talking about relationships and love that isn’t just, Marriage is best. That is not appropriate for teens and we need to validate their connections and give guidance around that.

Instead, we tend to pathologize teen relationships as obsession, co-dependence, addiction.

I agree. It’s become more popular to talk about teaching healthy relationships but a lot of that is about avoiding unhealthy relationships. Of course, that’s important. But there’s lots of attention to dating violence and very little talk about what it feels like to be in love. One of the things that always surprises people is that one of most popular Dutch sex education curricula is called ‘Long Live Love.’

For boys, our culture devalues their impulse to love. But research shows that in the U.S., boys are quite romantic. Other research finds that for girls, recognition of sexual desire and wishes is taboo, so they have fewer tools to assess what’s right for them. That makes things very difficult.

The cultural differences lead to different results. As the article notes:

Teen pregnancy rates are eight times higher in the U.S. than in Holland. Abortion rates are 20% higher. The American AIDS rate is three times greater than that of the Dutch

Of course, maybe I just like the article because it confirms my own prejudices, not the least of which is:

Can you explain the idea of gezelligheid and how it plays into relationships between Dutch parents and teens?

It literally means ‘cozy togetherness.’ . . . There’s a lot of intergenerational gezelligheid. The Dutch celebrate every birthday, whether 8 or 80, and you are expected to show up and enjoy it.

I’m a big fan of celebrating birthdays. Everyone deserves one day a year (my dad used to claim that he got a birthday week; that’s not a bad idea, either) devoted just to celebrating the fact that they were born. To celebrating that they got a shot at what Mary Oliver calls “one wild and precious life.”

*This morning, Landscape Guy emailed me this article about plant communication.

[Plants] do react to injury, fight to survive, act purposefully, enslave giants (through the likes of coffee, tobacco, opium), and gab endlessly among themselves.

Strawberry, bracken, clover, reeds, bamboo, ground elder and lots more all grow their own social networks — delicate runners (really horizontal stems) linking a grove of individuals. If a caterpillar chews on a white clover leaf, the message races through the colony, which ramps up its chemical weaponry. Stress a walnut tree and it will brew its own caustic aspirin and warn its relatives to do the same.

. . .

Since they can’t run after a mate, they go to phenomenal lengths to con animals into performing sex for them, using a vaudeville trunk full of costumes. For instance, some orchids disguise themselves as the sex organs of female bees so that male bees will try to mate with them and leave wearing pollen pantaloons. Since they can’t run from danger, they devise a pharmacopeia of poisons and an arsenal of simple weapons: hideous killers like strychnine and atropine; ghoulish blisterers like poison ivy and poison sumac; slashers like holly and thistle waving scalpel-sharp spines. Blackberries and roses wield belts of curved thorns. Each hair of a stinging nettle brandishes a tiny syringe full of formic acid and histamine to make us itch or run.

Just in case you’re tempted to rush home and cuddle your passionflower — resist the urge. Passionflowers release cyanide if their cell walls are broken by a biting insect or a fumbling human. Of course, because nature is often an arms race, leaf-eating caterpillars have evolved an immunity to cyanide. Not us, alas. People die every year from accidentally ingesting passionflower, daffodils, yew, autumn crocuses, monkshood, foxglove, oleander and the like. And one controversial theory about the Salem witch trials is that the whole shameful drama owes its origin to an especially wet winter when the rye crop was infected with ergot, an LSD-like hallucinogen that caused girls to act bewitched.

Devious and dangerous as plants can be, they adorn every facet of our lives, from courtship to burial. They fill our rooms with piquant scents, dazzling tableaus and gravity-defying aerial ballets as they unfold petals and climb toward the sun. Think of them as the original Cirque du Soleil. And many an African violet has given a human shrinking violet a much needed inter-kingdom friendship. But they do demand looking after. And we love our social networks. So I expect texting will sweep the plant world, showering us with polite thank-you’s and rude complaints. What’s next, a wisteria sexting every time it’s probed by a hummingbird? A bed of zinnias ranting as they go to seed?

I admit that I’d love to get texts from some of the plants I love. But, for now, I’ll have to settle for running my own roots down among theirs every evening and having our regular “chat.”

*This morning, driving to work alongside Spout Run, I was marveling (thanks to a recent insight from Landscape Guy) at trees that spend all Spring and Summer growing leaves, all in preparation for a two- or three-day display when they turn red, or gold, or orange, or purple, or, sometimes, all four at once. And then I had to laugh at my own desire to anthropomorphize. Do they, indeed, celebrate their Autumn splendor or do they, as we too often do, bemoan the chartreuse buds of their youth, ignoring how unique and amazing they get to be when they blaze out near the end? And where’s the lesson for me in that?

*Brava to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra which is devoting a season to works around the theme of Revolutionary Women. Too often, we recognize men as revolutionaries, while calling women who perform the same function “mad, shrill, maniacal.” This weekend, they’ll be doing Joan of Arc at the Stake If I didn’t have to work, I’d be there.

They’re also celebrating Harriet Tubman and Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman. The other day, G/Son saw a bumper sticker in the bakery parking lot that said, “Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History.” He sounded it out with his nascent reading skills and then said, “Nonna, why does it say that well-behaved women don’t make history?” “Well,” I said, “Do you want some hot chocolate? My explanation may take some time.”

I’d love to see major musical works based on Max Dashu’s Reclaimed Histories. On the lives of Emma Goldman, Margaret Sanger, Dorathea Dix, Dorothy Day. Who would you include in a celebration of Revolutionary Women?

Also, I am so there:

Picture found here