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Plant “Chat Lines”

Did you know that some plants might actually "talk" to one another? Learn more on this Moment of Science.

 Plant Roots in Dirt

Photo: C G-K (flickr)

Plants roots work like a small network and are used to communicate. Can even be used to seed other areas where the roots extend out.

Did you know that some plants might actually “talk” to one another?

Well, not exactly, but it seems that some plants can communicate to neighbors through a network of runners, or stems that grow across the ground. Certain plants, like strawberries, can reproduce by sending out runners, which send roots into the soil and bud off to become new plants.

However, even after the new plants are independent from the parent plant, some runners might remain intact, creating network-like connections between plants. Scientists noticed that plants in these networks seemed to be sharing information. If a caterpillar started eating one plant, that plant produced defensive chemicals that made their leaves less tasty, or harder to bite. But to the surprise of the scientists, if one plant was being eaten, the other plants in the network started producing defensive chemicals too.

This suggests that the plants can send information that warns their neighbors of impending danger. Damage from the caterpillars was much higher in plant that did not receive a warning signal, than in plants that received a warning from another plant in the network. However, there are drawbacks too. Just like computer networks, the interconnected plants are more vulnerable to viruses or other diseases that can quickly spread through the network.

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