How plants ’see’ light

I was in the garden with my five year old daughter and we were looking at the two potato plants we had put in the soil over a month ago. It was a little bit of fun for the children to watch them grow.

We planted them next to the house and so they got only a few hours direct sunlight during the day. Both plants were growing horizontally instead of vertically in an attempt to reach the area that provided the most sunlight. I explained to my daughter what the plants were trying to do and she asked me if the potatoes had eyes. Slightly taken aback I said ‘yes, yes they do’ and wondered if she was aware of her joke. Then it dawned on me that she was serious, she was asking me how the plants ’see’ the light.

Amused by her inadvertent joke I started to explain the mechanism behind the plants ability when I realised I hadn’t a clue how they did it. The more I thought about it the more mysterious the process became. It was one of those phenomena that we are perfectly aware of, such as tides, but which the explanation in scientific terms escapes the majority of people.

So how did they explain the tides before the discovery of gravity?

Anyway, for those that are interested, I discovered this article which explained how the plants ’see’ light and shade.

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