When it comes time for an apple tree to produce its next crop of fruit, some of those seeds are likely going to be planted into new trees. After that happens, the original seedlings become known as “mothers” — they’ve given life to future generations of their species.
But what about individual organisms like bacteria, fungi and certain types of algae? They don’t have mothers, but could these single-celled entities also grow up to reproduce themselves in future generations? And if so, would this mean we’d need to start referring to them as “grandparents”?
The answer isn’t as clear cut as you might think when it comes to multicellular eukaryotes (organisms with nuclei), such as animals, including humans. The reason for this has to do with something called senescence, the process by which aging inevitably leads to cell death. Senescence doesn’t occur in prokaryotic organisms, which lack any kind of membrane surrounding their nucleus. Also, because there’s no way for individual bacteria or other microbes to replicate sexually, most scientists agree that they cannot pass on genetic information from one generation to another — at least not directly. But does that mean they couldn’t still experience senescence, leading to eventual death? That question may never be definitively answered. Scientists simply aren’t sure enough yet to know whether or not it’s possible.
So let’s say you’re curious how long your favorite plant lives before growing old and dying, but you want to avoid being put off by scientific jargon. What should you look out for while caring for the green stuff that surrounds us every day? How much care should you give a young sapling versus an older specimen? Is it OK to water once per week rather than daily? Will it hurt a plant to sit outside during the winter months? Can plants ever actually die of old age? Keep reading to find out.
Do Plants Eventually Die Of Old Age?
It turns out that plants face two major threats in addition to natural causes of death, namely pests and climate change. When a pest invades a plant, it typically kills parts of the plant through chewing, cutting or sucking activity, leaving behind hollowed-out areas where nutrients can accumulate. As more and more damage accumulates over time, the health of a plant deteriorates until nothing remains except dried-up leaves and stems. This type of attack is referred to as biotic stress. On the flip side, changes in weather patterns caused by global warming can cause increased drought conditions. If prolonged periods of drought strike a particular area, the local vegetation will be forced to rely less on rainwater and instead seek moisture sources elsewhere. In essence, plants are becoming increasingly vulnerable to environmental stresses. These factors combined can contribute to the decline of overall plant health.
In general, though, plants are not susceptible to predators beyond insects and herbivorous mammals. A plant’s defenses against external attacks come down to just four main categories: chemical compounds, physical barriers, toxic chemicals and disease resistance strategies. Most people probably associate flowering plants with beauty and majesty, but according to botanists, conifers — such as pines and cedars — represent around 33 percent of all land plant diversity. One important thing to note is that even though flowering plants make up only 5 percent of total biodiversity among terrestrial creatures, they consume 80 percent of human energy consumption. So take good care of our flowers — after all, they help keep us alive!
As far as how long a typical flower lasts, generally speaking, perennials tend to last longer than annuals. Flowering plants living underground also survive better under adverse conditions compared to aboveground ones. For example, deep roots allow for survival when temperatures drop below freezing levels, whereas aboveground foliage may not fare well during severe winters. Another interesting fact is that bamboos are capable of surviving complete dehydration for extended periods of time without succumbing to death. Bamboo stalks stay healthy year round since each shoot grows multiple times throughout the course of several seasons. Plants that use photosynthesis to convert sunlight into energy are usually considered to be perennial, although some varieties of grass fall into this category. Finally, trees are often said to “die,” but really they mostly shed their branches and go dormant in colder climates.
Now that you understand why plants are able to withstand adversity, read on to learn about the limits of their lifespans.
Plant longevity varies greatly depending upon the environment in which they were grown. According to researchers, the average lifespan of a common sunflower is between three weeks and six months, while a cabbage can survive for five to eight years. Other plants include herbs, fruits, vegetables, shrubs and trees. Some plants grow taller than 100 feet (30 meters). It takes approximately 30 gallons of fresh drinking water to irrigate 1 acre (.4 hectare) of lawn grass. However, 10 acres (3.9 hectares) of forest absorbs 2 million gallons annually. An estimated 20 percent of U.S. households do not drink tap water due to contamination issues.
Can Plants Live Forever?
If you feel compelled to ask about the possibility of eternal youth, then consider the case of Mimosa pudica (“mimoso”), otherwise known as the “cuddly tuft-of-grasses.” This delicate little plant produces tiny white blossoms and large pinkish-red seed pods that resemble peas. Although mimosa thrives in moist soil, it rarely survives past infancy. Even though the plant itself withers away within just a few short days after producing seed heads, the whole cycle repeats itself again and again. Why does this happen? Because each head contains hundreds of small seeds. Once pollinated, the pod bursts open and releases dozens of new baby mimosa plants. Each newborn sprouts a root system and starts producing shoots of its own. There’s no doubt that the tiny seedling mimosa babies are cute as buttonhookers, but it seems unfair to call them “old” when they seemingly grow right along with the mother plant!
Most garden experts recommend giving newly planted plants plenty of room to spread out and develop freely, especially if you’re dealing with smaller specimens. Young saplings should receive adequate amounts of light, water and fertilizer. With larger specimens, however, it becomes harder to determine exactly how much space needs to be left undisturbed. You’ll notice a lot of variation in terms of size when it comes to different kinds of plants. Common leafy greens, such as spinach, lettuce and kale are relatively compact and require more frequent watering and fertilizing than bigleaf maples and magnolias. Then there are deciduous plants, such as elms and oaks, which shed their leaves seasonally. During the springtime growth period, these hardwoods must contend with heavy rainfall, but once summer arrives, they won’t need supplemental irrigation. Houseplants provide excellent examples of how various plants respond differently to varying degrees of maintenance. Take a closer look at the following pages to see what else makes a difference when it comes to determining how long a specific plant will thrive.
Houseplants are used to enhance indoor air quality, improve mood and add color to interior decorating schemes. To prevent dust buildup, clean regularly using damp cloth, avoiding direct contact with surfaces. Be careful not to spray too harshly, as excessive cleaning products may corrode fixtures.