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Plants and Humans in Sync

4 March 2020

Who is making use of who. A fascinating post at https://cosmosmagazine.com/biology/the-co-evolution-of-plants-and-humans …. the co-evolution of plants and humans as an extension of co-evolution of plants and animals acting in concert to help the plants reproduce by seeds and nuts, and later, by fruits. This is not just using insects to pollinate (and how does evolution instigate this) but to actually spread seeds far afield (and in the case of humans to cultivate and tend). It's remarkable – as if plants are blue printed to influence insects and animals in some kind of way. What comes first – the bee or the nectar (or later, the cherry or the bird). It is a marvellous thing – as if plants had cognition. Is pulling a lettuce from your vegetable plot as cruel as cutting the throat of a sheep, we may ponder – but not for long. Plants have also evolved to be eaten and herbivores browse grass and herbs to the benefit of both. The herbivore munches a bit and toddles along and does it's business some way away from the original patch of ground and spreads any seeds in its gut and therefore aids and abets the fortune of the subsequent seedling – suitably ensconced in muck. Life is intertwined – between plants and the animal world. Humans are simply the latest animal to fire up into very large numbers. Herds of mammoth and horses and bison are replaced with towns and cities with lots of people with gardens and allotments and farms and greenhouses etc. Plants are still in harmony with animals, one might say. However, who is calling the shots. We like to think it is us as some clever people are able to create juicier and sweeter fruit to attract other people to take a bite. What role does the plant play in all of this. Are horticulturalists really the clever clogs they think they are or are plants secretly manipulating them. Well, Charlie Chuckles talked to his plants and maybe they really have a way to communicate – or subconsciously have a way of leading horticulturalists down a specific path to reach a more perfect peach or a larger and beefier tomato.

The apple does not just fall from the tree and a seedling ensue as beneath the tree it is shady and not the perfect environment for a young plant. They required an animal, a horse or a pig, a big herbivore such as a bovine to eat the apples and disperse the seeds in order for the apple to colonise a reasonable area – and to continue to expand that range. Nowadays, humans do that job by sending apple cultivars far and wide. Humans harnessing the activity of herbivores has caused plants to rely excessively on human activity. Human involvement in the process probably goes back a long way. Even apes eat fruit going by their zoo diet – and chuck it around as well. In this study it is the evolution of plants – that cannot happen without the plants persuading insects and animals to aid them in their quest to reproduce and prosper. Bright red cherries, and similar fruit, evolved, one would think, to entice birds to take a bite – spreading cherry seeds to neighbouring areas. Birds have a red-green colour vision. Apples and pears and bigger fruit evolved in order to attract bigger animals – such as wild bovines, pigs eating the windfalls, and various other herbivores. Apples were able to spread right across the EuroAsian land block by the Palaeolithic period. Humans may have aided this process by allowing favoured plants to grow and stripping out unfavourable plants from the wild woods. Eventually, humans started to grow and tend certain plants – including fruit trees and seed producers like cereals (wheat, barley, millet etc). We ended up with tasty apples such as Worcester Pearmain or plums such as the gages, even damsons. Domestication of plants appears to be all part of the evolution process – but who is domesticating whom?


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