Avatar tree not so alien
April 28, 2010 11:51 AM   Subscribe

The ID system lies in the roots and the chemical cues they secrete. Scientists have found that plants will determine if their neighbors are siblings/family and if so, will not complete for resources as aggressively .

However, if the neighboring plants are unrelated, they will attempt to choke out the roots. In another interesting similarity to Avatar where the Naavi would connect to the tree to download memories, Dutch scientist have found insects can communicate with each other by using plants as telephones.
posted by Eicats (18 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
In related news, did you know your backyard tomato is a carnivore?
posted by pomegranate at 12:02 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

My apartment has a small back yard (which, I am glad to report, looks much better these days than it does in that photo). The soil is claylike and almost certainly contaminated from heavy industries (including a lead smelting plant!) which used to operate nearby. The Garden Of Eden, it ain't.

Despite the less-than-ideal growing conditions, I have watched almost nine years' worth of waves of plants (i.e. weeds, mostly; my wife and I are not gardeners) roll through this backyard, one after another, wiping out the pre-existing competition. A few summers ago we really let things get out of hand and by August the place looked like a jungle.

The process is fascinating; Darwin in action. Plants are ruthless. Not tall enough to compete for sunshine? You're dead. There aren't enough of you? Prepare to be swarmed and overwhelmed. Not sufficiently adapted to the the conditions particular to my back yard? BUH-BYE. Just two weeks ago I tore out a couple of yard-waste bags' worth of the newest invader: some vines that were steadily marching across the lawn and strangling everything in their path like a rampaging army.

In short, I used to think of plants as essentially benign but now I realize they're the great white sharks of the soil.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:13 PM on April 28, 2010 [13 favorites]

I really like how these people are reporting on an observation and assigning a meaning or feeling to it. "Can a plant be altruistic"? Of course it fucking can't; that requires higher level cognitive functions. They could be a multitude of reasons why the plants react this way. Assuming it's to benefit each other/neighbors is childish and shows a lack of proper understanding.
posted by ZaneJ. at 12:19 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

posted by ZaneJ. at 12:20 PM on April 28, 2010

Mean green mothers.
posted by The Whelk at 12:24 PM on April 28, 2010

Zane J, when I was very young and foolish, I read The Secret Life of Plants, a book that took me some of the way into a botany degree before I caught my snap and realized that psycho-botany was bunk. But intriguing bunk, at least to my younger hippie-dippy self. There's some mystery to plant evolution but there's also a lot of wishful thinking.
posted by pomegranate at 12:35 PM on April 28, 2010

Anyone that's seen a field of Georgia kudzu swarming over the countryside, engulfing telephone poles and old barns in a seething tsunami of green already knows that plants are insatiable monsters that will kill you and everyone you love if you let them.
posted by darkstar at 12:49 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah kudzu is angry and evil and if it was only bright pink it would be identical to The Blob.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:44 PM on April 28, 2010

I wonder if there's a plant that can fake sibling cues.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:46 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

plants are insatiable monsters

Some plants, namely invasives (of which kudzu is like a textbook example).

And now eradicating invasives, in order to keep them from overtaking certain ecosystems, has become a necessity and challenge.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 1:47 PM on April 28, 2010

HP LaserJet P10006, what you are advocating is genocide. Despicable.

posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 2:05 PM on April 28, 2010

In High School, our senior level biology teacher played Stevie Wonder's Journey through the Secret Life of Plants during Botany study period.
posted by ovvl at 2:15 PM on April 28, 2010

HP LaserJet P10006, what you are advocating is genocide.

No, just ethnic cleansing.
posted by clarknova at 4:04 PM on April 28, 2010

I think my neighbor's plant is sentient and attempting to weed me and my 'lil cactus out with mind-control tactics involving the loud playing of music. You have no idea what it is capable of. Marry a plant or live in fear.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:54 PM on April 28, 2010

Plants know how to get you, even in your car!
posted by darkstar at 4:57 PM on April 28, 2010

I, for one, welcome our triffid overlords.
posted by AugieAugustus at 7:13 AM on April 29, 2010

My attack cactus can beat up your aggressive kudzu.
posted by yohko at 8:23 AM on April 29, 2010

In related news, did you know your backyard tomato is a carnivore?

Attaaaaaack... of the Killer Tomaaaaaatoes! (cue giant tomatoes rolling around on tiny wheels)
posted by FatherDagon at 2:15 PM on April 29, 2010

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