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No. 30: Nov-Dec 1983

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Hot Plants

You've heard of hot potatoes, but they aren't naturally hot. However, in the early spring skunk cabbages are and so are some philodendrons during their flowering periods. In fact, some philo-dendrons burn fat to generate their heat, just like animals. Metabolism based on fats allows some philodendrons to reach temperatures of 124�F. In terms of their rates of metabolism, they rival those of the humming birds. Further-more, philodendrons can regulate their chemical fires, whereas skunk cabbages, which burn only starch, consume all their stored energy like a rocket in one snow-melting crescendo.

Why do plants generate heat? Apparently to attract pollinating insects. The hot skunk cabbage poking through the snow is the only food in sight for early spring insects, while the philodendrons may attract pollinating insects who like to bask or mate in warm places.

(Blakeslee, Sandra; New York Times, August 9, 1983, p. C4. Cr. P. Gunkel) Comment. Are plants really "lower" forms of life?

From Science Frontiers #30, NOV-DEC 1983. � 1983-2000 William R. Corliss