Weapons of Adequate Destruction

Sorry, Vegans: Brussels Sprouts Like to Live, Too

This is an interesting article for biology reasons, but you might also end up forwarding it to some vegetarians or vegans in your life. We expect animals to put up a fight to stay alive, but sometimes we forget plants want to live too. This article is about the lives of plants, and how they have adapted their “fight” instincts since they aren’t given the option of “flight” instincts. According to one researcher, plants “respond to tactile cues, they recognize different wavelengths of light, they listen to chemical signals, they can even talk” (albeit through chemical signals). The article gives several examples about the defensive strategies of plants. Plants can release chemicals to irritate or entrap predators, and they can do it remarkably fast. It takes some plants less than 20 minutes to launch an attack. My favorite chemical response was that brussels sprouts can release a chemical signal to attract female parasitic wasps if a female cabbage butterfly lays her eggs on the brussels sprout. The cabbage butterfly larvae should end up feeding on the brussels sprout, but female wasps will inject their eggs inside the butterfly eggs. This allows the gestating wasps to feed on the gestating butterflies, thereby solving the brussels sprout’s predicament. The ironic thing about the plant-wasp-butterfly dynamic is that the brussels sprouts react to a chemical in the “glue” the butterfly uses to attach her eggs to the plant. This chemical is actually unnecessary for proper butterfly growth. It is given to the female by the male butterfly during mating sometimes. The chemical is an anti-aphrodisiac that discourages the female from mating with other males. In essence, “the male is trying to ensure his paternity, but he ends up endangering his own offspring.”

I don’t know if I’m supposed to be happy or sad that my favorite vegetables are brussels sprouts! I did a blog about corals and their chemical defenses recently, but corals are animals and I wanted to focus on plants. I think this “chemical warfare” is really fascinating, especially how fast the plants can respond. Hopefully this article gave you a little more respect for the amazing biology involved in growing your grocery’s veggie section! It kind of makes you wonder why we need so many pesticides if plants seem to do an okay job on their own! Even though it’s a super interesting article, and you’re already contemplating ways to skimp on the greenery, eat your fruits and veggies! People need to stay alive and healthy too!

Brussels Sprouts! Wiki Commons: Velvet

Brussels Sprouts! Wiki Commons: Velvet

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3 responses to “Weapons of Adequate Destruction

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