A new documentary is set to hit the airwaves this summer, with the iconic host, Sir David Attenborough, trudging through landscapes from the jungle to the desert. “The Green Planet” will air weekly on Wednesdays from July 6 to August 3, 2022 on PBS, taking viewers on a journey through the interconnected world of plants, animals and the environment

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Using modern technology to watch plants move and grow through time lapse-photography, the five-part series offers a descriptive view of the amazing world of plants, how they endure, the interconnectivity with the surrounding environment and the challenges they face. 

Related: “Extinction – The Facts” explores the global extinction crisis and its consequences

A green parrot hiding in leaves

“Every mouthful of food that we eat, every lungful of air that we breathe, depends on plants,” Attenborough explained. That’s not an understatement. 

“The Green Planet” was produced in collaboration with the BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit, and co-produced by the Open University, bilibili, ZDF German Television, France Télévisions and NHK. It will air Wednesdays, July 6 to August 3, 2022 from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. ET (check local listings) on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS Video app.  

The technology for filming the series creates vibrant and stunning imagery through the use of thermal cameras, macro frame-stacking, ultra-high-speed cameras and the latest developments in microscopy. Additionally, the journey reveals more than just the beauty of plants, but the irreplaceable role they play as a hub of communication and interconnectivity throughout the natural world.

With extensive experience in the natural world, Sir David Attenborough has seen many changes since beginning his journey decades ago. Not only in the impact humans have on the planet, but in the change of mindset as we become more aware of the effects from our actions.

“There has been a revolution worldwide in attitudes towards the natural world in my lifetime — an awakening and an awareness of how important the natural world is to us all,” he said. “An awareness that we would starve without plants, we wouldn’t be able to breathe without plants. Yet people’s understanding about plants, except in a very kind of narrow way, has not kept up with that. I think this series will bring it home.”

A jungle with palm trees and plants

Episode 1: “Tropical Worlds” (Wednesday, July 6)

More kinds of plants are crammed together in the tropical rainforests than anywhere else on earth. The result is astonishing beauty and intense competition — a plant battleground. From fast-growing trees to flowers that mimic dead animals, from life and death battles to reach the light to the secret behind every raindrop, take a journey into a magical world that operates on a different timescale to our own.

Episode 2: “Water Worlds” (Wednesday, July 13)

Water plants create some of the most beautiful, bizarre and important habitats on earth. Some are armed with killer spikes to use as weapons, while others use nature’s super-glue to hold on. Others escape their enemies by forming spheres and rolling away. Plants turn into animal hunters when nutrients are washed away, laying traps and even counting to ensure their success. Brilliantly-colored flowers smother lakes, and in one magical river in Brazil, the water bubbles like champagne as plants create the atmosphere itself. 

Episode 3: “Seasonal Worlds” (Wednesday, July 20)

Between the tropics and the frozen poles lies a region dominated by relentless change from the four seasons. Each presents plants with enormous challenges — from ice and snow to raging fires, from intense competition to surprising enemies, both animals and plants. To survive in this world of astonishing variety and vibrant color, plants must use strategy, deception and remarkable feats of engineering. Most importantly, they must get their timing right.  

Episode 4: “Desert Worlds” (Wednesday, July 27)

Deserts are hostile. Temperatures soar and water is rare. Yet plants find extraordinary ways to survive. They may grow imperceptibly slowly or travel the landscape looking for water. Others wait decades in suspended animation for rain to power an explosion of color across the dunes. Desert plants protect their water stores from animals and each other, using camouflage, vicious spines or forging surprising alliances with animals. Plants have invaded the most dangerous deserts on earth, overcoming salt, fire and toxic bird droppings to bring life and color to these harsh landscapes. 

Episode 5: “Human Worlds” (Wednesday, August 3)

We rely on plants for almost everything, including the air we breathe and the food we eat. Two in five wild plants are threatened with extinction, but people are finding new ways to help them, from projects in Africa to re-seed the landscape to rebuilding a tropical forest in Brazil, tree by tree.

A river filled with algae and lily pads

Review of the first two episodes

PBS offered an early screening of the first two episodes for press review, which I readily accepted and eagerly watched over the recent holiday weekend. This is a great series. The ever-reliable Sir David Attenborough dedicated his professional life to this type of programming. His passion for the natural world radiates through his words and his history of worldwide travel and a lifetime of experiences is evident.

As a host, he brings the audience along casually, guiding them in a multi-sensory experience of words, music and cinematography rather than forcing dry information through the screen. Visually, the photography is stunning. My husband and I watched the two episodes together, repeatedly commenting on unbelievable fast-actions caught on film, along with the time-lapse photography that covers extensive time in a matter of seconds. 

“The Green Planet” educates in an engaging way, discussing how plants use photosynthesis, struggle to access light and water, adapt to diverse environments and reproduce. Yet, it’s not presented in a technical way, instead transporting the viewer to richly diverse areas in all corners of the planet for a frontline view of the ecology in action in an interesting way.

The first episode introduces viewers to several dynamic plants in tropical locations ranging from Costa Rica to Borneo. It begins to reveal the codependent relationship of humans and animals to plants, while illuminating some strange characteristics specific to species in the region. From animals killing trees to plants eating animals, it’s a harsh world. 

The second episode explores the underwater world of plants often unseen by the naked eye. These remarkable plants sustain in the harshest conditions, adapting to currents, temperatures and competing plants. In the end, successful or not, they contribute to the circle of life within the ecosystem, benefitting the soil and animals. 

As a citizen of the planet and an environmental writer, I comprehend how critical it is that we understand how plants lend a hand to the rich biodiversity on the planet.  That knowledge is at the core of effective decision-making about land management, crops, ecosystem restoration, water and food production, global warming, carbon sequestration and so much more. But this series doesn’t mention policies or force any agenda. Instead, it offers a light viewing experience for all ages that deepens the connection to the amazing world we live in. To describe the series in three words: awe, wonder and amazing.

+ PBS “The Green Planet”

Images via Pexels