Bluff The Listener

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Our panelists tell three stories about ways in which plants are like humans.

CARL KASELL: From NPR and WBEZ-Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, the NPR News quiz. I'm Carl Kasell. We're playing this week with Roy Blount, Jr., Roxanne Roberts and Adam Felder. And here again is your host, at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, Peter Sagal.


Thank you, Carl. Thanks everybody.


SAGAL: Thank you all so much. Right now, it's time for the WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! Bluff the Listener game. Call 1-888-Wait-Wait to play our game on the air. Hi, you're on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

JAMAICA JONES: Hey, this is Jamaica Jones from Jackson Heights, Queens.

SAGAL: Jamaica Jones from Jackson Heights.


SAGAL: You sound like a terrific fictional character.


JONES: I've heard that.

SAGAL: You sound like the heroine in an urban adventure movie.

JONES: It's not true.


JONES: No, sadly.


SAGAL: What is the truth, Jamaica Jones?

JONES: The truth is I really don't fit the name.

ROY BLOUNT JR.: What are you wearing?



SAGAL: Jamaica, it's good to have you with us. You're going to play the game in which you must try to tell truth from fiction. Carl, what is Jamaica's topic?

KASELL: Plants, they're just like us.

SAGAL: Just because they're silent and stationary and are plants doesn't meant that plants don't have feelings. In fact, our panelists are going to tell you about three remarkable new studies proving plants are surprisingly like humans in a particular way. Guess that true story; you'll win Carl's voice on your home answering machine or voicemail. Ready to go?

JONES: Ready.

SAGAL: Let's hear first from Adam Felber.

ADAM FELBER: There are a lot of things that humans can get that trees don't. Trees don't get rabies. Trees don't get jokes. You can trust me on that one.


FELBER: But it turns out that trees do get jet lag. According to researchers from the University of Western Sydney, if you flew a tree across several time zones, it would suffer some familiar symptoms. Its rhythms would be off, it would still be on yesterday's schedule in its carbon cycle, and it might groggily buy souvenirs that it doesn't really want.


FELBER: Now, obviously trees don't move, no matter what you might hear from adorably delusional farm girls from Kansas. And forests don't move, no matter what you might hear from certain delusional Scottish kings.

But if they did, well according to Dr. Victor Resco de Dios, if you could move a whole forest from Sydney to Barcelona, all of the trees, in fact the whole ecosystem would likely have the plant equivalent of jet lag. Dr. De Dios and his team say that their study could actually prove very useful for their work in the increasingly important field of advanced dinner party factoids.


SAGAL: Plants with jet lag. Your next story of plants acting like people comes from Roy Blount, Jr.

JR.: House plants get bored. That's the conclusion reached by Amanda Fleece, a forensic botanist at the University of Rochester, after she lost patience with a droopy Ficus in her apartment.

"It had been a reasonably happy plant before," she told the Rochester Herald Leader this week. "But it wilted and none of the kind attention I lavished on it made a difference. So I yelled at it. You're a plant, what in the hell do you want from me, blood?"


JR.: "I could actually see that Ficus perk up on the spot. So I mooned it."


JR.: "It perked up further." Over the next several days, Fleece sang body songs to the Ficus, decked it in Christmas tree tinsel and threatened to send it away to military school.


JR.: Soon, it had doubled in size. "Wouldn't you get down," says Fleece, "If you stood around all day in a pot? Not just Ficuses, I call my Schefflera, the Countess. All my houseplants are flourishing, now that I'm putting some drama in their lives."



SAGAL: House plants can get bored and react to drama, just like us. Your last story of our leafy green cousins comes from Roxanne Roberts.

ROXANNE ROBERTS: Edward Williamson spent ten years studying a perplexing problem: why some climbing roses clustered together, killing off surrounding flowers. It was his granddaughter who gave it a name, "The Mean Girls Syndrome."


ROBERTS: In a paper delivered to the British Rose Enthusiasts Biennial Conference last month, Williamson explained how prettier roses band together, entwining stems and leaves to maximize their attractiveness and exposure to bees. Nearby flowers are not only excluded, but the popular clusters actually push other blooms to the side, restricting their sunlight and chances for pollination, creating, yes, wallflowers.


ROBERTS: "It's just like those nasty teenage girls on television," Williamson told the conference audience. After experimenting with food, temperature, light and other variables, he said the only effective remedy is to behead the cluster's central rose. "Works every time," he said. "The other roses back off quickly after that."



SAGAL: All right, so, here's the question for you. Scientists have determined that plants act like humans in a particular way. Is it, from Adam Felber, that they can get jet lag? Is it from Roy Blount, Jr., that they can get bored? Or from Roxanne Roberts, that they could be cutting and mean like mean girls? Which of these is the real story?

JONES: You know, I'm feeling pretty confident about this one. I'm going to go with A.

SAGAL: You're going to go with Adam's story of jet lag in plants?

JONES: Yes, I am.

SAGAL: All right, well we spoke to an expert to explain this to us.

PROFESSOR KIONA OGLE: The circadian rhythm that trees can exhibit is very similar to sort of a jet lag process that people might exhibit.

SAGAL: That was Kiona Ogle, Professor at Arizona State University and co-author of the study on jet lagged trees.


FELBER: Sounding very much like you.

SAGAL: I know. You were correct. You picked Adam's story. It was the true one. You earned a point for him and you won Carl's voice on your voicemail. Well done.

JONES: Fantastic. Thank you.

SAGAL: Congratulations.


SAGAL: Can I ask before you go, how did you get the name Jamaica Jones?

JONES: Yes. Everybody wants like a very romantic answer to that story. I call it a case of naming under the influence.


JONES: I named in a - from what I understand was a stoned moment on the beach in Santa Cruz.


SAGAL: That would explain it.

JONES: Yeah, I was named after a stranger's dog.

SAGAL: What?


FELBER: See now, that actually gets interesting.

SAGAL: A stranger walked by with a dog named Jamaica and your parents were like there you go?

JONES: That's the story.


JONES: Yeah, sorry to disappoint again.

SAGAL: You came within like 30 seconds of being named Snoopy.


SAGAL: Thank you so much for being with us. Bye-bye.

JONES: It's been a pleasure. Bye-bye.



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