12. Ecology – No Sense in Being Killed by a Plant

This episode marks the one year anniversary of the TNAM podcast, and so to celebrate we decided to go back into the vaults and investigate the science fact behind a science fiction classic, the 1963 film from Allied Artists Pictures: ‘The Day of the Triffids’. Starring Nicole Maurey & Howard Keel, and directed by Steve Sekely, ‘Triffids’ imagines a world in which the Earth is beset by a terrible plague of predatory plants.

TriffidBook

1st edition cover of the 1953 novel

The basic premise of the narrative is that a new species of plants, called triffids, were brought to Earth a number of years earlier via a meteor shower. In the film another meteor shower turns most of the population of the planet blind, whilst also somehow kindling the murderous desires of the triffids, causing them to grow to a gigantic size and bestowing upon them a poisonous sting that is deadly to humans. Based on the 1951 novel of the same name by John Wyndham, the film follows the adventures of a select group of people who were somehow able to avoid the initial plant onslaught.

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In order to investigate some of the claims that were made by the film, we were joined in the studio by Dr Hannah Mossman, lecturer in Applied Ecology at Manchester Met. Some of Hannah’s research centres around restoring salt marshes in the UK, and so she was perfectly placed to comment on (spoiler alert) what turns about to be the triffid’s only weakness: salt water. Incredibly this turns out to be pretty realistic, as salt water can kill a plant by drawing water away from its roots, and also by interfering with its ability to absorb nutrients from the soil. Perhaps even more incredible is that it took the protagonists of the film until the very last scene to find this out, despite a large part of the film being set in a lighthouse that is surrounded by… yep you guessed it.

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As the podcast is now one-year-old, we have decided to try something new, and so as well as the monthly podcasts we will be releasing a series of ‘extras’ to accompany it. We like to keep the podcast to about 20 minutes in length in order to meet the demands of our busy listeners, but this normally means that we end up cutting some sections where we delve into a little more detail behind the science of a particular topic. In the accompanying extras for this episode we investigate the movement of plants and discuss some of the carnivorous plants that we might need to watch out for.

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So watch out for the accompanying extras in the next couple of weeks, but in the meantime be sure to check out the 1976 album Mother Earth’s Plantasia by the Canadian Composer Mort Garson, who wrote it so that it might be played to plants in order to help them grow; just remember not to bedew them with sea water in the process!

 

 

Listen to these related episodes:

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