Friday, December 2, 2011

Why Trees Are Better Than You at Getting Revenge

A Fig Tree Waiting for Revenge

A Fig Tree Waiting for Revenge
Trees and plants are often regarded by the average person as static objects for human use. They are objects that create shade, provide building materials, and make surroundings nicer to look at. Whether you like it or not, that’s how you perceive them. You jerk. Well, you may want to call someone else to take care of those trees when you hear how good trees are at exacting revenge.
First on the list, straight from the plot of M. Night Shymalan’s The Happening, are the plants that have friends in high places. Tobacco, corn, and cotton plants, when being preyed upon by caterpillars, can emit a chemical signal that attracts predatory wasps. Not only can the plants jump up a rung on the food chain and summon their friendly neighborhood predator, they can sense what kind of  caterpillar is nibbling on them and call exactly the wasp that likes laying parasitic larvae in their stomach. That little bit of nibbling gets you revenge in the form of being eaten, slowly and painfully, from the inside out. That’s like bringing a gun to a tickle fight.
How are you with figs? Fig fruit are meant to be eaten so that the plant can spread its seeds. However, the trees are not intended to be cut down and they don’t like it very much. Plants like fig trees are the reason tree services make money. When fig trees are cut into deep enough, they emit tree sap. Tree sap is, in many ways, equivalent to blood in humans. It is released upon injury and it clots at the wound to prevent invasive organisms from entering. However, the blood of a fig tree is mixed with a kind of latex and the latex contains licin. Licin is a type of defensive enzyme that can cause phytophotodermatitis, which is an extreme rash that is often confused with chemical burns. This is no ordinary rash. The symptoms include hypersensitivity to ultraviolet light, permanent alteration to skin pigmentation and, in some cases, boils the size of teacups. Yeah. They lace their blood with that stuff. How’s that for revenge?
There are many other types of plant revenge that are pretty diabolical. Many plants lace their own tissue with poison to kill predators that take a bite. Take for example, the deadly nightshade, which  poisonous enough to kill after consumption of just one leaf or three or four berries. Many types of human hallucinogens are toxins from plants like these that have been prepared for human consumption and can cause serious psychological damage. So next time you’re out in the yard, pruning some trees, burning some firewood, or eating leaves, watch your back. Plants are dangerous.
Image Courtesy of ~Prescott/Some Rights Reserved

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