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The Light Eaters and Plant Intelligence

Zoë Schlanger’s new book (out today) sounds really interesting: The Light Eaters: How the Unseen World of Plant Intelligence Offers a New Understanding of Life on Earth (

It takes tremendous biological creativity to be a plant. To survive and thrive while rooted in a single spot, plants have adapted ingenious methods of survival. In recent years, scientists have learned about their ability to communicate, recognize their kin and behave socially, hear sounds, morph their bodies to blend into their surroundings, store useful memories that inform their life cycle, and trick animals into behaving to their benefit, to name just a few remarkable talents.

I heard about it from NPR’s Fresh Air — check out this completely metal behavior:

Schlanger notes that some tomato plants, when being eaten by caterpillars, fill their leaves with a chemical that makes them so unappetizing that the caterpillars start eating each other instead. Corn plants have been known to sample the saliva of predator caterpillars — and then use that information to emit a chemical to attract a parasitic wasp that will attack the caterpillar.

Schlanger acknowledges that our understanding of plants is still developing — as are the definitions of “intelligence” and “consciousness.” “Science is there [for] observation and to experiment, but it can’t answer questions about this ineffable, squishy concept of intelligence and consciousness,” she says.

Discussion  3 comments

Chris Farrell

This sounds amazing, instant buy. There have been a few books lately that ask us to reassess our understanding of intelligence. My favorite has been Ways of Being, by James Bridle (who I learned about on this site), which goes into all sorts of different kinds of consciousness and intelligence with the framing of how we might look at A.I. technology. Heady, a little lofty, but well researched and very interesting.

Kenzie B.

So cool! Excited to see our library has it.

Between this post and the diving bell spiders post, I have to recommend the most delightfully strange book I've read in a long time: Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky. It's a science fiction novel that explores different forms of intelligence and the evolution of societies.

Lacey V

Yes! Children of Time and Ways of Being are two of the books I enjoyed the most this year. (The second book, Children of Ruin, was also great but I couldn’t get into the third one in the series.)

Requested The Light Eaters from the library immediately. :)

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