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Why Plants Struggle In Nature

Chinese Symbol for StruggleFor the last few weeks we’ve been quite proud of the heirloom plants that are growing in upside down containers on our front porch.  It seemed like every morning we’d awake to new evidence of their growth and vitality.  However, this morning, quite the opposite has occurred.  For whatever reason, they are now showing signs of stress and struggle.

Thinking about the possible causes, reminded me about all the many reasons that contribute to why plants struggle in nature.

Why Plants Struggle In Nature

FernAll around us, we are surrounded by those who could tell us much about what it means to struggle, really struggle just to survive. If they could talk, they could tell us a lot about what it means and takes to be survivors.

They could also teach us about fate, and the struggle for a species just to live. They could reveal how every living thing on earth is always asking for more, and what it takes to assert themselves against difficulties,

Did you ever think about why animals and plants struggle as they do, in a world that is often very inhospitable? Let’s take a look at the hazards that seemingly passive plants face just to survive in a world full of difficulties. Hopefully, you’ll never look at a plant in quite the same way again.

First, their outer world is, in a measure, is generally friendly toward plants. However, it is also a very changeable world where circumstances can spell death in a very short time. Not only are there regular changes for the plant to face — night after day, winter after summer — but there are irregular happenings, such as temperatures, floods, hailstorms, drought, and severe frost (just to name a few). 

Just as we, in a small way, must change our clothing according to the season and weather, so in a much deeper and subtler way the plant must. This is their struggle with:


Chinese Symbol for FateA plants struggle with drought at the edge of the desert is as real as the plants struggle for room and light in the most crowded of jungles or swamps. Still, some plants have learned to adjust.

Where water is abundant at a rainy season, but scarce for a long time, we find plants with water-storing tissue, such as in cactus. There has developed a thickening of skin, a reduction of foliage and the stem becomes green.

When the cold is apt to be excessive, we find many precautions adapted by other plants, which have become in the course of time established, all without taking thought for the tomorrow when global warming could change everything for them once again.

Still, they have very limited free will when it comes to escaping their fate.

An Overflowing River Of Life

Next, plants also struggle in that to survive as a species, they of course, must multiply (no different than any other living creature). The river of life is always overflowing its banks in ways most of us aren’t even aware of. Consider the real consequences — if there was no struggle to survive.

Here are just two examples:

  • Hedge MustardA single plant of hedge-mustard may produce seven hundred and thirty thousand seeds, that if germinated and developed into plants, the very next generation would be so numerous that they would be touching each other — all over the earth.
  • Similarly, a fern, of moderate size produces every year about fifty million spores. If each of these spores, produced a mature fern plant, and if we allowed only one square foot of elbow room for each plant, the progeny of one parent fern only — in only one growing season, would require at least fifty million square feet, or nearly two square miles.
  • Then, if each of those plants in turn, produced fifty million offspring the next season, the descendants of only one fern plant would, in only two years, cover the stupendous area of nearly ninety million square miles, or in other words —- the area greater than the land surface of earth itself.

In The World Always Asking For More

One central secret of the struggles in life, found in the world of plants, is that every vigorous living creature (including plants) is always asking for more. It’s as true of plants as it is of us. It is the nature of the living creature to assert itself, and to answer back to difficulties and limitations. 

One way to think of this, is to consider a loosened stone rolling down the hillside, crashing through obstacles until it reaches the level ground or is jammed. However, if it were a living creature, that the living creature soon or later hopefully figures a way around the obstacle, and will not be hindered in its journey. It’s also important to remember a living creature, has the option of rolling uphill as well as downhill.

Think of all the plants that against all odds, who still survived. The young plant that burst its way through asphalted surfaces on the roadside, plants who survive on rooftops, or thrive in the most extreme of weathers.  What makes them survive when others of their kind don’t?

Plants and animals alike may be compared to self-winding clocks. The truth is that the more a living creature finds success, the more it asks for.  Even a mere plant is a hustler and a jostler, even though they look so quiet and benign. To put it in another way, the plant does not readily submit to being hindered by difficulties and limitations.  It does not willingly lay down and die.

Caring For Self and Others

Even for plants, as for animals and mankind, the business of life is twofold — caring for self and caring for others; and the most important part of caring for both — is the quest for food.

