Thinking Plants

Can plants think? Would you believe… yes?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Consider barberry, a European shrub. It produces bean-sized fruits, each with one or two seeds. Its biggest threat is a tiny fruit fly. The fly injects its eggs into one of the fruit’s seeds. Any larvae that hatch eat the seed, limiting the plant’s ability to reproduce.

German ecologist Katrin Meyer studied local barberries to see how they might manage this pest. And? The plants fought back! How? They swiftly aborted seeds that contained eggs. That killed the eggs, which killed any potential larvae. Brilliant! But wait—The behavior was selective. Two seeds in a berry? The one with fly eggs was sacrificed to save its healthy twin. But when the infected seed was solo? Why kill it? Larvae might not hatch, or might die on their own, allowing the seed to survive. In other words, the plant doesn’t just abort all infected seeds. Rather, it assesses each case and chooses the action that maximizes the chances of a positive outcome.

In animals that’s called reasoning!

In musical theater, it’s called… Little Shop of Horrors. Right!