4 April 2012

CBC's Nature of Things: Smarty Plants

Smarty Plants: Uncovering the secret world of plant behaviour, March 22, 2012.
Link to full epidsode (45m)

A fascinating look at the secret world of plants by CBC's The Nature of Things

Is it possible that plants are smarter than we think?
They are among the world’s oldest and most successful organisms and represent some of the strangest and longest living life forms on the planet. Stunningly diverse, plants have served us in many critical ways, from providing food, shelter and clothing to life-saving medicine. And yet we know very little about them.

A luscious exploration of the natural world, Smarty Plants effortlessly integrates pioneering science with a light hearted look at how plants behave, revealing a world where plants are as busy, responsive and complex as we are.

From the stunning heights of Utah’s Great Basin Desert to the rainforests of Canada’s west coast, Smarty Plants follows lead scientist and ecologist JC Cahill as he treks the green world and discovers that plants are a lot more like animals than we ever imagined. The world he reveals is one where plants eavesdrop on each other, talk to their enemies, call in insect allies to fight those enemies, recognize their relatives and nurture their young. 

Sure, we’ve counted and classified plants. We’ve even unlocked the secrets of their photosynthesizing powers. But overall, it’s been far more interesting to study the animal world because animals move and demonstrate behavior, if not outright intelligence. Plants, on the other hand, just sit there.

Don’t they?

Not according to Cahill, who has been studying plants for more than two decades.

“Twenty years ago just uttering the words behavior and plants in the same sentence would have resulted in scientific excommunication!” Cahill insists. “And that’s because for a long time, I think, we were hung up on the fact that plants are sessile, they don’t move, or at least we don’t see them move. And because of who we are, I think we’ve always equated behavior, even intelligence, with movement.”

Fungal network (CBC/Merit Motion Pictures)
Exploding the myth of a passive plant world, this film uncovers the real “secret world” of plants and reveals a landscape pulsing with sex, movement, communication, and social interaction. This is a world where plants talk, forage, wage war and protect their kin; a world where plants behave a lot like us.

Featuring global locations, spectacular time-lapse photography and CGI, and new scientific discoveries, Smarty Plants uncovers a hidden world exposed through the work of Cahill and a team of globetrotting scientists. These experts include: Ian Baldwin (Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology); Consuelo De Moraes (Penn State); Mark Mescher (Penn State); Susan Dudley (McMaster University); Ray Callaway (University of Montana); Suzanne Simard (University of British Columbia).

Produced by Merit Motion Pictures and directed by Erna Buffie in association with the CBC Science and Natural History Documentary Unit.