How Do Plants Defend Themselves?
by Ruben Beceril Gonzalez, age 9
Although plants are seen as simple organisms that grow from the ground, they are very much alive and still require methods of defending themselves. Animals are able to run away or defend themselves with various physical attributes such as their claws, teeth, poison, and sometimes spikes. Plants, however, can't run away. They usually have to stay still and be consumed, but some plants can defend themselves with their special abilities and characteristics.
Plants use a variety of techniques to protect themselves from mammals, birds, and insects. One defense mechanism that various plants have is spiky leaves. For example, tropical plants known as screw pines have rows of sharp leaves running down their edges and midribs. Animals that run into these plants can get impaled and seriously hurt.
Similar to spiky leaves, some plants have thorns and spines for protection. One of these plants is the cactus. These plants live in hot and dry places and their spines act as a defense from predators that try to consume their water. Another plant well known for its defense is the rose. Roses have flexible stems with thorns that can be straight or curved. Predators can get easily trapped in the spiky thorns.
In addition to their physical defenses, some plants have internal defenses. Releasing toxins is one of these inter defense mechanisms. For instance, the stinging nettle is a plant that contains stinging cells that are covered with a substance called silica. When animals come in contact with the nettle, it stings the creature and releases chemicals into the predator’s body. The chemicals cause irritation and pain and serve as a reminder to animals to not bother the nettle.
Another unique technique plants use for defense is drowning their intruders. The pitcher plant and teasel have pairs of leaves that form the shape of a cup. The cup fills with water and acts as a trap for insects. When these intruders try to consume the young leaves at the top of the plant, they slip and fall into the cupped leaves and drown.
Plants may seem harmless and defenseless, however, they have many methods of protecting themselves from natural predators. From spiny thorns to chemical weapons, these defense mechanisms help plants survive and keep away predators. It’s interesting to observe and explore the unique structures and abilities that plants have developed to survive!
Eyewitness Book of Plants