Plant Communication

It took a while for the research area "plant communication" to be accepted. In the beginning, researchers in this field were frowned upon and ridiculed, now there are whole book series about the topic. According to an article in Wired, "the debate is no longer whether plants can sense one another’s biochemical messages — they can — but about why and how they do it." As picked up by the BBC, many studies now indicate that the "wood wide web", beautifully illustrated in the Avatar movie, is real and that fungi play a big part.

Part of the controversy is probably the use of words. Are plants intelligent? Do they have emotions? Can they think and learn? Do they have memory, will and consciousness? Can they feel pain?
“Plant neurobiology” is obviously a metaphor—plants don’t possess the type of excitable, communicative cells we call neurons. Yet the introduction of the term has raised a series of questions and inspired a set of experiments that promise to deepen our understanding not only of plants but potentially also of brains. If there are other ways of processing information, other kinds of cells and cell networks that can somehow give rise to intelligent behavior, then we may be more inclined to ask, with Mancuso, “What’s so special about neurons?” From The Intelligent Plant, by The New Yorker
Knowing that plants can somehow interact is one thing but how can this knowledge be utilised? Researchers at Chalmers are looking into how to save energy in green houses by checking how much and what kind of light the plants want. Other researchers have managed to build electrical networks inside plants which in the future might lead to new sources of energy.

Of course, we can also use ICT in connection with plants in other ways. For those who would like a smart garden, there are several appliances around telling you when to provide more water, sunlight and fertiliser. Sensors used in agriculture can help farmers match the crops to different soils and weather conditions, detect parasites

My favourite example of plant communication is however something completely different. In "Operation Christmas" the Colombian Army installed a giant Christmas tree in the jungle in Farc rebel territory. Movement sensors made the tree light up when people approached it. It was decorated with slogans such as "Demobilise, at Christmas everything is possible" and "If Christmas can come to the jungle, you too can come home". The campaign was designed by the Lowe SSP3 ad agency who's been telling their story on TED and on This American Life, which is where I picked it up.

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