Meet the Overcompensators, Plants That Get Tougher and Meaner When Attacked

Damaging some plants sets off a molecular chain of events that causes them to grow back bigger and produce more seeds and chemical defenses simultaneously.


The scarlet gilia, in flower in Sierra Nevada. Credit Bob Gibbons/Minden Pictures

If plants could be stars in a cowboy film, the scarlet gilia would be one of the meanest wildflowers west of the Mississippi.

You can find it standing tall among the sagebrush on mountainsides, its red flowers blazing. Drought can’t always stop it. Shade won’t faze it. And when mule deer and elk start grazing on it early in the season, it comes back bigger and stronger, with more defenses and a posse of new plants…