Friday, May 2, 2014

Plants that talk

I've heard about this before, but truly, it's amazing.

Plants communicate with each other. Scientists aren't sure yet whether the communication is intentional or a 'soliloquy,' but either way, plants talk when they are attacked by insects or animals, and other plants respond. They protect themselves and they can even protect the plant being attacked. And it's frankly amazing.

Check it out.

'Plants Talk. Plants Listen. Here's How.'

And if you found that interesting, this one is a little more in depth, and just as awesome.
Plant Talk

Here's the low-down.

Plants communicate in a lot of ways, about a lot of things, and we are just starting to scratch the surface of it. Twenty years ago, the idea of VOC's (volatile organic compounds) that the plants release into the air was dismissed, but now has enough evidence to finally be accepted. Like, a lot of evidence. Boatloads of evidence.

Now they're finding that plants communicate in other ways, too. Through the CMN (common mycelial network - underground fungus) between plants. Possibly through roots. Even possibly through sound - which is being met with some skepticism except at the same time, the test results are repeatable, consistently, and botanists don't yet have an explanation.

And what do plants talk about?

They seem to share when they are being attacked, so other plants send out chemicals that repel the attackers, or even attract predators to come and eat the attacker. For some plants, this message is better received by plants that are genetically related to it. In some, it's actually received by plants from entirely different species.

They can also share information about things like, say, a drought, which will cause nearby plants to adjust in ways that conserve water, like closing up their stomata.

Or they can adjust their growth pattern, to grow roots away from noxious species, or even to restrict growth in the presence of their own kin while expanding it in the presence of non-related competitors.

Seriously - how awesome is this?!

And it also brings up a lot of questions. Like, for example, how does this fit into 'permaculture guilds?'  Or in other words, will we find, someday, that plants that tend to grow well together, communicate with each other better? Does this mean that if you can, having small groupings of plants together that are all from the same region, and grow well together, is better than having small groupings of plants that aren't from the same region? Will they communicate better, survive disease, drought, and pests better?

Do plants that grow together in the same yard learn to communicate better with each other? Or perhaps successive generations of plants improve their ability to communicate? Or does it take far longer for this to happen?

Can plants have bad communication? Like, one plant that requires a lot of water might communicate that there is a drought. What plants can pick that up? All of them? Some? Can unrelated plants that do not need as much water pick up the 'drought' signal and react as though there is a drought, even though this second plant would be fine on the level of available water?

Would this be like the plant world's version of Chicken Little, or the Boy who cried Wolf? Could they learn to ignore the signals, if they never applied to them?

There are so many questions to think about. But the one that I am thinking most about right now is how it seems more likely that local plants can communicate and potentially respond to drought and pests, and each other, better than they can to foreign species.   This may alter how I decide to plan out my yard, actually.

And I look forward to reading the research on this in the coming years to see what's discovered!

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