This short article is about some of the things that plants do (aspects of plant behaviour) and leads to some of the ways in which plants communicate and to how we might communicate with plants. Mostly the emphasis is on above-ground behaviour.
It is important to keep some essential features of plants in mind: they are immobile, slower to react to sudden changes than animals and humans, and have roots, stems and leaves. They can be much longer-lived than we mortals. They do not have the organs (brains, hearts and blood vessels, etc) that characterise higher animals. In fact, it would be a bad idea for plants to have these as all a predator would have to do to kill the plant is to destroy one of the vital organs; as it is a plant can lose up to 90% of its “body” and still survive.
Like all living creatures, plants have a propensity to propagate their species, but while animals and humans consume food to do this, plants make food.
One of plants’ major activities is to make “stuff” (organic sugars) by photosynthesis and they seek to do this efficiently by capturing as much light as possible: growing towards the light and having “closed canopies”. The basic chemical formula for photosynthesis is the reverse of that for respiration in both plants and animals.
This bush has a “closed canopy” so that its leaves intercept as much energy from the sun as possible.
The process of photosynthesis itself is intriguing – the temperature inside leaves is carefully controlled and is always close to the optimum for the photosynthesis process, at 21.4o+2.2oC. It has been shown in a variety of plants that this temperature did not vary over a wide range of climates and over 50o of latitude. The photo-synthesis process is the task of chloroplasts which are green (rather than the leaves themselves).
Cross-section of a leaf
The all-important chloroplasts are mainly in the cells of the palisade and spongy layers.
The stoma, by opening and closing, regulate temperature and, importantly, moisture within the whole plant.
(Diagram by Zephirus (own work) in Wikipedia)
A moment’s thought tells us that we all depend on plants at some stage in our food chains and that our very existence depends on chloroplasts and the process of photosynthesis. In fact, we are heavily dependent on plants while plants would get on very nicely if humans vanished overnight!
Some of the above-ground ways in which plants communicate are:The other very important process that is carried out by leaves is the regulation of moisture in the plant. This requires communication within the whole plant to ensure that there is a “goldilocks environment” (one that is “just right”) that is controlled by the opening or closing of the stomata (pores) which are mostly on the underside of the leaf.
- Within plants: plants utilise the xylem/phloem pathway linking roots and shoots; with chemical compounds or electrical signals.
- With insects: flowers have coloured petals and stamens, scents.
- With insects and animals: cherries have white flowers to attract bees and red fruits to attract humans/birds.
- With birds: attractive fruits (eg berries) are eaten whole, so seeds are dispersed (and fertilized!).
- With humans: stone fruits look good and taste good!
The third object of the Theosophical Society (“To investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in the human being”) has led to several books and many investigations (usually non-scientific) dealing with nature spirits, devas and plant or tree energies. Three recent examples of communication with plants and nature spirits are described briefly in the next paragraphs.
- “The Great Banyan Tree at Adyar (Chennai, India) is a very distinct and majestic tree and is very close to the historic Blavatsky Bungalow so that some of its extensive branches were touching the building. While meditating with a small group at the foot of the tree, the Tree Angel gave us the solution. She put her robe over the entire tree, but didn’t cover those branches that were threatening the bungalow: the Angel showed that it was permitted to trim some of the branches.” (http://adyar-renovation.org)
- Joy Mills (1920 to 2015) was a former international vice president and president of the US and Australian Sections of the Theosophical Society, and her experience was re-told in the Quest magazine of Spring 2012, as follows.
“One day she hiked into the Ozarks (USA) woods that are known for their white oaks and dogwood trees along with loblolly pines, which can reach over a hundred feet in height. After a while, she found herself in front of a towering tree. ‘I became aware of the power and life in that tree. Then I became one with the tree and could have slid right into it.’ In that instant, she knew that the life in the tree and the life within her were the same. ‘At some level, it changed me’.”
- In her latest book Atala Dorothy Toy reports her widespread experiences with nature spirits and tree energies and the occurrence of orbs and other energy bodies on photographs taken by digital cameras which were not visible to the photographer. (Quest Books, 2012.)
The question of plant intelligence has been receiving more attention in scientific circles of late, after being relatively stagnant since the publication of Power of Movement in Plants by Charles Darwin in 1880. Reasons for this stagnation included the view that plants were some form of still life, a concept that seems to have been accepted from Aristotelian times, whereas plants have been shown relatively recently, to be active in many more ways than simply moving in response to stimuli such as light and gravity. This is particularly so when plants are studied in the landscape, not the laboratory as used always to be the case. The amazing below ground behaviour of plants includes:
- seeking and taking moisture and nutrients from soil.
- uniting with symbionts eg, legumes with bacteria and conifers with fungi.
- avoiding parts of the same plant or species (to prevent competition for nutrients and space).
For these, plants use processes like ours to see, touch, smell, hear and even taste (Chamovitz, 2013).
Suggested sources of information.
Brilliant Green – the surprising history and science of plant intelligence Stefano Mancuso and Alessandra Viola. (English edition) Island Press 2015 (175 pp)
You tube sessions with Stefano Mancuso, eg, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIfwFLDXFyQ
Nature Spirits, Spirit Guides and Ghosts – how to talk to and photograph beings of other realms Atala Dorothy Toy, Quest Books 2012.
You tube sessions with Atala Dorothy Toy eg, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DuOYjZxq0I
The Plantoid Robot Project, eg, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqKRNKCmzhE
Daniel Chamovitz (Tel Aviv University) has a short account of plant behaviour, Plants Exhibit the Same Senses as Humans and See, Touch, Smell, Hear and Even Taste At: