On a similar note, does anyone remember the story/report about a bird in South America that built its nest in rockfaces by using the leaves of a certain plant that 'melted' the rock? Apparently the stirrups on the observers horse were also melted by said plant.
Given that there is a tree in Venezuela that produces something remarkably akin to milk, I have always kept an open mind on this one but perhaps it too is just an urban legend from the age of exploration?
There's plenty Fortean about plants... they just tend to be looked over because they don't say very much!
I would recommend reading The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher bird. This includes plants being used as lie detectors, their ability to respond to human wishes and to communicate with humans, their response to music, & lots of other mind blowing stuff
Plants that are several thousand years old are pretty fortean to me
Yew trees. They last for ages!
And I remember reading about a plant that covered a vast tract of land in the USA that was uber-ancient, and all the same plant. Typically, I can't recall any more details, and it may be a bit of an Urban Legend...
Armillaria bulbosa, the Honey Mushroom, is thought to be the world’s oldest and largest living thing : a single specimen spreads under some 2200 acres somewhere in Oregan. It is believed to be over two thousand years old and to weigh more than a hundred tons.
Maybe it's that. Fungi aren't exactly plants though .....
I feel I have to instantlly stick up for fungi here. Some fungi are parasitic but soem are recyclers - without them nutrients would remain locked up in dead plants, and other fungi are what is called mycorrhizal - this is a symbiotic relationship where both plant and fungus benefit fromt he association. Some species of plant grow better with their mycorrhizal partner present and some plants will not grow at all without the fungus being present.
Ah but surely anomalous behaviour is Fortean and excessive size or age ranks in there so things like the Armillaria bulbosa of prodigious size and trees such as the ancient Fortingal Yew get in, normal Yew and normal Honey fungus don't get in though.
Old and big I get as Fortean.
Carnivorous plants are Fortean-ish by themselves (I think)
Freaky looking, or flowers simulating insects are weird.
Parasitic plants- well fortean I expect.
Plants that rely on being eaten and shat for propagation are odd.
Marine based plants are eminemtly freakish, I guess.
The man-eating plant of Madagascar seems interesting (I can't belive I've forgotten Little Shop of Horrors), as does mandrake.
Is mandrake known somewhere as alruna? I think it's supposed to be the same plant (grows under gallows, hearing its scream can kill etc.), but I always knew it by that "alruna" name.
The fact that fungi are not plants has for some childish reason terrified me for ages. The logic is that that if they're live and they're not plants they must be closer to animals, then. Stupid, stupid me. Even the most basic biology books classify living things as either plants animals or fungi*, but still. Ok, no mushroom phobia here..
*=under which catergory does bacteria go? I'm not even going to ask about viruses, since I was taught they aren't actually living things. So what are they then?
Bacteria go in the kingdom Monera. They are so diverse though there was a move to have a 6th kingdom, Archea to accomodate some of the weirder ones. I'm a bit out of touch so I don't know whether that has been accepted or not.
Edit, the 4th kingdom is protists, usually single celled animals that may be animal like or plant like, often a combination of both.
The "vegetable lamb" plant once believed to bear fruit that ripened into a living baby sheep produces substances that show promise in laboratory experiments as new treatments for osteoporosis, the bone-thinning disease. That's the conclusion of a new study in ACS' monthly Journal of Natural Products.
Young Ho Kim and colleagues point out that osteoporosis is a global health problem, affecting up to 6 million women and 2 million men in the United States alone. Doctors know that the secret to strong bones involves a delicate balance between two types of bone cells: Osteoblasts, which build up bone, and osteoclasts, which break down bone.
Seeking potential medications that might tip the balance in favor of bone building, the researchers turned to the "vegetable lamb" plant as part of a larger study plants used in folk medicine in Vietnam. In the 16th and 17th centuries, some of the world's most celebrated scientists believed the plant (Cibotium barmoetz) fruited into a newly born lamb, which then grazed on nearby grass and weeds. Kim's group isolated compounds from C. barmoetz and showed that they blocked formation of bone-destroying osteoclasts formation in up to 97 percent of the cells in laboratory cultures without harmful effects on other cells. The substances "could be used in the development of therapeutic targets for osteoporosis," the article notes.
Viruses generally aren't considered "life" because they don't fulfill the functions required for a living organism, they don't respire or take in nutrition. But they are undoubtedly active even if they have no metabolism. They seem to be somewhere between actual living cells, and simple rogue DNA elements like transposons.
Poison arrow plant found in British garden
By Lewis Smith
Saturday, 7 August 2010
Daffodils, heart's ease and phlox might be expected in an English country garden – and hollyhocks and forget-me-nots – but a hallucinogenic and highly toxic South American plant used for poison arrowheads might seem a little out of place.
But that was exactly what Sharon Nowell found when she went wandering among the shrubs and blooms of her parents' garden in Keresley near Coventry. At first she spotted what she assumed to be a weed, but as it looked interesting she decided not to dig it up to see how it developed.
