Strawberries & Peas: Evolution at Work

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, which I’m reading now:

As an example of how would-be plant hitchhikers attract animals, consider wild strawberries. When strawberry seeds are still young and not yet ready to be planted, the surrounding fruit is green, sour, and hard. When the seeds finally mature, the berries turn red, sweet, and tender. The change in the berries’ color serves as a signal attracting birds like thrushes to pluck the berries and fly off,eventually to spit out or defecate the seeds.

Naturally, strawberry plants didn’t set out with a conscious intent of attracting birds when, and only when, their seeds were ready to be dispersed. Neither did thrushes set out with the intent of domesticating strawberries. Instead, strawberry plants evolved through natural selection. The greener and more sour the young strawberry, the fewer the birds that destroyed the seeds by eating berries before the seeds were ready; the sweeter and redder the final strawberry, the more numerous the birds that dispersed its ripe seed.

Later, in the same chapter:

Wild peas have to get out of the pod if they are to germinate. To achieve that result, pea plants evolved a gene that makes the pod explode, shooting out the peas onto the ground. Pods of occasional mutant peas don’t explode. In the wild the mutant peas would die entombed in their pod on their parent plants, and only the popping pods would pass on their genes. But, conversely, the only pods available to humans to harvest would be the nonpopping ones left on the plant. Thus, once humans began bringing wild peas home to eat, there was immediate selection for that single-gene mutant.