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The love story between the basil plant and the dying orchid

A few days ago, a blooming basil plant made its happy entrance into your correspondent’s home, perfuming it with its fresh, splendid aroma. This writer’s girlfriend, Miriam, placed it near the orchid pot. Near, but not next to it.

Yet the following morning, Miriam woke this lazy correspondent up to cries of incredulous joy. A branch of the basil plant had stretched out towards the stem of the dying orchid. The fragrant basil plant leaves were offering shade to the withering flowers, as if caressing them. Miriam moved them further apart, only to see the following morning that same branch of the basil plant extend itself even more to reach the moribund orchid.

New scientific insights and technological advances are changing radically our notion of intelligence. Vegetable life, even in the absence of the brain, may very well be intelligent, as we have discussed here before.

Peter Wohlleben begins The Hidden Life of Trees by telling how he had discovered the gnarled remains of an enormous ancient tree stump, possibly felled four or five centuries earlier. Yet the stump of the disappeared tree, in a forest in Germany’s Eifel mountains, was still verdant. It was incredibly, miraculously, alive. To his astonishment, he discovered that the surrounding trees had been feeding whatever was left of their ancient companion for hundreds of years. They were succoring their peer hit by misfortune.

This discovery led Wohlleben to the revolutionary conclusion that trees are social beings. As we more humbly witnessed at home, one plant may come to aid another one from different species in times of need. And it’s not only intelligence. It’s love, too.