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Plants talk!

April 20, 2018
By JOYCE COMINGORE - Garden Club of Cape Coral ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Do you talk to your plants or know someone who talks to theirs? That is believed to be very beneficial.

Ever wondered if it really works? I've just been reading about plants communicating with each other, basically, talking trees. It's a bit more than answering why leaves turning yellow, drooping, or dropping.

You know then, they need feeding something more nutritious or watered. Attention grabbing behavior.

I've mentioned before, Peter Wohlleben's book, "The Hidden Life of Trees," What They Feel, How They Communicate, enough to have a friend loan me the book. I'm sure you could read it, too, by going to the library.

You know the saying, "You can't see the forest for the trees?" Well, I'm finding that the forests are important, too. There's more to the forest than meets the eye, nose, ears and feet. The articles on

"Forest Bathing" tells us our bodies and souls need to walk in the forest. Researchers are discovering that trees form communities that "talk" to each other, sharing their needs and providing mutual assistance, by an extended nervous system connecting separate trees. A tree is only as strong as the forest around it. We realize they adjust to their environment, this is how.

One defense to being eaten is to produce chemicals that make them taste bad and warn other trees up to 50 to 100 centimeters away, about ravaging beetles invading or giraffes munching. Blessed are those downwind. Acacia trees can change the flavor of their leaves to become too bitter to be eaten by giraffes in the African savannah, plus warning nearby trees to do so, also. Some oak, beech and spruce needles will produce electrical signals to the rest of the plant when being eaten by predators, and turn it into a bad tasting tree, causing the predators to leave it alone.

Experiments in the African savannah claim that leaves send out warning gas ethylene and nearby trees detect the scent, producing their own defensive chemicals before the giraffe arrives. As hungry insects salivate, the leaves mass produce the scent of their salivation to attract predators who like to eat said insects. Predators immediately come and feast.

I love the smell of newly mowed grass, but it signals danger is on its way to the lawn.

Communication happens below our feet as well. The plants root system spreads twice as far as the canopy above us. These roots may connect with the roots of other trees, especially with their own kind, connecting with them. Although they do compete, current research finds trees may be cooperating and helping each other. If one tree is sick, nearby trees may share nutrients through their roots to help it get well again. If a young sapling doesn't get enough sunlight to make food for itself, older trees change their root structure to open a space for them. They "are family," caring for their offspring and each other, "giving love in a family dose."

Researchers have found plants communicate by sound. Vibrations coming from seedlings in the laboratory settings have been detected picking up sounds and directing other roots to grow towards this low frequency.

Also, chemical messages are blown around, great for those downwind trees. They talk to their other soil neighbors, to form a symbiotic relationship with bacteria and fungi microbes, that receive from the tree all the sugars needed to build themselves up, in return, they help trees obtain a steady supply of water and minerals, protect them from drought, absorb toxic heavy metals and help any undernourished young trees. We tend to think of fungi as mushrooms or toadstools, but the real fungus is a mat of elongated cells spreading through the forest floor. Trees communicate by this network called the "underground internet," a "Wood Wide Web."

Why are trees such social beings? Why do they share food with their own species and sometimes nourishing their competitors? Like us, they have found working together is beneficial. It is most beneficial to be working together. One tree alone cannot establish a consistent local climate. As a forest, they must remain intact. They create an ecosystem that moderates heat and cold, stores water and generates humidity. Thus, they can live to be very old. A tree can only be as strong as the forest that surrounds it. They can even keep old stumps of downed trees alive.

Their timescale is much longer than ours. They operate slower than we do. Their electrical impulses crawl at the speed of a third of an inch per minute.

Every member in this tree community has its own level of membership. Most stumps rot and decay into humus and disappear by a couple of hundred years. Only a few can live for centuries. Wohlleben claims you need to look up to the forest's canopy for answers. Trees will branch out until they encounter the branch tips of its neighbor at the same height. It doesn't grow any wider because the air and light are already taken. But it will reinforce its extended branches. Not wanting to encroach upon their neighbor, they develop sturdy branches only at the outer edges of their crowns.

As we try to comprehend nonhuman consciousness, we are "masters of our fate," masters of our world.

How we care for it is up to us.

The weather is telling us April is our driest month; we seem to be receiving a weekly supply, fortunately.

Our canals are lowering. Hang in there.

Thank a tree for its air clearing abilities and life-giving oxygen.

Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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