• “a slightly mad play and share session”
• Tree data, media and jam
• Paper, pens, brushes, scissors, spoons & whisks
• Vinegar, ferrous oxide, gum, egg whites & gin
• Bread, cream & custard
THE SECRET LIFE OF PLANTS
“Understanding how plants perceive their circumstances and respond to
environmental input in an integrated fashion”
The writings of plant neurobiologists suffer from “over-interpretations of
data, teleology, anthropomorphising, philisophising and wild
“the last confrontation between the scientific community and the
– Clifford Slayman, professor of cellular and molecular physiology, Yale
THE SESSILE LIFESTYLE
A great many mindless individuals organised into a network
Distributed computing and swarm behaviour
“If you are a plant, having a brain is not an advantage”
– Stefano Mancuso, International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology,
University of Florence
WHAT HAS THIS TO DO
WITH MY TREE?
It's spring. The crab apple and the cherry blossom are sherbeting into life. The velveteen
magnolia pods are splitting open to reveal a peep of pink. And my fruit tree is looking at me in a
I paid a stoner called Tristram to prune all my trees back in September and I felt he'd done a
good job. He seemed like the kind of hippy who might have a 'feel' for how best to mutilate a
tree, even if he was doing it through the mystic fug of sensimilia. He told me he was getting his
shit together because his partner was 7-months pregnant and he wanted to take his responsibilities
as a dad seriously. I think this meant he wasn't going to forget to invoice me like the last time
he'd been round. He didn't even remember having been at my house before.
Anyway, the fruit tree has clearly not enjoyed its haircut by Tristram the father-to-be. I'd guess
that pretty much every son of a certain age has a story about being taken to the barbers by dad
and it never ends well - babyish curls reduced to a bowl cut, the rebellious teen fringe shawn
away, grunge bedhead replaced by short back and sides.
So maybe the tree is sulking, refusing to blossom, raising its rough stumps in protest towards me;
ruining the view, despoiling my quiet washing-up time, that calm 15 minutes when I slop the suds
over pots and pans, screen out the wharbling radio and pretend to be lost in a world of good
intentions, a world of projects I will deliver - oh the words I will write, the great works I will
lend my name to.
But now I have the tree looking back at me through the window. Not sulkily really, but definitely
pregnant with some kind of emotion, like it has something to say to me, some accusation to make or
a secret to share. The tree is trying to tell me something.
EXERCISE 1: WORD SEARCH
• Print out a picture of tree that has a shape which calls to you
• With a thick marker pen, draw over parts of the branches and
twigs of the tree that are making shapes which call to you (not
the whole tree!)
• Reverse your paper and with the same pen, re-inforce the
shapes that have bled into the paper
•Use the resulting lines and shapes to
create short sequence of runes,
hieroglyphics or letters
•Generate words or phrases from the
EXERCISE 2: INK
• Basic mix: mix jam with vinegar, strain, and
add a pinch of salt
• More advanced mix: jam and gin strained,
add a pinch of ferrous oxide and gum arabic
(or dry egg white)
• Warning: this will stain!
• Feel inspired: draw, paint or write something
with your damson ink
• “plants can not only "smell" the chemicals and
"see" the reflected light of their neighbors,
they may also "listen" to the plants around
- Monica Gagliano, an evolutionary ecologist at the
University of Western Australia.
ELECTRONIC VOICE PHENOMENON
• apophenia(finding significance in insignificant
• auditory pareidolia(interpreting random
sounds as voices in one's own language)
EXERCISE 3: TREE DATA
Storing secrets in a tree: find a particular set of data that can be
replicated every year based on environmental conditions (i.e the size &
chemical composition of the fruit)
Glanceable media – build an ‘app’ for monitoring the needs (and
feelings) of the tree
Use the data to calculate & predict optimal conditions for the tree and
fend off dangers
SENSORS THAT TWEET
VAPOUR PRESSURE DEFICIT
VPD = vp sat – vp air
EXERCISE 4: JAM
Edible media and the biochemical web
Making fools & consuming the jam
How behaviours might be modified by diet
How is sociability, aggression, risk, happiness,
tension, reaction times etc affected by
biochemisty & parasites?
• PLEASE COMPLETE THE SURVEY
• Whip cream
• Fold 1 part custard into 1 part cream
• Swirl in compote to taste
• PLEASE COMPLETE THE SURVEY
• “acacias nibbled by antelope produce leaf
tannin in quantities lethal to the browsers,
and emit ethylene into the air which can
travel up to 50 yards. The ethylene warns
other trees of the impending danger, which
then step up their own production of leaf
tannin within just five to ten minutes.”
T. gondii has been shown to alter the behavior of infected rodents in
ways thought to increase the rodents' chances of being preyed upon by
In the United States, almost one in four residents over the age of 12 has the infection. In other parts of the world, rates are as high as
95 percent. An unlucky minority of these infected people become quite ill. Most, however, don’t even know that their muscles and
brains carry the parasite.
What exactly T. gondii is doing while it lurks in so many people is an important question for public health. It’s also an alluringly spooky
question. “Where science meets science fiction” is how Michael Dickinson of the University of Washington in Seattle describes studies
of parasites that hack into their hosts’ nervous systems. The Journal of Experimental Biology, where Dickinson serves as an editor,
dedicated its Jan. 1 issue to this emerging field, dubbed “neuroparasitology.” In those pages and elsewhere, clues to T. gondii’s bizarre
biology are emerging. And growing evidence suggests that the hidden parasite may have visible effects.
Studies comparing the infected and the noninfected raise the possibility that the parasite tweaks a person’s personality or ups the risk
of suicide attempts, brain cancer and schizophrenia. Studies in people even report links between T. gondii and traffic accidents, greater
odds of having sons than daughters, extra height and unusual opinions about the smell of urine.
DOPAMINE, CORTISOL, SERATONIN
Complex interactions between the nervous system, hormonal pathways, and immune system
are at play when it comes to overeating. In fact, it’s not just overeating. Can’t put your
blackberry down? Feel bored when you’re not at work? Late-night binge behavior? Believe it
or not, all these things have a lot to do with dopamine – the neurotransmitter that’s heavily
involved in the pleasure centre within the brain. It’s released in high amounts during
gratifying activities such as eating, sex, exercise, dancing and other enjoyable experiences.
and serotonin friendly foods http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/dopamine-diet
The shikimate pathway is a seven step metabolic route used by bacteria
, fungi, algae, parasites and plants for the biosynthesis of aromatic amino
acids (phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan). This pathway is not found in
animals, hence the products of this pathway represent essential amino acids that
must be obtained from the animal's diet.
THE BIG QUESTIONS
• Are there secrets buried in the tree data?
• What’s the relationship between the final fruit state and the
jam you make from it?
• What is the relationship of tree data to fruit chemistry to
jam chemisty to biochemical triggers happening inside the
body after digestion?
• Is the tree changing the way you feel?
Moisture + canopy + sound + leaf colour = ?????