Plants have their own Internet? Is this good or bad?


Recent research from Vidi researcher Josef Stuefer at the Radboud University Nijmegen reveals that plants have their own chat systems that they can use to warn each other.

Some of you may have seen this item in Science Daily (prior to the article Amy has cited about cycad sex) indicating that many plants actually communicate with each other through runners. These channels allow them to send signals that they are being attacked by caterpillars or that some other stress-producing factor is present. The signals allow the connecting plants (those studied were clover, strawberry plants, and ground elder) to strengthen their defenses or somehow make themselves less attractive to a predator.

From the same site, I also learned that plants can discriminate between their own roots and the roots of another plant and act accordingly and that they are much less competitive when planted with their own kind than when planted with unrelated plants. Maybe that’s why I’ve been getting a lot of mixed messages on mixed container plantings in the garden press lately. And I’ve noticed in my containers that certain plants emerge victorious, while some just disappear. Of course there could be lots of other reasons for that.

I like the idea of my plants chatting together … or do I? The fact that the plants they’ve found chatting are mostly aggressive weeds is ominous.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Well, the more we learn about animals’ abilities to communicate, the more problematic eating meat becomes.

    So now I’ve got problems with the salad, too. If arugula can talk, I’m not sure I should be devouring it.

  2. I think that in a fundamental way, all things want to live, including plants, whether they “feel” “pain” or not. I remember hearing on NPR a few years ago about sound recordings of cells being killed. The recordings sounded like screams. I could feel guilty every time I ate, but I think feeling grateful for food is much more healthy. (I don’t eat meat very often, but that’s mainly for environmental reasons.)

  3. I started reading The Secret Life of Plants this summer (I know, I know–a mere 30 years after it fell out of favor) and it really did a number on my own gradual move toward vegetarianism. I’ve never given up meat completely in the six years since I’ pledged to do so, but have managed to cut way way down–and then along comes a book that suggests that a few of my many reasons for shunning animal flesh apply to plants as well. Damnit! My solution, I’m slightly appalled to admit, has been to drift back toward the carnivore lifestyle a little–but still trying to maintain that attitude of gratitude that La Mancha proposes. (I have one lapsed-vegetarian friend who claims he says a prayer of thanks every time he eats an animal. That works for me.)

  4. On a nature walk in Tanzania last summer, our guide told us that certain acacias “communicate” with each other. When a giraffe browses on the leaves of an acacia, it not only activates a bitter hormone through its leaves, which turns off the giraffe after several minutes, it also warns nearby acacias (somehow) that it’s under attack, and they begin to secrete the bitter taste in advance. Pretty amazing!

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