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Do Plants Like To Be Touched

by Lyndon Langley
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Do Plants Like To Be Touched

Do Plants Like To Be Touched

I’m always amazed when people tell me they “like” plants. People say this because it can be hard for us to understand that these beautiful organisms are not pets. They do not want to be petted by humans. They have their own set of needs and wants which include air, water, nutrients, sunlight, carbon dioxide, and of course, love.
We’ve all heard about how important it is to take care of our plants so we’re going to focus on some new research in the area of plant genetics and what happens when you touch them.
Plants are genetically programmed to grow towards light. This means that if there’s any kind of disturbance in their environment such as bad weather or lack of sun, then they will move to correct the problem. In other words, they have built-in navigation systems. When you see your garden plants moving away from the direction of the sun, it’s because they are trying to find more sunlight. If you know anything about plant biology, you probably already knew this. But now scientists at Cornell University have discovered something else entirely. What they found was surprising.
A team of researchers led by Dr. Paul Knoepfler examined whether plants could sense sound through vibrations produced by our hands. The idea came after the group noticed that when they shook leaves with their fingers, the leaf moved toward the source of vibration. In order for this to happen, the leaf must detect changes in pressure caused by shaking. So they conducted experiments using Arabidopsis thaliana, commonly known as mustard weed. Their findings were published in the journal Cell.
In one experiment, the researchers looked at the effect of light waves on a leaf. Leaves respond to different wavelengths of light differently. For instance, red light causes the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Blue light has the opposite effect. A leaf exposed to blue light will produce less ROS than one exposed to white light. The researchers used high frequency pulses of blue light to simulate the effects of wind blowing across a leaf. After applying this test to 12 different mustard plants, they concluded that the leaves did indeed perceive changes in pressure and responded accordingly.
Next, they wanted to determine whether the same result would occur when light waves were replaced by sound waves. Therefore, they chose another type of plant – the moss Physcomitrella patens. Mosses are single celled green algae. Unlike higher plants, mosses have no true stems; instead, they grow from nodes along branches. Mosses also need very little food and they reproduce quickly. Because of these characteristics, studies involving moss have great value in understanding plant physiology. In fact, the research done by Dr. Knoepfler and his colleagues has implications for medicine, agriculture, energy production, and environmental science.
To conduct this part of the study, the researchers placed two moss samples into glass containers filled with liquid medium. One container had its lid attached while the other had its lid removed. Then, they played short bursts of high frequency sound waves over both containers. As expected, the moss in the open container grew faster than the closed container. This proved that even though the sounds couldn’t travel through the glass walls, the moss still perceived the presence of the sound waves.
However, the most interesting finding occurred when the researchers repeated the experiment but added a few drops of water to the top of each container. This time, the results were reversed. The moss sample in the closed container grew much quicker than the one in the open container. Why?
This was because the addition of water altered the surface tension of the liquid inside the containers. Surface tension is created by molecules called surfactants. Surfactants create a layer of bubbles around the surface of liquids. Normally, the bubbles spread out evenly throughout the liquid. However, when there’s too many bubbles present, the surface tension increases dramatically. This creates a force that pushes the bubble inward toward the center of the liquid. In other words, surface tension makes it harder for the bubbles to spread outward. When the researchers added water to the closed container, they increased the number of bubbles causing the surface tension to increase. As a result, the bubbles became smaller and closer together. This meant that the space between the bubbles became larger allowing the growth of the moss cells better access to nutrients.
So why does the water affect the growth rate of the moss? According to Dr. Knoepfler, the best explanation he could come up with is that the surface bubbles act as tiny boats pushing the moss cells down a river. He likens the process to fish swimming upstream against a current. Think about it, when fish swim upstream, they push themselves upstream against the flow of water. Fish cannot stop themselves from doing this. That’s because fish don’t have propellers. Instead, they use fins to propel their bodies forward. Likewise, the way moss grows requires that the cells move against the current of water. Otherwise, the cells won’t get anywhere.
Dr. Knoepfler says, “If you think about plants growing in nature, they face similar challenges as fish swimming upstream. How do they manage?” His answer to this question may help explain why certain types of plants grow better in the presence of water.
In conclusion, plants are genetically programmed to grow towards light. Touching plants triggers an upset in them. Scientists have proven that plants can sense the presence of sound waves. Additionally, adding water to a plant affects its ability to absorb nutrients. We hope you enjoyed learning about this fascinating subject! Please check out the links below for further information about plants. Thanks for reading!

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