Plant perception (physiology)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

In the study of plant physiology plant perception is a term used to describe mechanisms by which plants recognize changes in the environment. Examples of stimuli which plants perceive and can react to include chemicals, gravity, light, moisture, infections, temperature, oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations, parasite infestation, physical disruption, and touch. Plants have a variety of means to detect such stimuli and a variety of reaction responses or behaviors.

Plant perception occurs on a cellular level and its concomitant reactive behavior is mediated by phytochromes, kinins, hormones, antibiotic or other chemical release, changes of water and chemical transport, and other means. These responses are generally slow, taking at minimum a number of hours to accomplish, and can best be observed with time-lapse cinematography, but rapid movements can occur as well.

Research published in September 2006 has shown, certainly in the case of Arabidopsis thaliana, the role of cryptochromes in the perception of magnetic fields by plants.

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Senses in plants

Plants have many strategies to fight off pests. For example, they can produce different toxins (so called phytoalexins) against invaders or they can induce rapid cell death of invaded cells to hinder the pests from spreading out. All these strategies depend on quick and reliable recognition-systems. Research of the last years revealed some amazing abilities of plants in this area. Plants not only can taste the spit of caterpillars, they can also smell, see, "feel" and hear, as Andy Coughlin reported in the New Scientist (26/9.98).

Smell

Wounded tomatoes are known to produce the volatile odour methyl jasmonate as an alarm-signal. Plants in the neighbourhood can then smell the danger and prepare for the attack by producing chemicals that defend against insects or attract insectivorous predators. And according to New Scientist: "Methyl jasmonate is often used in perfumes and this created problems for the researchers." "We had to warn the women not to use it in the greenhouse because it would mess up the experiment", said Bud Ryan (Washington State University).

Light and Electromagnetic waves

Many plant-organs contain photosensitive compounds, each reacting very specifically to certain wavelengths of light. These light-sensors tell the plant if it's day or night, how long the day is, how much light is available and from where the light comes. More recently, researchers discovered that plants also can detect harmful ultraviolet B-rays and then start producing pigments which filter out these rays. "Plants make their own suntan cream in the presence of UVB", says Gareth Jenkins (University of Glasgow).

Touch

Many of us are familiar with the mimosa plant (Mimosa pudica); it makes its thin leaves point down at the slightest touch. And carnivorous plants such as the Venus flytrap snap shut by the touch of insects. But a sense of touch is something every plant has, as Coughlin describes: "Ordinary plants need a sense of touch to respond to the buffeting of the wind, which can cause damage to foliage. They try to resist wind by strengthening tissues that are being swayed. The extra energy expended stiffening tissue can cost farmers dear, however. One experiment showed that when maize plants are shaken for 3 seconds each day, yields drop by 30 to 40% compared with unshaken plants", writes Coughlin (New Scientist).

Sound

Mordecai Jaffe (Wake Forest University) used an instrument that made a loud "warble" and got a doubling in the growth of dwarf pea plants. Jaffe suspects that the plant hormone gibberellic acid, which is instrumental in shoot elongation and seed germination, is involved in the "hearing" response. When Jaffe added chemicals to the pea plants inhibiting the biosynthesis of this hormone, he was unable to reproduce the original effects.

See also

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Plant perception (physiology)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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