Jean Jullien gives a face to a brainy plant
How do you explain plant neurobiology? With a little help from a great artist and illustrator, that's how
Summing up the finer points of contemporary biology isn't easy, especially if you're making the somewhat controversial claim that plants are intelligent. That's certainly the position of the Italian neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso, who is the subject of a cover profile in a new edition of the weekly French magazine Télérama.
Mancuso and his colleagues at his lab in Florence believe they have observed plants feeling, communicating, and learning, in ways similar to sentient animals. The scientist has collaborated with the artist Carsten Höller, spoken at the TEDGlobal 2010 conference, and believes that plant intelligence may offer solutions to energy scarcity and global warming.
Yet, all this vegetative brain power doesn't help Télérama's chief design problem: how do you get knotty, slightly mad-sounding biological concepts across to a general reader? Thankfully, a little human know-how has stepped in to help out, in the form of the ace French artist, author and illustrator Jean Jullien.
His simple, endearing brushwork, gives this potted Mimosa Pudica a smart, sentient face. The plant itself is a good choice. Mimosa Pudica, sometimes known as the 'touch-me-not', reacts to contact and jolts by folding in its leaves. However, Mancuso and his team discovered that, if the plant was dropped from a height of 3cm repeatedly, it would eventually stop folding in its leaves, having apparently 'learnt' that this minor tumble was not life threatening. (Who said Phaidon.com only told you about art?)
For more lively, intelligent work from Jean Jullien take a look at these books; for more on the refined lives of plants, get Plant.