Understanding The Plant Communication System

Plants already make some communication with animals all the time. They attract them by putting out very flashy flowers so that tiny insects like a butterfly, bees, or even birds would land on it and help the pollination activities. But nowadays some researchers found that plants can communicate between themselves too. In this essay, we will discuss some research about it from the general one into the specific ones, and take some conclusions from it.

The first research comes from Richard Karban, an ecologist from the University of California who try to understand this alien language. Karban started with two trees in a forest. Many insects, mammals, and other creatures simply come and bite the first tree. This tree has not made any toxic so their leaves munched easily. But later Karban found that other plant –its neighbor– does not get munched.

Karban said that the first tree might be capable to putting out some kinds of odors, and when these volatile materials picked up by another tree they will start to produce toxins which deter any attack by insects in this case. Karban cannot describe how does this happen but he believes if plants can communicate with other plants someway.

Started from this paper, Ariel Novoplansky and his team build an experiment to show this communication more definitely. They want to know if one plant experience a bad condition, such as drought or high level of salt, will do their neighbors –another plant– sense the information, get communication and do something about it?

They started with making the sharing root system, a system with one pot in the middle of two plants containing two roots from two different plants. Sharing a pot in the middle will allow them to communicate through the mycorrhiza (fungi root) if they choose to do so. As an indicator –whether the plants are doing some changes or not– they evaluate the stoma which has a rapid response and easy to measure. If the stoma is opened, we said that the plants were happy because they have no worries to do photosynthesis. But if the stoma is closed, vice versa.

So they stress one root of one of the plants by drought, and by doing so it closing its stoma. But when they look to another stoma of its neighbor –which never harmed before-, its stoma is closed too. At this point, Ariel says that the plants eavesdrop its neighbor. Logically if our neighbor is stressed now –and we heard it-, there is a very high chance that we are going to be stressed too in a few hours or a few days so it is better if we prepare for this.

And this brainless creature doing the same things too. They sense the information and use its information to prepare for their future. Preparation for future is a key in evolution. For examples in a wider area if one plant gets stressed, it will spread the information about their stress, and by receiving this information other plants will produce toxins so that they will live longer. This is the reason why do we find some plants can still alive while its neighbor is died because of some attacks.

This method –communication through the root- is already proven because Ariel and his team try the same treatment to the unshared system (when plants are not sharing the roots) and they do not find the communication there. The neighbors’ plant did not close its stoma.

Next, after the whole experiment before, Ariel and his team still curious with a plant communication system so they continue their research. Now they making the same sharing root system with four plants. They put out this system in very drought condition. And after one month, one of the plants getting dry as they expected in Israeli Green House at 40°C. But the surprising fact is, another plants, which got one of the roots of the dry plants before the experiment started, is evergreen! This is not by giving it more water, because they receive the same treatment a long time.

This experiment proof that plants are learning and memorizing by getting an experience of facing a neighbor that once in the past was exposed to drought. They use the information, storing it somehow and using it later in their life to better survive and resist drought in the future.

So today we can conclude that plants can communicate with another plant using some volatile materials or by sharing roots. These humble creatures, which have no brain also showing us if they can learn, memorize, and use the environmental information later for better survivorship in the future

References:

  • Novoplansky, Ariel. Learning Plant Learning on TEDxJaffa 2012.
  • http://www.wired.com/2013/12/secret-language-of-plants/

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