sLowlife: Plants in Motion

We owe our existence to plants—those seemingly insignificant life forms that we barely notice and often take for granted. Without plants our world would be uninhabitable. They are the only forms of life able to harness the sun’s energy and convert it into the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the fuel we burn.

Many of us think of plants as inanimate, decorative objects. We arrange flowers or plants in our gardens and homes to best suit our desires. But in fact plants are alive and sensitive to their environments, usually responding at speeds too slow for us to notice.

After developing his theory of evolution Charles Darwin began systematically studying how and why plants move. In 1880 he wrote, “The leaflets . . . of some plants are known to be injured by too much light; and when the sun shines brightly on them, they move . . . so that they direct their edges toward the light, and thus they escape being injured.” Darwin’s work forever changed the way science examines and interprets plant life.

Although plants cannot walk, they seek, search, and avoid. Like other organisms, plants move to improve their access to resources or to avoid injury. Through changes in growth patterns, constant intricate cellular movement, germination, life, and death, plants are in constant motion.

This spring CHF’s museum will present the magnificent and innovative traveling exhibit, sLowlife. Through sound, video, and still photography sLowlife captures the complex, fascinating, and haunting beauty of these organisms living in slow motion.

Roger Hangarter is a professor of biology at Indiana University. He and Dennis DeHart created the sLowlife exhibit, which opened at CHF on 6 March.

sLowlife is a collaborative project of the United States Botanic Garden, the Chicago Botanic Garden, and Roger Hangarter, Indiana University. Original sounds by John Gibson, Indiana University. Additional support was provided by Indiana University, the National Science Foundation, and the American Society of Plant Biologists.