Plants are no wimps!

Plants are no wimps! – facts about how plants protect themselves

Anna Mearns

Plants may seem like real stick-in-the-muds. But they’ve got some amazing tricks up their leaves–and flowers and roots and . . .


Ever see a dandelion growing right through a driveway? Sometimes seeds fall into cracks, and plants grow out of them. But at other times a puny plant will grow right up through blacktop or even concrete!

How does it do that? Water power. Water moves from the plant’s roots into hundreds of cells near the tip of a growing stem. The cells swell up–kind of like water balloons filling up. This pushes the tip forward with a slow, steady, nonstop SHOVE. Sooner or later–crrr-ack!–the plant breaks through the tough driveway.


Lots of animals try to eat plants. But some plants have prickly ways of fighting back. For example, thistles, roses, and many other plants are covered with sharp spines. When a big animal tries to bite them, yowch–it hurts!

Nettles are even nastier to touch. They have tiny hairs full of painful chemicals. The hairs work like needles. If an animal tries to eat one, the hairs give the animal’s mouth a “shot” of those chemicals. What a stinger!


Brrrr! It can be mighty cold in late winter–too cold for most flowers to grow. But some plants can make their own heat!

Take skunk cabbage. That’s the name of a plant that blooms earlier than most other North American flowers. As the flower bud grows, it sometimes makes enough heat to melt its way through snow and even ice!

The heat also helps the flower give off a smell like rotten meat–something flies can’t resist! That attracts many insects that have come out early. The flies go inside the flower for food. Ha-ha–it’s a trick! There’s no food. But while a fly is in there, it gets covered with pollen. Then it may spread this pollen to the next skunk cabbage. Fooled you twice, little fly!


When an antelope or other large animal chews the leaves of an African acacia (uh-KAY-shuh) tree, the tree may call out a warning. How? It may talk with gas!

First the tree pumps nasty chemicals into its leaves to make them taste bad. But it also may send a special gas out through its leaves. As the gas drifts to other acacia trees, it “tells” those trees, Look out, hungry animals are on the prowl! Then the other trees may start pumping the nasty chemicals into their leaves.

Soon, the antelope finds the first tree’s leaves too yucky to eat. And when it moves to the next tree–and the next, and the next–it finds that their leaves taste just as icky. The antelope may have to wander more than 50 yards (45 m) away to find a tree it can eat!

COPYRIGHT 1996 National Wildlife Federation

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group