Monday, July 4, 2016

Plants Share Their Food!

We've learned how plants can compete for sunshine and water and space. We know they can communicate with each other through the soil and the air. But now we've learned that plants, particularly trees, can also share their food! (Big thanks to Alert Gardener Jim for this news flash.)

Tropical Garden, MRobb
 "Competition between individual plants for resources is well known, but sharing of resources may also occur. Klein et al. observed tree-to-tree carbon shuttling between roots of tall trees in a mixed temperate forest in Switzerland (see the Perspective by van der Heijden). By applying stable carbon isotope labeling to individual tree canopies, they show that up to 40% of the carbon in the fine roots of one individual may be derived from photosynthetic products of a neighbor. Carbon transfer of this kind, mediated by plant-associated fungi, or mycorrhizae, in the soil, has been reported on a smaller scale in seedlings, but not before in trees. "
       Science, this issue p. 342; see also p. 290

Alpine Stream, MRobb

 Many gardeners, particularly gardeners of rare plants, have noted that the plants do better in groups, and outdoors in open soil if conditions allow. We know some of those reasons. What I call the Fungi-Net, which is basically a communications system built with soil fungi, allows plants to share data. Also the Formi-Net, which allows plants to communicate via their ant symbionts, helps some plants like Tillies to reach out to their world. Now we've found that the Fungi-Net does much more than facilitate communication- it allows plants to share their resources.
Railroad Vine, MRobb
Ethically speaking, should we be growing our plants in groups, and ensuring fungi are growing well in their soil? What do you all think, gardeners? Any ethicist botanists wish to comment?

Lithops, MRobb


  1. Marla,

    Thank you for this post. I love reading about plant communication. I wonder what happened to my old copy of "The Secret Life of Plants"?

    Planting most vegetables in the ground around here is risky business, as the deer and rabbits munch on the leaves, the voles and gophers eat the roots and rats feast on the fruits. Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and tender greens thrive in pots and then - well... I eat them! Ethically this ethical?

    The potatoes (in ground) seem to be immune to predation by vermin and deer and we've managed to control the flea beetles with hired killers, predatory nematodes. O dear! I never realized that there were so many ethical issues involved in gardening.


  2. Ah, the path to Jainism! I was actually thinking specifically of plants we grow for non-eating purposes, but you did get me thinking. During the decades when I was a very strict vegetarian, friends would tease me with the epithet, "Vegetable Killer"!