Documentary series looks at the secret lives of plants - Albuquerque Journal

Documentary series looks at the secret lives of plants

Sir David Attenborough demonstrates how the fluffy seeds of the bulrush, Typha latifolia, can be carried on the wind to new bodies of water, where they can germinate. (Courtesy of BBC Studios)

Paul Williams knows the impact of filmmaking.

This is the reason he’s been working in the industry for more than two decades.

Williams’ latest project is the PBS and BBC series, “The Green Planet.” He produced two episodes of the five-part series, which airs at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 6, on New Mexico PBS, channel 5.1. He produced “Tropical Worlds,” which kicks off the series and “Desert Worlds,” which airs on July 27, and where he filmed out in the Southwest. The series also streams on the PBS Video app.

“I got to produce the two extremes for this project,” he says. “I absolutely fell in love with the Sonoran Desert and discovered new and fascinating things each day.”

“The Green Planet” chronicles the secret lives of plants. The series shows how plants are as aggressive, competitive and dramatic as animals – locked in life-and-death struggles for food and light, taking part in fierce battles for territory, and desperately trying to reproduce and scatter their young.

Flower of the parasitic plant rafflesia (Rafflesia keithii), the corpse flower, Borneo. It has no stem or leaves to produce food, instead it grows out of a vine on which it feeds. This is the world’s biggest flower, a meter across. Its success depends on deception — it mimics the dead body of a mammal, from its texture and color to the scent of rotting flesh. This attracts carrion flies, which lay eggs on dead flesh. As the fly searches inside the flower, the flower attaches a gloopy drop of pollen to the flies back, which it will carry to the next rafflesia flower to pollinate it. (Courtesy of BBC Studios/Paul Williams)

Using pioneering new filmmaking technology and the very latest science, the series reveals this strange and wonderful world of plants like never before.

Made by BBC Studios’ world-renowned Natural History Unit, the series sees Sir David Attenborough travel across the globe, from the United States to Costa Rica to Croatia to northern Europe. From deserts to water worlds, from tropical forests to the frozen north, Attenborough finds brand new stories and gains a fresh understanding of how plants live their lives. He meets the largest living things that have ever existed; trees that care for each other; plants that hunt animals and a plant with the most vicious defenses in the world.

The series comes 26 years after “The Private Life of Plants” aired on BBC One. Viewers can see how science and technologies have advanced, and how the understanding of the ways in which plants behave and interact has evolved.

The series is also a great passion project for Attenborough – airing at a critical moment, just as our green world stands on the brink of collapse.

While he was fascinated with both episodes, Williams says it was the desert which captured his imagination and attention.

Behind-the-scenes camera operator Oliver Mueller uses a specially-built robotic camera system, known as the Triffid, to film the corpse flower (Rafflesia keithii) in Borneo. (Courtesy of BBC Studios/Paul Williams)

In “Desert Worlds,” he grew to learn more about the cholla cactus.

“We had the film crew out there and we were having to get low to the ground,” he says. “There were a number of times that I would end up sitting in one and getting needles in my backside. I had to quickly learn to be aware of all my surroundings.”

In chronicling the cholla, Williams also wanted to showcase how it protects itself from nature.

“David Attenborough really brings home the impact of the cholla,” he says. “We found a glove for him that had the Kevlar lining. We thought it would have the protection he needed. We captured him still getting the needles in his hand. This showed how the plant protects itself.”

Williams grew up watching science fiction films because they allowed his imagination to run wild.

It’s the same premise that drew him to the project.

“Part of the magic is that we have this innovative technology to capture the miniscule parts,” he says. “We also show how each plant has a life cycle and within that they are struggling to survive. Just like any science fiction film, you have heroes and villains.”

Williams says over the course of 25 years, he’s seen technology advance at a rapid rate.

“Being at this moment in time, we’re fortunate to have had everything come together,” he says. “The time-lapse pieces of the series are phenomenal because we get to see in real time how plants live.”

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