Documentary: What Plants Talk About

Earlier this summer I posted a review of a book called, What a Plant Knows, by Daniel Chamovitz. It’s a book that describes plant senses – senses that are similar to human senses (i.e. seeing, hearing, smelling, etc.). Plants are much more aware of their surroundings than we might initially think, and so I recommend this book to anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of plants and their “awareness”. However, I also understand that this can be an intimidating subject – especially for those who haven’t spent much time studying plants and their biology. Chamovitz wrote his book with the intention of making this subject accessible to everyone. Anyone with even a limited understanding of biology should be able to understand the basic concepts in Chamovitz’s book. However, the subject can still be challenging.

Luckily, a recent documentary by PBS explores similar concepts. It simplifies things even more – exploring the ways in which plants communicate with the world around them, even without having the organs we typically attribute to communication and awareness (i.e. brains, ears, eyes, etc.). The documentary is called What Plants Talk About. I watched it recently and was reminded of Chamovitz’s book. They fit together so well. If you have any interest in this subject at all, I recommend both. If all you are after is a simple introduction, watch the documentary. If the documentary intrigues you, read the book.

There is a lot more to learn about plants and their “awareness,” but these sources are a great start. Watch the documentary and/or read the book and then let me know what you think in the comments below. Meanwhile, we wait in anticipation of what science might discover next concerning this remarkable aspect of the plant kingdom.


Excerpt from Amanda Thomsen Interview

Plenty of books have been written about gardening and landscaping 101, but none are quite like Kiss My Aster by Amanda Thomsen. The title alone should clue you in that Thomsen’s approach is unique. Flipping through the pages it becomes more apparent. It’s a graphic novel. It’s a choose your own adventure book. There is a pink unicorn and a vampire reference, but there is also great information for those interested in gardening. Much of it is geared towards beginners, but seasoned gardeners will find it useful as well. This book is in a league of it’s own…so it’s certainly worth a look.

In the latest issue of Greenwoman Magazine, Sandra Knauf interviews Amanda Thomsen. It’s a lively conversation, in which Thomsen reveals how the book came about, among other things. What follows is an excerpt from that interview. Get your hands on a copy of the magazine for the full conversation.

Knauf: Who or what inspired you to become a gardener? A writer?

Thomsen: When I was little I wanted to do three things when I grew up: 1. Be a writer, 2. Recycle, and 3. Wear red lipstick. Happily, I have achieved these three goals. Although I always wanted to be a writer, I did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to make that happen growing up. No one pointed me in the right direction. I’ve taken a few writing classes, but overall nothing that was memorable. I have always been super creative and have just looked for ways to demonstrate that!

My parents were the prototypes for yuppies. For some reason, and I think it was my dad’s Indiana upbringing, they were SUPER into Crockett’s Victory Gardening on PBS and did, literally, everything he did. We have a 30′ x 50′ victory garden each summer and I just grew up in it. They had a greenhouse added to the house, canned up everything from applesauce to giardiniera. It was a delicious way to grow up, and I didn’t realize that EVERYBODY didn’t have that until I was, like, 20. Maybe older. I didn’t realize there were jobs in gardening and horticulture.

Knauf: You have this funny, sassy, sexy, free-spirited, curse-word-strewn, delightfully naughty blog for a few years, and you’re a landscaper, and suddenly you’re blogging for Horticulture magazine’s website, and now you blog for Fine Gardening. I don’t want to disrespect these fine publications, but, well, they can be at times just a bit, shall we say, dry. How did you get together with them?

Thomsen: Horticulture asked me to join this contest they were having for a blogger. I did and I won. It was hard on me to blog exclusively for them and not on my personal blog at all – not even about personal stuff – but that was the deal. Fine Gardening has been a great, laid back home for my more horty things to say. I leave the eff-bombs at the door and get my freak on over there and I’ve loved it. AND they’ve given me a chance to write articles, which is seriously one of my happiest achievements in life…

All these magazines KNOW that if they are going to survive, they have to get new, younger readers, and I’m happy as a salami at a mustard party to help do that for them.

Knauf: How did the idea for a book come about?

Thomsen: I was dreaming about how to make books more interactive when I thought of the idea. Originally it was going to be SO comprehensive that I thought I’d need help writing it. You know, a backyard bible of sorts. Then I got this wack-a-doo idea of having a hipster gardening book that was illustrated with, you know those terrible IKEA instructions with no words and very vague symbolism? I wanted to do it like that. Carleen Madigan at Storey literally found me in a dumpster and asked me if I had ideas for books. We met up in Boston while I was there speaking, and I just LOVED her. She was totally the midwife of this book. I literally wrote the whole book for her and if I could make her laugh then I was golden. I wrote the whole book, and then they found the illustrators, which completely adds everything.  The illustrations are way better than the writing!


Visit Amanda Thomsen’s blog:

Read the entire interview and more at Flora’s Forum.

Autumn Leaves

It’s October, so fall is in full force in the northern hemisphere. Days are shorter and temperatures are cooler, but one sure sign that fall is here is that the leaves on deciduous trees are changing colors. Every autumn, leaves that were once a familiar green turn brilliantly red, fiery orange, or vibrantly yellow. And then they fall to the ground leaving trees exposed – just trunks and branches  – skeletons of what they once were during warmer and brighter days.

But why?

Surprisingly enough, the colors seen in autumn are largely present in the leaves throughout their lives, but we don’t see them. We only see green. This is because chloroplasts (cell organelles responsible for carrying out photosynthesis) contain chlorophyll, one of three main pigments found in the cells of leaves throughout the growing season. Chlorophyll absorbs red and blue light and reflects green light. Because chloroplasts are so abundant in the cells of leaves, leaves look green.

But carotenoids are hanging around, too. The second of the three main pigments, carotenoids protect chlorophyll from oxidation and aid in photosynthesis. They reflect blue-green and blue light and appear yellow, however their population is considerably smaller compared to chlorophyll, so their yellow color is masked.

When day length decreases, the level of chlorophyll in plant cells diminishes. As a result, the yellow color of the carotenoids begins to show. Also, a layer of cells called the abscission layer forms between branches and petioles (i.e. leaf stems). This abscission layer is what eventually causes branches to drop their leaves. As the chlorophyll begins to die off and the abscission layer forms, anthocyanins (the third of the three main pigments found in plant cells) are synthesized. Anthocyanins absorb blue, blue-green, and green light and appear red.

With chlorophyll virtually absent (and photosynthesis brought to a halt) carotenoids and anthocyanins become the major pigments found in leaves, giving them the autumn colors we are accustomed to seeing. But here is where it gets tricky…

Fall leaf color is largely dependent on various environmental conditions, including temperature, amount of sunlight, and soil moisture. If autumn is warm and wet, chlorophyll may be slow to die, and anthocyanins may be slow to form. Chlorophyll drops off more readily when it is cool and dry, and anthocyanins synthesize more readily when days are sunny. Dry, sunny days followed by cool, dry nights are said to offer the most vibrant fall colors. Additionally, global climate change is now playing a role, so fall colors may start to appear earlier or later or last longer or shorter depending on the region.

Do you have a favorite place to view fall foliage? Add your comments below.


Cornus sericia – red-osier dogwood


Ribes aureum – golden current


Quercus palustris – pin oak


Fraxinus sp. – ash


Rhus sp. – sumac