Plants are good for us. Of the species we’ve discovered so far, 31,000 can be used for something other than photosynthesis and 18,000 of those have practical, medical applications. Stefano Mancuso unfurls the complex systems behind all the greenery in The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior (Atria 2018).
Humans have modeled some of their greatest achievements after plant systems. If you draw a map of the internet on a whiteboard, it might look something like a sprawling root system, connecting information with a mess of circuits and wires. The internet processes information like nuggets of soil. It makes use out of changes to its environment. Plants have evolved with the same basic functionality. They adapt to rapid changes to the weather, all the while monitoring 15 different physical and chemical properties of the soil.
Fifty percent of most plants exist below the soil. And there’s a lot more going on down there than we thought. Plants can learn to respond to stress more effectively, say, after surviving a drought. But before they can learn to adapt, they must store the information. Then they must remember it, and they do—with the help of their root systems.
Bottom line: Plants set their roots way before we built the internet. Respect. Check out The Revolutionary Genius of Plants for more surprisingly practical applications of the natural world.
Matt is an award-winning independent journalist. His reporting has been featured in USA Today, The Washington Post, HuffPost, Vox, PBS, and NPR, among others.