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Conversations in the Plant Kingdom: Unveiling How Plants Signal Each Other

by GO ON
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While plants may only offer a gentle swaying sound to our ears, beneath this quiet facade, they engage in intricate communication networks, signaling warnings and calls for assistance to one another.

Far from the passive entities they are often perceived to be, plants exhibit a level of responsiveness and interaction with their environment that belies their static nature. They are capable of exhibiting behaviors that suggest cunning, fear, and aggression, all through a language of chemical signals.

Chemical Signals of Distress

When under attack by pests, plants release a variety of volatile organic compounds into their surroundings. This emission is not merely a byproduct of damage but serves as a distress signal to neighboring plants. These neighbors, upon detecting the „scent of attack,“ promptly activate their own defense systems, producing substances unpleasant or harmful to the invaders. This could range from bitter-tasting compounds to toxins that impede the pests‘ digestion.

Interestingly, plants are also able to preemptively produce substances to mitigate potential harm. An example of this is the California sagebrush, Artemisia californica, which, upon herbivore attack, emits signals that prompt both itself and its kin to bolster their defenses. It’s noted that plants sharing genetic ties respond more effectively to each other’s signals than to those of unrelated individuals, suggesting a form of familial recognition.

The Role of Jasmonic Acid

Central to a plant’s defense strategy is jasmonic acid, a compound released upon tissue damage that kickstarts both internal defenses and the emission of volatile warning signals. In response to these alerts, plants may produce salicylic acid, which functions as a hormonal defense activator, transforming into the volatile methyl salicylate to spread the warning further.

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