Who’s a clever plant, then?

I was sitting on the deck enjoying the morning sunshine and a cup of coffee, watching the chooks cavorting in their new play area, when I noticed the nasturtium starting to climb up from the wicking tub beside the deck. The plants self-seeded there from last year.

Nasturtiums put out long growths and will cover a huge area of ground if there’s nothing to scramble up and over. They’re often listed in gardening books as climbers but they don’t possess tendrils like other climbers, for example, a passionfruit.

They have a clever way of hanging onto things to get where they want to go, though. Each leaf, if it comes in contact with something it can grab, wraps itself around the object and supports the growing stem. This one is just starting to curl around the wire:

This one’s done a double back-flip and is securely fastened to the wire. No falling off now:

This is very clever. It takes energy to make plant structures like leaves, flowers and seeds. Nothing in nature wants to waste energy making unnecessary bits of infrastructure. Before you ask “how can a plant ‘want’ anything?”, think of it this way. Organisms that use energy wisely, grow and proliferate successfully. They’re good at getting their genes into the next generation, which is what life is all about.

Energy wasted on unnecessary infrastructure is not available to make offspring for the next generation. If energy is scarce, those organisms may not be so successful in the game of life.

What the nasturtium is doing is using the available energy to make one structure which does two things—photosynthesise and support the plant. A typical tendril would only provide support. A typical leaf would only photosynthesise.

If you know your permaculture you’ll know that one of the design principles is: each element should perform more than one function. Here’s an example of a plant practising permaculture.

So there’s a clever plant!

One Response to “Who’s a clever plant, then?”

  1. Meeka Says:

    Wow, that is very cool! Thanks for sharing. 🙂


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