Articles

Plants with Weapons!


Squeaks and I love to watch animals eating
outside. This morning, we saw a bird eating some worms,
and a frog eating some bugs, although some of the bugs flew away before the frog could
reach them. We also saw a deer nibbling on some plants! Squeaks and I thought for sure that the deer
was going to eat a leafy plant in the yard, but for some reason, the deer took a tiny
bite, and then left the plant alone. We were curious why the deer didn’t like
that plant, so we went over to investigate. On the leaves, there was a white goo all around
where the deer had bitten. When we touched the goo, it was super sticky. We brought back a few leaves to help us identify
the plant in our field guide, where there are lots of pictures of plants. It turns out, that plant was a dogwood tree. [Squeaks asks if it’s like a dog] Good guess, Squeaks, but it isn’t really
much like a dog. It does have a nice bark though! Dogwood trees have leaves full of a special,
sticky goo called latex, which it uses as a defensive weapon — a way to stay safe
from animals that might like to eat it. Animals can usually try to run away from a
predator, but plants can’t move! They have to find another way to stay safe,
which is where their defenses come in. When animals like the deer we saw bite a dogwood’s
leaves, they get a mouthful of that sticky latex. /Yuck./ Most animals don’t like to eat latex, so
they don’t like to eat the plants that are full of it, like dogwood trees. [Squeaks says he wouldn’t like to eat it
either] Eating latex definitely doesn’t sound very
good. Our dogwood uses its sticky latex, but lots
of plants have other creative defenses as well. Can you think of any, Squeaks? [Squeaks thinks, then suggests thorns] That’s a great one. Some plants will use sharp thorns or spines
to keep animals from biting them. I definitely wouldn’t want to eat anything
so pokey. A plant called stinging nettle even has special
oils on its spines that can make you itch if you touch it. /Yikes./ [Squeaks asks about plants that don’t have
thorns] You’re right, Squeaks, not every plant has
spines or thorns. But some of the plants that aren’t sharp
have special chemicals inside to make them less tasty for animals. That’s what our dogwood tree was doing with
its latex. Take a look at these other plants. Poison ivy has a special oil on it, just like
stinging nettle, so it makes animals super itchy. Skunk cabbage makes itself super stinky, so
animals won’t be able to eat it without smelling something awful. I don’t think I’d want to eat a plant
that smells like a skunk, either. Some animals aren’t very picky though, and
they don’t mind if a plant smells bad, or even if it tastes bad. So, some plants have a very effective defense
that keeps almost all animals away. They’re poisonous. If an animal, like the deer we saw, eats a
poisonous plant, they can get very sick. [Squeaks is worried] Don’t worry, Squeaks, animals usually know
to avoid eating poisonous plants. Many animals won’t eat plants that they
know are poisonous, and if they see another animal get sick from a plant, they won’t
eat that plant. Plants have so many amazing defenses, but
no matter which one they’re using — thorns, smells, latex, or poison — there are always
a few animals that find ways to eat them. Lots of goats can eat thorny plants, and some
deer can even eat little bits of poisonous plants. As animals find new ways to eat different
plants, the plants have to come up with new defenses to stay safe, so there are lots of
ways they do it. Next time we’re watching the animals outside,
we can keep an eye out for other types of plants defending themselves! [Squeaks agrees] I’m feeling a bit like a hungry animal,
too! Let’s grab a snack first. What sort of defenses would you use if you
were a plant? Can you think of any new ways for plants to
defend themselves? If you have an idea, have a grown-up help
you leave a comment below, or send us an email at [email protected] And if you’d like to keep exploring with
Squeaks and me, click the subscribe button. We’ll see you next time, here at the Fort!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *