Plants recognize their siblings, biologists discover

Jun 13, 2007

The next time you venture into your garden armed with plants, consider who you place next to whom. It turns out that the docile garden plant isn’t as passive as widely assumed, at least not with strangers. Researchers at McMaster University have found that plants get fiercely competitive when forced to share their pot with strangers of the same species, but they’re accommodating when potted with their siblings.

The study appears today in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

“The ability to recognize and favour kin is common in animals, but this is the first time it has been shown in plants” said Susan Dudley, associate professor of biology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. “When plants share their pots, they get competitive and start growing more roots, which allows them to grab water and mineral nutrients before their neighbours get them. It appears, though, that they only do this when sharing a pot with unrelated plants; when they share a pot with family they don’t increase their root growth. Because differences between groups of strangers and groups of siblings only occurred when they shared a pot, the root interactions may provide a cue for kin recognition.”

Though they lack cognition and memory, the study shows plants are capable of complex social behaviours such as altruism towards relatives, says Dudley. Like humans, the most interesting behaviours occur beneath the surface.

Dudley and her student, Amanda File, observed the behavior in sea rocket (Cakile edentula), a member of the mustard family native to beaches throughout North America, including the Great Lakes.

So should gardeners arrange their plants like they would plan the seating at a dinner party?

“Gardeners have known for a long time that some pairs of species get along better than others, and scientists are starting to catch up with why that happens,” says Dudley. “What I’ve found is that plants from the same mother may be more compatible with each other than with plants of the same species that had different mothers. The more we know about plants, the more complex their interactions seem to be, so it may be as hard to predict the outcome as when you mix different people at a party.”

Source: McMaster University

Explore further: Bulletproof nuclei? Stem cells exhibit unusual absorption property

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Seeding success in India turns coconut dust into gold

Apr 10, 2014

Coconut dust may not be fairy dust, but in southern India, the substance is creating healthy crops. A Virginia Tech-led program is showing farmers that the material, derived from husks, is great potting soil ...

Crazy ants dominate fire ants by neutralizing their venom

Feb 13, 2014

Invasive "crazy ants" are rapidly displacing fire ants in areas across the southeastern U.S. by secreting a compound that neutralizes fire ant venom, according to a University of Texas at Austin study published ...

New surface treatment stops scale buildup

Jan 22, 2014

Scale, as these deposits are known, causes inefficiencies, downtime, and maintenance issues. In the oil and gas industry, scale has sometimes led to the complete shutdown, at least temporarily, of operating ...

Recommended for you

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Apr 18, 2014

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.

Low tolerance for pain? The reason may be in your genes

Researchers may have identified key genes linked to why some people have a higher tolerance for pain than others, according to a study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 66th Annual ...

How to keep your fitness goals on track

(HealthDay)—The New Year's resolutions many made to get fit have stalled by now. And one expert thinks that's because many people set their goals too high.