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.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
Oct 9, 2015
A manhole begins to spill over with floodwaters as high tide approaches at Dorchester Road at Sawmill Branch Canal in Summerville, S.C., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015.  (AP)

Russia goes big in Syria. The US hits a hospital in Kunduz. Hillary flips on the TPP. An epic flood in South Carolina. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Oct 9, 2015
In this Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015, photo, Devlin D'Zmura, a tending news manager at DraftKings, a daily fantasy sports company, works on his laptop at the company's offices in Boston. (AP)

Fantasy football scandal, and the wild, booming betting world of fantasy sports.

Oct 8, 2015
US singer Patti Smith performs during the Way Out West music festival in Gothenburg, Sweden, Saturday, Aug.15, 2015.  (AP)

Iconic rocker, poet of punk, and National Book Award-winning author Patti Smith joins us to talk about her new memoir, “M Train”.

Oct 8, 2015
In this Aug. 2, 2012 file photo, local newspapers show stories about the controversial strategy to bail the government out of a financial hole, at a restaurant along Seven Mile Beach on the outskirts of George Town on the Cayman Islands. The Cayman Islands have lost some of their allure by abruptly proposing what amounts to an income tax on expatriate workers who have helped build the territory into one of the most famous or, for some people, notorious offshore banking centers that have tax advantages for foreign investment operations. (AP)

Trillions of dollars are now stashed in protected tax havens around the world, leaving societies’ bills to those at home. We’ll dig in.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Rep. Daniel Webster: ‘I’m Gonna Sell This Message’
Tuesday, Oct 6, 2015

When House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced his retirement and resignation from his position last month, it surprised both his Party and the Washington political establishment.

More »
Our Week In The Web: October 2, 2015
Friday, Oct 2, 2015

We say hello again to our email address (since so many of you did this week) and goodbye to the Log Lady.

More »
Interview With Sen. Bernie Sanders: ‘Count Me As A Radical’
Thursday, Oct 1, 2015

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is making waves in the 2016 Presidential race, and he joined us today from the US Capitol to explain how his campaign message is connecting with voters around the country.

More »