Carboniferous forest scenes by Heinrich Harder, Bruce Horsfall, & W. C. Smith

The Carboniferous is a panoply, an exhibition, a theater of increasing complexity, a demonstration of verdant braggadocio in which amphibians lurk and arthropods achieve hallucinatory measurements. The animals sing and chirp and croak and bellow, splash in the water and feed on each other, they grow and mate and fight and die, but their part in the forest is only a fraction of the symphony here. The green kingdom has its own drama, its own conflicts, kinships, and hymns; it is not passive. Its members also grow and mate and fight and die, but at speeds an animal cannot see and with means an animal cannot notice. Instead of songs, the plants communicate with chemicals—three thousand of them—in a vocabulary unknown and unsensed by eyes and ears, but felt on the tongue when leaves turn bitter or saps run toxic, invisible messages made of methanol, formaldehyde, tannins, caffeine, and terpenoids released into the air to dissuade herbivores, attract plant-eater predators, or alert the forest in a botanic siren that spreads between leaves and branches, roots and buds—a system of communication without sight or sound, where compounds are signals and chemicals are words.