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Don't You Just Know They're Laughing At Us

Plants can talk. This simple, but seemingly farfetched, statement might not be as ridiculous as you first think. But before you get all excited, jumping around and pointing an accusing finger at those who have smirked whenever you've started talking to your houseplants, remember, they don't have mouths or ears for communication.

Scientists have discovered that plants and trees emit and receive chemical messengers, not only to and from one another, but possibly to and from members of the animal kingdom. So if you think your parlour palm is thriving due to the loving chat you have each morning, chances are you're as batty as hell. If, on the other hand, you suspect the stunted growth of the aspidistra in the down stairs toilet has something to do with uncle Roy and his Friday night penchant for vindaloo and chips when walking home from the pub - well now your conversing.

It seems there may be a network of communication going on between those in nature's hierarchy we arrogantly deem as inferior. Infuriatingly, we could join the party ourselves if only we hadn't become so dependent on our senses of sight and hearing at the expense of our olfactory system. Smell is where it's at folks!

Only a tiny proportion of the small talk is carried out at a level we can consciously share in. Scented flowers attract insects to their nectar, at the same time dusting them with pollen in order to facilitate potential cross pollination with another plant. There are other examples - manipulative inducements for animals to eat fruits, and by so doing spread and fertilise seed - but they all tend to be rather one-sided conversations.

In the animal kingdom our powers of smell are pretty poor when compared to the likes of dogs which have upwards of 200 million olfactory sense cells in comparison to our measly six million. Nevertheless, whilst much plant and animal chatter is beyond the range of our finest 'noses', we are party to a vast layer of scent communication whilst not necessarily being aware of it while it's happening.

Much of 'plant talk' communicates in a subliminal fashion, at a subconscious level. Animals, and to a lesser extent humans, have a second sense ability to know which plants are poisonous or harmful even though there may be no visual indicators. Similarly, they instinctively know which plants to chew on when they have need of their medicinal properties. These plants are talking. They are saying: 'Eat me!' or 'Don't eat me!'.

It has been found that a tree or bush subjected to harsh harvesting will produce more tannin in its leaves, making it taste bitter and less desirable. Strangely, neighbouring (but as yet non-cropped) plants also produce tannin. They are forewarned!

Exactly how much wittering is going on in our gardens is hard to say, but now we know of this tittle tattling is there any way we ourselves can be forewarned?

After hard-pruning the roses I don't think we should worry about seeing the magnolia tree armed with an MK47 by way of defence. Perhaps, though, when you can't quite bring yourself to cut down an old apple tree that's past its best, something (or someone) is playing around with your emotions.

- The Composter

All Articles � 2000 Paul Lathrope
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