By Andrew Porterfield
The word in the garden is that basil is good to have around. Plants are known to communicate with each other via shade, aromatic chemicals, and physical touch, promoting processes such as growth and defense against disease, as well as attraction of bees and other pollinators.
Now, online today in BMC Ecology, researchers report a new type of mechanism that some plants use to communicate. The team planted common chili pepper seeds (Capsicum annuum, pictured) near a basil plant, with barriers that prevented the basil from deploying its usual growth-promoting tricks.
Despite the separation, chili seeds germinated faster when basil was a neighbor, suggesting that a message was getting through. Because light, touch, and chemical "smell" were ruled out, the team proposes that the finding points to a new type of communication between plants, possibly involving nanoscale sound waves, traveling through the dirt to bring encouraging "words" to the growing seeds.
Understanding this novel communication could help growers boost crop yields and increase global food supplies. How neighborly.
See more ScienceShots.
ScienceNOW, the daily online news service of the journal Science