The Private Life of Plants
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The Private Life of Plants

1995, Nature  -   17 Comments
Ratings: 7.94/10 from 18 users.

The series utilizes time-lapse sequences extensively in order to grant insights that would otherwise be almost impossible. Plants live on a different time scale, and even though their life is highly complex and often surprising, most of it is invisible to humans unless events that happen over months or even years are shown within seconds.

Like many traditional wildlife documentaries, it makes use of almost no computer animation. The series also discusses fungi, although as it is pointed out, these do not belong to the kingdom of plants. The mechanisms of evolution are taught transparently by showing the advantages of various types of plant behavior in action.

The adaptations are often complex, as it becomes clear that the environment to which plants must adapt comprises not just soil, water and weather, but also other plants, fungi, insects and other animals, and even humans. The series shows that co-operative strategies are often much more effective than predatory ones, as these often lead to the prey developing methods of self-defense - from plants growing spikes to insects learning to recognise mimicry.

Yet humans can work around all these rules of nature, so Attenborough concludes with a plea to preserve plants, in the interest of self-preservation.

Episode 1 - Traveling. This episode looks at how plants are able to move. The bramble is an aggressive example: it advances forcefully from side to side and, once settled on its course, there is little that can stand in its way.

Episode 2 - Growing. Sunlight is one of the essential requirements if a seed is to germinate, and Attenborough highlights the cheese plant as an example whose young shoots head for the nearest tree trunk and then climb to the top of the forest canopy, developing its leaves en route.

Episode 3 - Flowering. Pollen and a stigma are the two components needed for fertilisation. Most plants carry both these within their flowers and rely on animals to transport the pollen from one to the stigma of another. To do this, they attract their couriers with color, scent and nectar.

Episode 4 - The Social Struggle. Attenborough highlights the 1987 hurricane and the devastation it caused. However, for some species, it was that opportunity for which they had lain dormant for many years. The space left by uprooted trees is soon filled by others who move relatively swiftly towards the light.

Episode 5 - Living Together. Attenborough dives into Australia's Great Barrier Reef and contrasts the nocturnal feeding of coral, on microscopic creatures, with its daytime diet of algae. Some acacias are protected by ants, which will defend their refuge from any predator.

Episode 6 - Surviving. Attenborough visits Ellesmere Island, north of the Arctic Circle, to demonstrate that even in a place that is unconducive to life, it can be found. Algae and lichens grow in or on rock, and during summer, when the ice melts, flowers are much more apparent.

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17 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Leon

    wow the earth star looks like an alien egg

  2. Morton

    When aminos bond as a peptide it yields a molecule of water. This reaction is reversible. In an aqueous solution peptides are twice as likely to unbond than they are to bond. Here's the reality: life could not have started in a soup of amino acids in water.

  3. david

    I was going to use them for my bio. class too. I wonder if they are down for copyright issues.

  4. Jason

    Yeah, where are the videos??? I was looking forward to sharing these with my biology students!

  5. Coral

    The videos aren't available anymore? Is there anywhere else to watch them?

  6. Serge

    We are VERY,VERY lucky to be living on this beautiful planet! Documentaries such as this only reaffirm this fact!

    1. Avinash Pujala

      I agree that the sort of things that are shown in this documentary are indeed exquisitely beautiful, but your comment that we are lucky to be living on such a planet is a strange one because it sounds as though you've been to other planets where life exists and after all your traveling you've come to the conclusion that we are indeed lucky to be living on this planet rather than another one. It is as if an American were saying (like say some of the anchors on Fox news say) that this was the best country to live in without ever having been to another country or even knowing what living in other countries was like. Of course this situation is a little different because one can at least learn of other countries without traveling to them and therefore still make judgments, but one can't do the same of other planets because we have not the slightest conception of what life on them would be like if at all life existed on them. Since one can always imagine better living conditions on this planet we can't conclude that the world we live in the best of all possible worlds, but conversely we may find something in this world that surprises us because it exceeds in beauty anything we've ever imagined. Perhaps, your comment was made in this latter sense!

