Wednesday, January 27, 2010

AVATAR - What We Can Learn

Regardless of what you've heard said about James Cameron's Avatar, (and for the record, I loved it!) everyone agrees that the visuals were amazing. And if you ask us, the PLANTS totally stole the show.
We at Alive Structures were big fans of the gorgeous array of life Mr. Cameron depicted, and wanted to share with you the similarities the plant systems found on Pandora have with our own green planet. Below is an excerpt from Mother Nature (Saturday, December 26, 2009) by Mike Adams:

“One of the more interesting elements in Avatar is the neural connection fibers that each living creature is born with on the planet. Animals, humanoids and even the trees have these neural connection fibers, allowing all living creatures to “plug in” to each other’s neural networks. Once connected, they can feel each other’s emotions and thoughts. They are, in essence, operating as one single being with expanded sensory awareness.

This plot element is largely thought of as fiction, but in reality, it is merely a representation of something that’s very real in our world: The interconnectedness of all living systems through methods that science hasn’t yet identified. Although science won’t admit it, there does exist some medium of communication between living things right here on planet Earth.

Plants, for example, really do talk to each other through their roots and other sensory systems. The study of this field of science is called Plant Neurobiology, and the world’s top research facility is the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology in Italy. There, it has long been established that plants are, in fact, intelligent. (note - see signal transduction for more info)

Recent research actually demonstrates that plants communicate over their own “chat networks” where important information is exchanged about what’s happening in their immediate environment.

The world depicted in Avatar also demonstrates the healing power of Mother Nature as the key character Jack Sully has his consciousness transferred from his broken human body to his much stronger alien body through the help of a healing tree (into which all the natives are neurologically plugged in, too).

The concept of Gaia is also unleashed in the film, although it’s never referred to as Gaia. At one point in the film when all hope seems lost for the natives, Jack Sully prays to Gaia to help save them, at which point the female character Na’vi says, “[Mother Nautre] doesn’t take sides. She only maintains the balance of life.” This demonstrates a much deeper understanding of the role of nature than most modern humans grasp.

Much of what takes place in Avatar could be described as a very accurate reflection of the struggle between petroleum companies and the indigenous populations of the Amazon rainforest.

As someone who lives in Ecuador full time, I am particularly aware of some of the local details of this struggle. It is essentially the same setup as Avatar: Native people live in harmony with the environment, respecting the life around them, and then a western corporation shows up and destroys their ecosystem, poisons the people and exploits the land in order to mine it for valuable natural resources. The people fight back and they’re met with military force.

This reflects the very modern story of the indigenous Ecuadorian Indians versus Chevron and its oil drilling agenda.

What’s satisfying about Avatar, of course, is that the natives fight back. Rather than allowing their lands to be destroyed by corporate greed, they fight the imperialists with intelligence and a network of willing animals operating via land and air — animals who ultimately allow the natives to defend themselves against the invaders.

Here’s where Avatar really becomes fiction, because in the real world, spears usually aren’t victorious over bullets. And hoards of large bullet-proof animals don’t stampede to your rescue. But that’s Hollywood, and it makes for a great story even if it’s not an accurate reflection of what happens in our world.

Jodie Holt, Botanist at The University of California- Riverside, helped build Avatar's botanical paradise and made a short list of her top five choices for adventurous gardeners who are eager to create their own Pandora:

1) DRAGON ARUM Also known as the Dracunculus vulgaris. Great name. It's a close relative to Holt's favorite outrageous plant the titan arum, which has the largest inflorescence, or flower cluster, in the world. But titan doesn't grow outdoors here, so she suggests this smaller relative. It is called the "Voodoo Lily" and "Old Smelly" because of its distinct odor during part of its growing cycle.

2) PONYTAIL PALM Also known as Beaucarnea recurvata, or any other large succulent desert plant that stores water in its tissues. It looks like it is part palm tree and part onion, and when its branches droop, it looks pretty eerie, she says.

3) RUSCUS HYPOGLOSSUM A bit more tame, but its stems look like leaves so that its flowers look like they grow right out of those leaves. Its nickname is the "horse tongue." Enough said.

4) BLACK TOMATO "For the home gardener, I would recommend an heirloom tomato that comes in black." Gothic garden, anyone?

5) SQUASH If you want different, even downright strange plants in your yard, look no further than the squash family, which is the most outrageous of all, Holt says. Plants have crooked heads, bumps and veins. There even is a blue pumpkin, variety jarrahdale, that makes a lovely table display and is also good to eat.

I'd also suggest TILLIANDSIA BERGERI, or EUPHORBIA TIRUCALLI for exciting looking plants, that won't require too much space.

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