• Question: I have read that plants are able to "communicate" together from root to root, can you explain me how ?

    Asked by Lula to Freddie, Jena, Kirsten, Kon, Zarah on 16 Nov 2016.
    • Photo: Jennifer Bates

      Jennifer Bates answered on 16 Nov 2016:

      Plants do indeed communicate with one another underground! But usually by making friends with other species first!

      There was some incredible work done by the scientist Suzanne Simard that demonstrated that some species of tree create complex networks using extra species, specifically fungi! These fungi form mycorrhizal networks that allow trees to send nutrients from root system to root system, effectively communicating (a network in which things are linked and share information on the number of individuals and their needs is after all communication). Simard measured this by using radioactive carbon and tracing the flow between individual trees and even species (birch and Douglas firs). A central tree, or mother tree, supports seedlings by infecting them with a fungus that via the underground mycorrhizal network, and then the mother tree can feed the new seedlings with nutrients, supporting them. It was shown that this wasn’t just one way communication, ‘information’ was being passed in that if a new seedling developed room was made in the network for the seedling.
      You can watch Suzanne Simard talking about this in a TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/suzanne_simard_how_trees_talk_to_each_other

      More recently work by a scientist called James Westwood has suggested that there are some parasitic plants that can create pathways between root systems or vascular systems and transfer material across! For example his work showed the movement of RNA from host plants into a parasitic plant called dodders (Cuscuta sp.) and across.