Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Private Life of Plants
The Private Life of Plants (1995) is a six-part BBC television series presented by David Attenborough, on the growth, movement, reproduction and survival of plants around the world. There was an accompanying book, and the series is available on DVD.
The series makes extensive use of time-lapse sequences in order to grant insights that would otherwise be almost impossible. As Attenborough explains in the first part, plants live on a different time scale, and even though their life is highly complex and often surprising, most of it is invisible to us unless we show events that happen over months or even years within seconds. Like many traditional wildlife documentaries, it makes use of almost no computer animation. The series also discusses fungi, although these do not belong to the kingdom of plants (which is pointed out).
The series teaches the mechanisms of evolution transparently by showing the advantages of various types of plant behavior in action. The adaptations are often complex, as it becomes clear that the environment to which plants must adapt consists not just of soil, water and weather, but also of other plants, fungi, insects, animals, and even humans. The series shows that cooperative strategies often are much more effective than predatory ones, as with predatory strategies, the prey will often develop ways to defend itself -- from plants growing spikes to insects learning to recognize mimicry. Yet humans can work around all these rules of nature, so Attenborough concludes with a plea to preserve plant in the interest of self-preservation.
Each episode has a duration of 50 minutes. The series won a 1995 George Foster Peabody Award in the category Television.
shows how plants travel from place to place: as seeds, by growing or by being carried by wind and water.
details the various ways that plants reproduce. Some use sophisticated mechanisms like mimicry, traps, perfumes, and "landing platforms" for insects to transfer pollen from one plant to the next. Others rely on the wind, but all try to avoid self-fertilization .
explains the strategies that plants use to win in a competitive environment. They need to get sunlight, so many climb as high as possible. Others rely on being there first, claiming fertile ground quickly and thereby making it hard for other plants to flourish. Some plants have developed aggressive strategies, such as the strangler fig which takes nutrients and sunlight away from a host tree, eventually killing it.
describes various mechanisms of symbiosis, mutually beneficial or exploitative. It explains in detail, for example, how many plants recruit ants to defend themselves against insects or even competing plants, and provide them with specially adapted food and shelter in return. Some plants rely on fire to distribute their seeds, thereby claiming freshly burned ground ahead of the competition.
describes plants living in extreme environments such as the Arctic and Antarctic, extremely high altitudes, the deep ocean and deserts. These plans have special adaptations to their environment -- the Arctic willow , for example, is a tree that grows horizontally in order to avoid the extreme Arctic winds, many other flowers accomplish the same by being very small. Some plants form cushions and thereby share the temperature between them, others develop hairs like animals. Even in the most extreme environments, simple organisms like algae and lichens can grow and provide food for other lifeforms.
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