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Tree rings stop cell division in plants

This week Nigel Chaffey finds he has a vision problem that needs more than a trip to the optician.

Well, I’m not sure what it means but it certainly sounds impressive – and another item to add to the list of tree ring properties. Sadly, it’s nothing to do with tree rings. It is, however, everything to do with my misreading of the true news headline, ‘Three rings stop cell division in plants’.* Whilst that headline is still intriguing, it’s not as revealing as my version.

Tree rings
Tree rings. Photo: Katy / Flickr.

Why? Because what we have there is a classic example of the problem of plant myopia, the condition where one’s life is so influenced by plants and botanics that one sees plant-inspired items everywhere. Hence my seeing the word tree when it was in fact three.**

Plant myopia is really the opposite of plant blindness, the condition wherein people don’t see plants in the environment and/or don’t recognise the importance of plants. Plant blindness is one of the great malaises of the modern world (although it’s been around a long time!) and must be tackled if we are to be a species that fully appreciates what marvels plants and the plant world (which includes eukaryotic algae, prokaryotic cyanobacteria, and the members of the Plant Kingdom) are. Over the years attempts have been made to cure this chronic condition. Many times like-minded plant-aware individuals have banded together and organised themselves into Botanical Societies (or Bot-Socs). However, originally they were termed Phyte Clubs [phyte is an ancient term for plants].

A great opportunity to promote the work of these laudable organisations was missed when the movie industry misunderstood the name of these serious-purposed societies and produced the film Fight Club, which in turn perpetuated the ‘error’ in Chuck Palahniuk’s novel of the same name. And, most definitely unlike the book/Hollywood version, the 1st rule of Phyte Club is that you must talk about it. You must tell people about phytes and why they are so special and important.

The 2nd rule of Phyte Club is: YOU MUST TELL PEOPLE ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF PLANTS (i.e. the same as the 1st rule, only written in capital letters). All Phytophiles – as Phyte Club members are known – are true evangelists and their mission is to go forth and preach the phytological message and change the hearts and minds – but they’re happy to begin just with attitudes – of the great ‘unphytocognisant’. These true plant visionaries have a sacred duty to lead the plant-blind out into the light, the photosynthetic, life-giving light that nourisheth us all. Here endeth the ‘lesson’ – for now!

* The news item reports the work of Masakazu Nambo et al. who have used triarylmethanes to develop chemical tools to examine cell division in plants, by stopping the process. As their name might suggest, triarylmethanes are organic compounds containing three aromatic rings in their structure. The activity of the ‘antiproliferative agents’ that the team synthesized appear to be specific for plants, inhibiting cell division in tobacco BY-2 cells and Arabidopsis, rapidly, apparently reversibly and without damage.

** For a great account of many of the known side effects of this blinkered plant vision phenomenon, do read Aurora Toennisson’s blog post on the phenomenon, and the comments thereupon.

Nigel Chaffey

I am a Botanist and former Senior Lecturer in Botany at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany I contributed the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that international plant science journal for almost 10 years. As a freelance plant science communicator I continue to share my Cuttingsesque items - and appraisals of books with a plant focus - with a plant-curious audience at Plant Cuttings [https://plantcuttings.uk] (and formerly at Botany One [https://botany.one/author/nigelchaffey/]). In that guise my main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way) others about plants and plant-people interactions, and thereby improve humankind's botanical literacy. I'm happy to be contacted to discuss potential writing - or talking - projects and opportunities.
[ORCID: 0000-0002-4231-9082]


  • Myopia is the greek for shortsightedness, thus it cannot qualify as the opposite of blindness. May I suggest ‘plant panopia’ (although panopia is an artificial word) or simply ‘phytopia’ for seeing plants everywhere.

  • Hello Costas,

    Thank you for your comments.
    What I had in mind was plant blindness treating plants as if they were – quite literally – out of sight, i.e about as far out as they can be.
    Which would then contrast with the plants ‘in your face’ quality of plant myopia.
    But, I can understand how it might have been interpreted differently without that explanation.

    However, I do like your term phytopia!
    It would be nice to think it would be taken up and used as the opposite of plant blindness.
    Cheers – and thank you!

    Nigel Chaffey

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