Halle, M. In praise of Plants: A Visit to the Landscape of Form pg 41-124 & Evolution pg 173-184
The chapter “A visit to the Landscape of Form” from the book In Praise of Plants, looks at the commonalities and differences between animal and plant form. The author has a very unique and distinguishable writing style that allows us to be able to look from a plant point of view. This chapter specifically, looks at different angles than the ordinary as to why plants and animals are different but more importantly, why plants are so unique. I would classify this book as pop science. It contains science based information regarding plants, such as their tissues and stages of development in this chapter but the author does so in a manner aiming towards a general audience, one that may be absent of plant knowledge .
When it comes to comparing the architecture of plants and animals I would have to agree with the author when he says they are not comparable through their “different means of capturing energy.” Plants have large external surfaces for collecting solar energy very efficiently while animals have an internal digestive surface. However I would never have thought of the metaphor on page 50 “Animals are confused plants, turned inside out like a glove, with infolded leaves and roots in their digestive tract. Plants are fantastic animals, their insides turned out, nearing their entrails like feathers.” Later the author looks at the relationship between form and space, where plants have one polarity and radial symmetry and animals have two polarities and bilateral symmetry. Even though this looks at a view of plants and animals I had never thought to compare, I found it very dry and not interesting. However, when looking at development, the author clearly demonstrates the strong difference between animals and plants which have open development. Lastly, when comparing plants and animals based on organs, animals possess numerous organs whereas plants possess 3 organs (root, stem and leaf) and can thus be rearranged more freely allowing for far greater diversity of even closely related plant species than would be possible for animals.
When the author gets into looking at the comparing plants and animals as colonials or individuals, he seems to hop around a little. On page 117 he states that “A tree’s performance is not comparable to animals but closer to that of a population of animals.” This refers to trees as colonials and individuals, but also stating that the plants are primarily colonials and animals are individuals defined as “all that forms a living unity and cannot be divided without losing life.” However, he then states that there are some individual plants and colonial animals. Is there really a need to classify plants and animals as an individual or a colony?
The author tells stories to help in the understanding of the material but he is also trying to convince us to believe in what he writing. As he says on page 104 “I hope you are convinced that plants are not immobile, but rather that their movement is not seen in the scale of the human eye.” To be honest, I would have previously assumed, like most, that plants are immobile since they are anchored in the ground. However, the author states that plants are merely fixed not immobile since they are constantly growing just at such slow rate it usually passes the human eye. In essence, I suppose this is true, it is an angle of plants that I would not have thought previously about. I am not totally convinced on the idea, however, the author does a remarkable job convincing his side. However, I would have to say that it is a little farfetched relating animal movement with plant growth or that plants may be more mobile than animals. Being mobile is the ability to freely be moved, I don’t feel as though plants have this ability to be moved readily whereas animals can and do.
The next chapter “Evolution” was for me, far more comprehensive and well structured. It contained fewer stories and poems but still laid down the science of evolution of plants in an easy to understand way. This chapter further distinguishes the differences between plants and animals, where animals have one generation and plants have two genetically different generations.
Overall these chapters allowed me to look at plants from a plant point of view rather than my ordinarily animal view. The author did a great job in convincing me of his beliefs or maybe merely making me realize how biased I am by my animal nature. What I did enjoy was how he questioned my basic assumptions and made me look beyond my view, but overall agree that plants are very different from animals. The author also does a very good job in creating images in my mind with the numerous stories of botanists and scientists and their discoveries, such as Olderman’s discovery of reiteration from a nightmare (page 110). However, on the contrary from reading these two chapters, the book seems a bit theatrical for me as I am not totally thrilled by the idea of plant poetry and it would not be a book I would choose to read in my spare time.