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Communication Within The Plant World
by Jack Shoultz

Originally published in California Coastal Rose Society Newsletter
January, 2008

by Jack Shoultz

In the PowerPoint presentation I did at the October meeting, I inferred that plants "talk" to each other. This in its simplistic form is actually the most primitive form of communication, but it does not in any way diminish the importance or ramifications of the process. Since the early 1990's there has been scientific investigation and trials that has produced documented examples of forms of communication among plants. There was research before this time, but within this time frame to the present more documentation has been published with their results. Australia had some of the earliest results and other plant experts throughout the world soon followed suit. Within the US, at the present, the USDA as well as independent plant pathologists are now also studying and compiling information.

The results so far has been in more then one form. The first being between plants that send out runners or growing systems utilizing the same stems either along the ground or in the soil. What they do is send a signal through chemical reactions along the stems letting the other plant parts know that it is being attack. For example, if a caterpillar starts chewing on a leaf then the reaction of the plant is to release chemicals which not only lets parts of the plants know, but also are released into the air. This could be a toxin to repel the attack within other parts of the plant or as a chemical attractant for those insects that could be an enemy of the attacking insect. This chemical attractant is also different for different insect attacks.

The second idea that a plant may in some way have the ability to establish a defense against its "enemies" could have far reaching effects. Understanding what a plant might do when under attack could help develop new controls and help eliminate the need for chemical pesticides in large arenas including rose gardens. This could lead to genetic manipulation to develop new products or learn to what extent a plant can protect itself. Whatever comes out of it, it all began with plants communicating. It is quite impossible to think of a plant picking up a cell phone and calling its neighbor to let it know when something is going on, but more probable that it won't get cut off in the middle of sending out an alert.


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