The Loh Down On Science

Do plants encourage each other to grow?

Gagliano et al., BMC Ecology, 2013

Figure 1 Diagram illustrating the custom-designed experimental unit (not in scale). B) All seeds and adult plants within each unit were housed within 2 different sized square boxes, one inside the other, with the air in between the two boxes removed using a vacuum pump. [Caption shortened from original.]

Instead of a telephone tree, how about a telephone plant?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Meet Monica Gagliano and Michael Renton, researchers from the University of Western Australia.  They may have discovered a new method by which plants communicate.

See, normally, plants talk to each other by sending out smelly chemicals or touching one another.  Among other things, these signals encourage the plants to grow or to attract bees for pollination.

The team planted chili pepper seeds around a sealed box of basil, which blocked standard means of communication.  Then, something interesting happened:  The chili pepper seeds grew faster than they normally would have!

The researchers believe that the basil encouraged the chili peppers to grow.

But how?  The duo thinks that the basic produces sound waves.  They say these waves could have traveled through the dirt, giving a "pep talk" to the chili pepper seeds.

So that explains why my houseplants keep wilting.  It’s not my brown thumb, it’s my basil’s cold shoulder!  Right.

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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