What The Petunia Knows

We’ll look at the new science of what plants feel, smell, see – and remember.

Orchid (Galileo55/Flickr)

Orchid (Galileo55/Flickr)

We ooh and ahh over flowers, fields of green, begonias, sequoias, even the humble petunia.  But it’s easy to underestimate a plant.  My guest today says it’s no use playing them Mozart.  They’re deaf as can be.  But by a whole lot of other measures, plants are wide awake and really  paying attention.

They can see when you come near them.  Feel when they’re touched.  Smell what’s going on around them, and respond.  And they remember.  In their own way, not entirely different from humans, they know what’s going on.  Tobacco.  Cherry.  Willow.  Chrysanthemum.

This hour, On Point:  what a plant knows.

-Tom Ashbrook


Daniel Chamovitz,  director of the Manna Center for Plant Biosciences at Tel Aviv University. He’s the author of a new book, What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses. You can read an excerpt here.

From Tom’s Reading List

Wall Street Journal “Garden flowers have a sense of smell? I don’t think so. The vegetables growing in my backyard have an aversion to being touched? Surely not. Trees remember the weather? Now you are kidding. Daniel Chamovitz, the director of the Manna Centre for Plant Biosciences at Tel Aviv University, is kidding no one. He aims to shock: “Think about this: plants see you,” reads the opening line of “What a Plant Knows.””

NPR “Ewww, you say. (I am assuming you are pro-tomato). But how do we know the vine is “smelling” that tomato plant? Enter Dr. Consuelo De Moraes, a biologist at Penn State. With her colleagues, she put the dodder plant to the test.”

Video: Growing Plants

Check out this video of tomato and dodder plants.

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