A month later it had grown four feet and convinced Ms Nowell and her parents, Anne and Norman, that it was far from native to the Midlands. By searching through pictures on the internet she identified it as Datura stramonium, more colloquially known as the devil's trumpet, the devil's apple, the devil's snare, thorn apple and jimson weed.
Almost as soon as she had identified it, she was inundated with online messages from far and wide warning her that it was highly toxic. The species originates from South America, where it has been used by tribespeople as a toxin on arrowheads to incapacitate prey. It has also been sold in the US as jimson weed, which is used to produce a hallucinogenic effect.
"I was gobsmacked when I found out about it being hallucinogenic," said Ms Nowell. "It's a really dodgy plant to have in a garden. We thought it was a marrow or something. My parents know exactly what is in their garden so they knew they hadn't planted it. Out of curiosity we decided to let it grow and it's flourished. It's been growing about a foot a week. It's a monster now."
Professor Monique Simmonds of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew said the plant has become established in parts of Europe, including France, and it is possible that it will be able to survive a British winter. It is also likely that it has appeared in Britain before, as its toxins have been identified contaminating garden refuse and other products.
"It's been associated with problems with horses and possibly humans before. The flowers are very visual but I wouldn't have thought they would be something people would grow widely. The problem is they get into other materials," Professor Simmonds said.
The plant in Keresley is thought to have hitched a lift from a consignment of other plants being imported into Britain. Alternatively, its seeds might have been included accidentally in bird food brought into this country and sold in pet shops or garden centres, before landing in the Nowell family's garden in the form of a bird dropping.
Professor Simmonds said: "It's hallucinogenic but it's not a plant shamans would have used. It's quite a mild hallucinogenic, and is not in the same class as LSD. The problem is that after the hallucinogenic effects come the toxins. People have used it mixed with flour to get a high. It's one of those things people have taken for a near-death experience." :shock:
A spokesman for the Royal Horticultural Society added: "These plants are not native to Britain and we think it arrives in bird seed sold to feed wild birds and generally grown in hot countries where Datura is a very common weed.
"They belong to the same family as deadly nightshade and are highly poisonous if eaten, but they should pose no threat if treated carefully, and unwanted plants can be consigned to the compost bin or green waste collection."
Ms Nowell's mother, Anne, said: "On the internet it says it is poisonous, so Sharon has been telling everyone that her dad is growing drugs in the garden." 8)
Why all the fuss about datura stramonium? They are (or were) widely available in nurseries and garden centres. I once raised some from seed, only to lose them to an early frost before I could move them under cover for the winter.
Native monkshood, aconitum, is far more toxic and doesn't have to be ingested, and you never hear anything about it.
THEY can "smell" chemicals and respond to light, but can plants hear sounds? It seems chilli seeds can sense neighbouring plants even if those neighbours are sealed in a box, suggesting plants have a hitherto-unrecognised sense.
Plants are known to have many of the senses we do: they can sense changes in light level, "smell" chemicals in the air and "taste" them in the soil (New Scientist, 26 September 1998, p 24). They even have a sense of touch that detects buffeting from strong winds.
The most controversial claim is that plants can hear, an idea that dates back to the 19th century. Since then a few studies have suggested that plants respond to sound, prompting somewhat spurious suggestions that talking to plants can help them grow.
A team led by Monica Gagliano at the University of Western Australia in Crawley placed the seeds of chilli peppers (Capsicum annuum) into eight Petri dishes arranged in a circle around a potted sweet fennel plant (Foeniculum vulgare).
Sweet fennel releases chemicals into the air and soil that slow other plants' growth. In some set-ups the fennel was enclosed in a box, blocking its chemicals from reaching the seeds. Other experiments had the box, but no fennel plant inside. In each case, the entire set-up was sealed in a soundproof box to prevent outside signals from interfering.
As expected, chilli seeds exposed to the fennel germinated more slowly than when there was no fennel. The surprise came when the fennel was present but sealed away: those seeds sprouted fastest of all.
Gagliano repeated the experiment with 2400 chilli seeds in 15 boxes and consistently got the same result, suggesting the seeds were responding to a signal of some sort (PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037382). She believes this signal makes the chilli seeds anticipate the arrival of chemicals that slow their growth. In preparation, they undergo a growth spurt. The box surrounding the fennel would have blocked chemical signals, and Gagliano suggests sound may be involved.
In a separate experiment, chilli seeds growing next to a sealed-off chilli plant also consistently grew differently to seeds growing on their own, suggesting some form of signalling between the two.
Though the research is at an early stage, the results are worth pursuing, says Richard Karban of the University of California-Davis. They do suggest that plants have an as-yet-unidentified means of communication, he says, though it is not clear what that might be.
The key question is whether the boxes around the fennel plants really block all known signals, says Susan Dudley of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. She concedes that plants make faint noises when water columns in their stems are disrupted, and that hearing functions in much the same way as the sense of touch - which plants have - but wants to see the results replicated before she is convinced that plants can hear. The study, she says, comes as a challenge to botanists to either refute or confirm.
From issue 2868 of New Scientist magazine, page 15.