    2. Blockade

      well considering that most other planets are hostile by nature to many extremes i would have to say we are lucky to be here in fact we are very lucky that our star is not to close nor to far and thnx to the planetary collision billions of years ago we have our moon and without it we would flip flop violently causing ice ages and famine. so yes we are lucky to live on this rock and thnx to volcano's that gave the building blocks of life like amino acids and carbon we owe our existence to a multitude of millions of disasters to be where we are now. im not bashing you but i think you just encountered someone who knows how volatile life is and the many things that keep our perceptions neutralized from reality. most ppl live fantasy lives not ever considering the facts that they dont know or dont want to believe. so dont come down on someone just cuz they had something nice to say maybe comment on the positive then obliterate and drive there comment out of context after all you put a lot of words into their mouth... cheers stay healthy and free :)

    3. David Santiago

      ummm, yes yes you are all very intelligent. Now back to the point at hand that im sure serge was trying to make. Great film, beautifully done.

  7. gero2006

    When I was a child I found it difficult to believe that plants were really alive, not alive like animals and people are alive. I recently read somewhere that many children (and adults) share that disbelief. But in the original series by Attenborough, 'Life on Earth', broadcast in 1979 there was footage of 'sperm cells' of mosses swimming through water to fertilize the 'ova' of other mosses which was so like watching animal or human reproduction that it was impossible to doubt any longer.

    It was a realisation that stunned me when I first saw the footage. I was in awe. After that I made sure to watch every Attenborough documentary I could find. It helped me choose my career (as a scientist). It also challenged my religious beliefs - I'm a vegan for religious and moral reasons and eating sophisticated living beings like plants suddenly began to feel so wrong... Not that eating animals was right but that eating plants was also wrong. But in that case what can you eat? Yes, that first documentary was a real spiritual and moral shock, even for a child, especially for a child. Made me go deeper into philosophy and theology as well as deeper into science, a real all round education.

    I'm a scientist so I don't share the idealising attitude to science that Attenborough has - science is messy not neat; it deals with contingencies not absolutes; and Sir David makes it sound too cosy and pat, like something out of the 1950s. 'Scientists did this...' and 'scientists did that...' Like knights in shiny armour riding along on horseback to answer the world's puzzles. Ha! But I can overlook that and enjoy the photography and Attenborough's voice-over (not the music though, that is always horrible - but in a way you get to welcome the horrible music because it is so much part of the experience).

    Early series were excellent. Later series (from 'Planet Earth' onwards) are less interesting, just HD footage spliced together without any real narrative. They're less of a documentary and more like flipping through National Geographic magazines in the dentist's waiting room. Nice images, no intellectual content. No matter, I can honestly say that watching this series on amazing plants and the other wildlife documentaries by Sir David Attenborough changed my life. Can't say that about every t.v. programme!

    Thank you, Sir David / BBC Bristol / Oxford Scientific Films and other pioneers for making this happen... And thank you whoever posted these documentaries for us all to share. Very public spirited.

  8. natasha rose

    im in love with david attenbourough, and all the work he does

  9. tyler durden

    A commonly overlooked faction of life. How easy is it to assume we are evolutions end. Plants seem to have surpassed us in many ways, technologically and socially.

  10. Zena97

    Yes i absolutely agree that this is an excellent documentary. It has taught me so much things that i didn't knew before.

  11. David

    This is a documentary masterpiece. Every child in America should see this film. Even those uninterested in plants could appreciate the cinematography. The diversity of life on this planet is astounding and awe inspiring. Thank's to the creator of this site. I have seen many of the documentaries posted and appreciate the opportunity to learn. I'm 58 years old and still enjoy learning about our planet and it's inhabitants.

  12. Andrea

    Hey Vlatco thanks for posting up all these great films for us! We have fallin inlove with documentaries too and this makes it so easy to find them. number six just cut off short at the end. Boo. we were enjoying it.

  13. Charles B.

    I really like it too, but it seems like the first one cuts off about 5 minutes early (or at least it did when I wateched it).

    Vltatko: Is the first episode as complete as it can be? It cut off when the bird was hiding the pine seeds so I didn't get to see the last part of the documentary. Nonetheless a "10" from me. Love it!

  14. Achems Razor

    This is an excellent Doc!

    Narrated by Attenborough.

    A lot of weird plants. Shows a great number of different animals. Some very funny parts.

    A pleasure to watch.