More Alike Than You Think

A foggy day in the forest with a tree trunk in front with moss on it. A bunch of other trees trucks all around, some with little branches sticking out and moss all over the ground.

People and plants share DNA. We share a planet. We are part of an interconnected system. We need each other.  

Scientists are studying plants and their capabilities all the time. One of the things I find particularly interesting about these studies is the similarities in capabilities between the behavior of plants and people.  

People talk to each other using auditory signals to convey information from one person to another. Trees also use signals to transmit information to one another; they talk to each other. If a tree is being attacked by an insect infestation, they tell the other trees so that the others can prepare their defenses. 

Hearing is one of the senses most people possess. Research has shown that tree roots are responsive to sound waves. Tree roots grow toward the sound of water flowing. Tree roots hear although they do so with sensory apparatus that currently we do not fully understand. 

Plants can see. My grammar checker program does not like that sentence. That program reflects the human bias that plants do not possess senses comparable to those of animals. Yet plants do respond to light waves and will seek out the wavelengths most beneficial for the plant. Plants appear to lack the visual acuity of humans, but some plants have been shown to copy the leaf shape of nearby plants. This sort of mimicking requires that the plant be able to observe nearby leaves.  

Plants learn. In a fascinating study a species of prayer plant, that closes its leaves when it feels in danger, was taken on rides across cobblestone streets. On the first couple of trips, the plants would all close their leaves, but as the trips were repeated, the plants learned that it was not dangerous and stopped closing their leaves.

Trees care for one another. They care for their descendants by sharing nutrients. They will even continue to feed the stump of a tree that was important to the community. They will also restrict the growth of the young trees so that they will develop properly just as parents will discipline their children so that they grow up to be healthy and productive adults. 

There are more similarities between plants and people than are generally recognized. When we recognize the similarities, we begin to understand the interconnectedness of everything. People are part of nature just like plants and plants have many of the same capabilities as people. 

– Katha Miller-Winder, Education Committee