Botanist's Lens: Kinship in mind around the holidays?
Guess what? Kinship exists in humans, animals, as well as in plants! Kin recognition in plants is a recent study and even though the exact mechanism is still being studied, there is ample research to prove kin recognition in plants.
Not only can plants recognize their kin, but they can also communicate with their kin. Yes, plants can communicate! Let's first have a look at kin recognition in plants: Plants can recognize their kin by the help of roots exudates, chemicals emitted by their roots.
Kin recognition helps overall plant survival and success rate. " root exudates can carry specific information about the genetic relatedness, population origin and species identity of neighbours, and trigger different responses at the whole root system level" (https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/newphytologist.204.3.631.pdf?seq=1)
Can plants favor their kin? The following info from: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/01/once-considered-outlandish-idea-plants-help-their-relatives-taking-root, is not only intriguing, but eye opening! "The plants do have light sensors, and in 2015, Casal’s team discovered that the strength of reflected light striking nearby leaves signaled relatedness and triggered the rearrangements. Relatives tend to sprout leaves at the same height, bouncing more light onto each other’s leaves. By shifting leaves to reduce how much they shade each other, the relatives cumulatively grow more vigorously and produce more seeds,” his team found.
Kin recognition can even help forests regenerate. A method used for evaluating and tracing nutrient flow and chemical signals between trees connected by underground fungi (Mycorrhiza) was used to research how Douglas firs preferentially feed their kin and warn them about insect attacks.
Suzanne Simard, a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia's Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences in Vancouver has done some outstanding research on kinship in plants, mainly Douglas fir and birches. "The research has demonstrated that these complex, symbiotic networks in our forests – [at the hub of which stand what she calls the "mother trees"] -- mimic our own neural and social networks". (https://www.ted.com/speakers/suzanne_simard). I highly recommend listening to her TED talk. It is an awe-inspiring underground world that scientist are currently researching.
Isn't kinship in plants fascinating? Well, here is a plant that would bring cheer to any of your kin: Poinsettias (Euphoirbia pulcherima). The bright red, sometimes orange, white, pink (anything else is a dye, steer away!) Poinsettias are everywhere around this time of the year. If you can keep Poinsettias above 55 degrees and keep them moist but not soggy, it certainly can make a special gift for any of your kin!