Ordinary green plants feed on carbon dioxide which is part of the atmosphere, and absorbed by the leaves, on water, usually from soil, and on the salts, which are taken in by the root lets along with the the soil-water. They aren’t doing this in a void — they are also doing this in competition with other plants

Fighting The Good Fight

When man struggles with wild beasts, poisonous serpents, or injurious insects, his weapons are often ideas.  For example:

  • If an Asian mongoose fights a snake, his weapons are not only teeth, but wits. His struggle is intelligent.
  • When a mother digger-wasp struggles with a cricket, which she will paralyze it to form food for her young ones. Her weapons are not only her sting, but that inborn power of doing apparently very clever things, which we call instinct.

Now, the struggles of plants against animals are at a lower level than all of these. There is no reason to believe that the plant ever really knows what it is doing, even when it catches a fly. Yet, that is the most active answer-back that a plant ever gives to an animal or invading insect.

In most cases, all that we can say is that in the course of time, some plants have changed in the direction of having stingers or poisons, thorn, or spines, hard skins, or unpalatable crystals — which have turned out to be profitable indeed — lifesaving — in warding off the attacks of animals and insects on plants.

I like to think that one of the miracles of life on earth, is found in that lilies of the field do not toil or spin. No plant thinks out devices which save its life, in the never ending struggle for existence — it just does it.

The Unceasing Struggle For A Place In the Sun

The struggles of plants are world-wide, rarely ceasing and many sided. They include difficulties and limitations unimaginable — and of similar peril compared to our own struggles in life.

There are struggles with fate, the physical world; struggles with fellow plants of their own species — other plants in the crowded area; and struggles with foes — hungry and injurious animals and plants of high and low degree, especially including and not excluding mankind.

There is the struggle for food, for foothold, for freshness, for light, for moisture — for everything a plant would need of want. The great fact for plants and all living creatures — is the same — that success means struggle. Not only must plants struggle to win a place in the sun — they have often to struggle to keep it. Just like what we must endure as humans.

Perhaps, greatest of all lessons to be found in the struggle of plants is a certain principle, that applies to of all life that goes forward:

Test all things and hold fast to that which is good.

  Some Of The Ways That Plants Fight Back

Just like the human race, there are plants that:

  • Steal their food (climbing dodder, the mistletoe, and other stratagems)
  • World’s largest flower - the RafflesiaBecome leach like and feed off others (fun going plants such as the the biggest flower in the world the Rafflesia, and all other saprophytes
  • Enter into partnerships, both good and bad (fungus)
  • Outrun, out climb, outwit others

It’s interesting to realize that plants are struggling, each in its own way and all in the plant species way, even to find it’s own self-expression, to get on, to obtain satisfaction, or to overcome obstacles and limitations.

Even in climbing plants, they are conquerors in a fight! They have remained young and mobile in their stems, or leafstalks, or tendrils, or some other part of their body, and they have risen on the shoulders of their neighbors to thrive on fresh air and abundant light — pretty amazing to contemplate.

Carry the awareness that for all plant specie this is all a dreamy business of struggle to win a place in the sun and then struggle more to keep it. They have a big job, to care about themselves and their species, and we still have so much to learn from them.

Interesting Plant — The Bladderwort

Bladderwort FlowerOne plant survivor is the bladderwort, which floats in the pool in the marsh. It has not even roots and it absorbs everything through its green leaves and shoots.

However, it has hundreds of little traps, each about the size of the head of a pin, and these serve to capture water-fleas and other small insects.

The small insects push their heads against a swinging door and enters the plants trap. The door closes automatically behind it, and the prisoner dies, and is digested.

The Beautiful Sundew



Another plant that has adapted well to survival is the beautiful sundew, which spreads its leaves on the bog-moss, each somewhat like a flattish spoon with a narrow handle. The expanded part of the spoon is surrounded by tentacles which are tipped with dew like drops of sticky secretion. These tentacles are exquisitely sensitive to the touch of a small insect.

The bend inward like the fingers of a closing hand. The insect is securely captured, digestive juice is poured out upon the prisoner, and what is useful in its body is dissolved and absorbed. The tentacles then expand again, thus the sundew flourishes.

 If You’d Like To Know More!