What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz
patchy and abstract
book has an inviting title and its slim size is easy reading. However it is
poorly conceived, often requiring the reader to be familiar with some basic
biology, yet not offering many insights beyond those such a reader would
probably already know. Anecdote and example abound but these are fairly
pedestrian, although they improve through the book, and while Chamowitz begs
leave to indulge a degree of anthropomorphism, as the title demands, he spends a
lot of time explaining human biology in order for the allegory to stick. Alas,
there are better expositors of human biology. In fairness, he does a reasonable
job but, again, most readers ready to understand the plant biology will become
bored with the human elements being covered very superficially.
acknowledges that plants do not see, smell, etc, in the way humans do. However,
his descriptions remain a problem when he uses a generalised term rather than
offering a clear explanation - for example when phytochrome `tells' plants that
days are getting longer: in this example the reader is left to guess how this
results in hormones promoting genetic coding of specific proteins which will
result in plant growth. The continual cataloguing of plant `sensory' phenomena
becomes a little like the stamp-collecting, disparaged by Rutherford, which
takes the place of a deeper understanding.
dealing with `seeing' in Chapter 1, `smelling' is covered in Chapter 2.
Explanations about hormones are fairly simple, but it takes an unnecessarily
long speed read to the point about plants `feeling' in Chapter 3. This chapter
does get around to plant physiology and outlines some interesting phenomena. I
was left wondering about the outcome of Bowles's experiments regarding electric
innervations in tomato plants. Chapters 4 and 5 introduce more examples on
plants `hearing' and `knowing where they are', and the treatment of human
biology is interesting and key to extending the comparison with plants.
Chapter 6 details various environmental and epigenetic responses which could be
characterised as 'memory'. This chapter moves onto the epilogue which extends
the awareness metaphor painfully into a consideration of plant intelligence.
This abstract conjecture generally derides itself and is of marginal