Over the past 300 million years, plants have had to put up a fight against everything from dinosaurs to hungry caterpillars. But their startling array of defence mechanisms - including poisonous chemicals and cunning ways of communicating with allies - tell us they’re not as helpless as they look.  

In this series of five lectures, Professor Sue Hartley explores the fight between plants and their predators, revealing the tricks plants hold up their sleeves, and how much of our daily lives - from our food to our drugs - is a by-product of this great war.

Sue explains the way plants have evolved to defend themselves, and how herbivores have evolved to overcome this in return. We also see how modern agricultural methods are allowing us to manipulate plants to suit our own needs, and how the changes in our climate may ultimately determine whether it is plants or animals that win the war. 

The CHRISTMAS LECTURES® in 2009 were originally broadcast on More4 and were sponsored by Microsoft Research.Microsoft Research

Media Gallery

  • Christmas Lectures 2009

    Sue demonstrates how the slippery surface of a holly leaf deters predators.

    Image: Royal Institution

  • Christmas Lectures 2009

    Professor Sue Hartley

    Image: Royal Institution

  • Christmas Lectures 2009

    Sue meets two furry visitors to the Ri.

    Image: Royal Institution

  • Christmas Lectures 2009

    Adam attempts to eat the world's hottest chilli...

    Image: Royal Institution

  • Christmas Lectures 2009

    Adam feels the effect of the world's hottest chilli.

    Image: Royal Institution

  • Christmas Lectures 2009

    The team put a chainsaw to a giant marrow, which are grown by selective breeding.

    Image: Royal Institution

  • Christmas Lectures 2009

    A ring-tailed lemur makes an appearance in the Faraday Theatre.

    Image: Royal Institution

  • Christmas Lectures 2009

    The audience take part in a demonstration.

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  • Christmas Lectures 2009

    Theobromine, a chemical found in chocolate, comes from cocoa trees. The chemical is toxic to animals but not to humans.

    Image: Royal Institution

CHRISTMAS LECTURES 2009 - The 300 Million Year War

The extraordinary world of plants and their continuing battle for survival. By Professor Sue Hartley

Sue Hartley, CHRISTMAS LECTURES 2009

Image: The Royal Institution