SHOULD CELEBRATE MOTHER'S DAY, TOO
Around Mother's Day you have sometimes written about how humans do not
have a monopoly on taking care of their young and that many other animals
demonstrate maternal care as well. What about plants? Do plants exhibit
Absolutely. No organisms on earth will exist long as a species if they
do not have mechanisms to offer the best survival possibilities for
their offspring. When you look around in any natural habitat, you will
see only those plants and animals whose ancestors did the things that
were in the best interest of their progeny. This does not mean there
was forethought or emotion involved, but the formula is a basic one
- when your babies are not taken care of, you will have no descendants.
maternal care means the contribution is from the mother whereas paternal
care is from the father. Parental care can include either or both parents,
and the distinction between which one is a greater contributor may be
tendency is to think of maternal care in terms we can relate to as humans,
such as mammal mothers providing milk to babies for nourishment. Parental
care is exemplified by cardinals and bluebirds in which both sexes feed
the young, both in the nest and after they fledge. But animals take
care of their offspring in myriad ways. So do plants.
all seen parental care by plants, usually without even recognizing it
as such. An outstanding example is the coconut. Coconut palm trees are
found on tropical beaches around the world and are some of the best
parents imaginable. The seed is encased in the coconut shell with a
layer of nutritious tissue (the white stuff we call coconut meat) and
even a supply of water inside. When a coconut lands on a beach under
all of the right conditions, the seed germinates (from one of those
three little coconut "eyes") and begins its life with an ample
supply of food and water. Although both mammologists and botanists will
decry the analogy, we might even consider coconut palms to be plants
that nourish their young with milk.
plant parents provide for their young in various ways. For example,
plants have edible fruit that animals eat, but the seeds pass right
through and are deposited elsewhere. Cedar waxwings eat mistletoe berries
from the plants on one tree and distribute the seeds during migration
as they perch on tree limbs elsewhere. A box turtle or possum would
never pass up a ripe muscadine grape or plum on the ground. The seeds
may not end up too far away, but they are ready to germinate when they
leave the animal and are not likely to be near enough to the parent
plant to compete with it for nutrients in the soil. Thus the plants
have provided their progeny with an opportunity to travel and thrive.
seeds that end up far from the parent is a strategy (though not a conscious
one) of many plants because of the advantages of reducing competition
with the parents. Dandelions are notorious for giving their offspring
opportunities to invade not just your yard but also your neighbor's.
The yellow dandelion develops into a white flower head composed of dozens
of tiny snowflake-like seeds that are wafted away with the first good
wind. Plants with wind dispersal of seeds are caring for their young
in a sense by getting them away from a place to avoid local overpopulation.
parallels can be seen between parental care by animals and that by plants.
Can we declare which species make the best mothers? No. But Mother's
Day is appropriately reserved for one species because of a key difference
that makes us distinctive. Like other species, human mothers take care
of their offspring; but later those offspring often end up taking care
of the mothers. No other animal or plant does that.
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