Friday, 11 March 2016

The Private Life of Plants (1995)

After Life in the Freezer it might have been expected that Sir David Attenborough would continue his Life series of documentaries by focusing on a different environment each time, perhaps dealing with deserts or jungles.  Instead, he switched themes: this and every series after it (at the time of writing, anyway) is centred around a particular form of life, instead.

The title of the series makes it pretty obvious what form of life is the focus here, though Attenborough does spend some time on what might be considered "plant-adjacent" forms of life: fungi, lichens (which are composite life forms of a fungi and a plant which cannot survive separately) and coral (which trap algae within themselves and hijack the food produced by the algae's photosynthesis).

As seems to the pattern for these series, Attenborough builds each episode around a particular concept or theme.  The first episode, for example, looks at how plants move.  Which, as the show demonstrates through the use of time lapse footage, they do a lot more than we realise.  Other episode themes include how plants get food, how they reproduce, and how they survive hostile environments.  There are also two episodes dedicated to exploring how plants interact with other living things (whether animal, fungi, or other plant).  For my money, these last two episodes contained some of the most startling bits of information: like the fact that hollow oaks are the result of a fungus eating the dead wood at the centre of the tree, and that this hollowing-out process is actually all good news for the oak.  For an entirely random, undirected process, evolution is sometimes bloody clever.

This is a strong documentary series, packed with interesting information that - assuming you care about such things at all - will remind you just how diverse, bizarre and beautiful our world can be.

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