The Placitas Gardener—
NASA technology revolutionizes human-plant interaction
—Peter C. Benjamin
I recall as a child having saved up hundreds of Bazooka bubblegum wrappers in an effort to redeem them for “x-ray vision glasses,” one of many inducements to purchase Bazooka gum over another brand. Why did I want X-ray vision glasses? I was a young boy, and let’s just say that I was, and still am, “curious.” The glasses turned out to be completely worthless.
So it was with some consternation that I reluctantly reviewed the recent introduction of new Plant Stress Detection Glasses. Having now done ample research with a pair of these glasses, I find the implications mind-boggling for anyone involved with plants or trees—from farmers to foresters.
Len Haslin, a senior scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, was interested in the potential of identifying camouflaged objects in forests, jungles, and grass environments using optical filters instead of infrared (read military ) applications. When he coupled certain filters with the human eye’s hypersensitivity to shades of green, he discovered that the combination made the healthy vegetation change color to gray or black and the unhealthy areas became most visible. Essentially, the lenses block the green color reflected from the chlorophyll found in normal, healthy vegetation, causing it to look black or gray. Since the eye is so sensitive to light in this color range, any off-green colors (caused by disease, pests, poor nutrition, etcetera) will stand out against the black background as glowing red, coral, pink, or other hues, allowing problem plants to be quickly identified. In other words, dying plants signal their stress not only through their monoterpene signals but also through changes in the reflective spectra, primarily in the upper and lower visual spectrum, whereas human vision is predominantly sensitive to middle wavelengths like blues and greens.
Healthy trees appear black, while stressed or diseased trees and plants glow red and pink. If you take off the glasses, you cannot see any problem. For us in the horticultural trade, this new technology is earth-shattering, but what will it mean to the average Joe or Josephine citizen? Being able to identify the early signs of crop or other plant stress and disease will allow for proactive treatment of the root cause instead of trying to control a much greater problem later on. That translates to huge reductions in pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, which contribute to water pollution, human sickness and suffering, and a general decimation of the ecosystem. There is even ongoing research to refine the technology for specific crops like citrus.
Are there any drawbacks, you ask? Actually, there are a few drawbacks. First, because the glasses block the color green, you won’t want to wear them while driving. Two, the lenses block about 95 percent of visible light and shift colors to the edge of the visual spectrum, so for some individuals these wave lengths can produce an unsettling feeling. Thus it is recommended that the glasses only be worn for fifteen to twenty minutes at a time until one adapts to the bright neon colors. They also work best on days with plenty of light.
I’ve actually been having a lot of fun with my crazy neon glasses in a sixties kind of way. Plus, instead of having to convince every consumer that they have a problem with their trees or plants and then recommending treatment, I can now actually show them the problem and show them that the recommended treatment was successful without any doubt whatsoever, so for me the glasses promote trust. The days of testing individual specimens for conductivity, wood moisture, salinity, pH, nutrients, etcetera, are over. Once our sight has determined that a problem exists, we can use tools to diagnose and treat early and effectively.
Now if they can develop the same glasses to observe problems in humans, I’ll start collecting Bazooka wrappers again.
Santa Ana offers workshops for gardeners
The Santa Ana Garden Center will hold the following spring workshops in May:
- May 4—Xeric Plants, How to Select, Place and Plant, presented by Aspen Evans
- May 11—Hummingbird/Butterfly Gardens, presented by Aspen Evans;
- May 18—Water Harvesting, Capturing Water and Plant Placement to Save Water, presented by Aspen Evans
- May 24—Daylilies in New Mexico, presented by Gloria NY
- May 25—Grasses :Re-do Your Lawn to a Native Lawn, presented by Aspen Evans
- May 31—Native Plant Uses: Traditional Non-medicinal Uses, presented by Donna Thaicher
The workshops are free to the public and will be held at 157 Jemez Dam Road, in Bernalillo, just north of the Santa Ana Star Casino.