Dyson Tree

Many species of terrestrial plants, including the skunk cabbage that sprouts in February in the woods of Princeton, New Jersey, where I live, are warm-blooded to a limited extent. For about two weeks the skunk cabbage maintains a warm temperature by rapidly metabolizing starch stored inside the part of its anatomy known as the spadix, which contains the hidden flowers with their male and female structures. According to folklore, the spadix is warm enough to melt snow around it. The evolutionary advantage of warm-bloodedness to the plant is probably that it attracts small beetles or other insects that linger in the spadix and pollinate the flowers. The spadix is not a greenhouse, and the supply of starch is not sufficient to maintain a warm temperature year-round. No terrestrial plants are able to stay warm through an Arctic winter. On Earth polar bears can flourish in colder climates than trees can. It seems to be an accident of history that warm-blooded animals evolved on Earth to colonize cold climates, whereas warm-blooded plants did not. On Mars plants might have been pushed to yet more drastic adaptations.

Plants could grow greenhouses (so far the idea remains a theory) just as turtles grow shells and polar bears grow fur and polyps build coral reefs in tropical seas. These plants could keep warm by the light from a distant Sun and conserve the oxygen that they produce by photosynthesis. The greenhouse would consist of a thick skin providing thermal insulation, with small transparent windows to admit sunlight. Outside the skin would be an array of simple lenses, focusing sunlight through the windows into the interior. The windows would have to be small, to limit the loss of heat from outward radiation. The plant would also need deep roots, to tap water and nutrients from warmer layers underground. Inside the greenhouse the plant could grow leaves and flowers in an oxygen-containing habitat where aerobic microbes and animals might also live. Groups of greenhouses could grow together to form extended habitats for other species of plants and animals. An attendant community of microbes and fungi might help the plants to extract nutrients from the local ice or soil. Pores in the outer skin of the greenhouse might open to admit carbon dioxide from the atmosphere outside, with miniature airlocks and cold traps to keep losses of oxygen and water to a minimum.


A plant that grows a greenhouse to sustain itself in persistently cold climates.

Folksonomies: biology speculation

/science/weather (0.388539)
/science/biology/zoology/endangered species (0.256881)
/food and drink (0.254272)

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windows:OperatingSystem (0.688172 (positive:0.473103)), Princeton:City (0.577836 (neutral:0.000000)), New Jersey:StateOrCounty (0.545891 (neutral:0.000000)), carbon dioxide:FieldTerminology (0.523421 (negative:-0.340303)), two weeks:Quantity (0.523421 (neutral:0.000000))

Photosynthesis (0.986671): dbpedia | freebase
Plant (0.766345): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Earth (0.725418): dbpedia | freebase
Skin (0.617173): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Pollination (0.577520): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Atmosphere (0.545619): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Water (0.526052): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Oxygen (0.521788): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc

 Warm-blooded plants and freeze-dried fish: the future of space exploration. Played
Electronic/World Wide Web>Internet Article:  Dyson , Freeman (11/1997), Warm-blooded plants and freeze-dried fish: the future of space exploration. Played, The Atlantic, Retrieved on 2013-05-13
  • Source Material [www.theatlantic.com]
  • Folksonomies: speculation