See the Plant Kingdom's Hidden Microscopic Wonders

It's not easy being green; on a cellular level, our leafy brethren are staggeringly complex. Wednesday, 8 August

By Michael Greshko

Day to day, it might be tempting to take plants for granted. But you'd do so at your peril; our leafy brethren are staggeringly complex, as revealed when they're put under the microscope.

To give their progeny a shot, some plants get unwitting animals to act as taxis for their pollen or seeds. Plants can't get up and move to avoid their herbivorous predators, so they hunker down and fight, deploying a mind-boggling arsenal of toxins and irritants that we humans mistake as flavours. And some plants even turn the tables, using acid baths or trigger-haired cages to prey on animals.

Most impressive of all, plants have figured out how to eat sunlight. For billions of years, plants have harnessed the power of the sun to transmogrify carbon dioxide and water into the sugars and oxygen that fuel their growth and reproduction. Through this process, photosynthetic life also returns more than a hundred billion net tons of carbon compounds to the planet-wide system and generates a full 40 percent of the precipitation that falls on land.

So, the next time you take a bite out of a salad, remember this: It's not that easy being green.