Kathryn Flinn, a plant ecologist and Associate Professor of Biology at Baldwin Wallace University near Cleveland, with a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Cornell University:

Plants emit hormones and defense signals. Other plants detect these signals and alter their physiology accordingly. But not all the talk is kind; plants also produce allelochemicals, which poison their neighbors.

Emerging evidence shows nutrient redistribution via mycorrhizal networks benefits kin more than unrelated plants.

Overemphasizing cooperation is misleading. The forest floor is a forum of fierce competition. A mature maple tree produces millions of seeds, and on average only one will grow to reach the canopy. The rest will die, with or without help from mom. Amid this struggle, trees can sometimes facilitate each other’s growth. But this does not mean that a forest functions like one organism. An ecosystem comprises an ever-changing diversity of organisms having an ever-changing variety of interactions, positive and negative.

Between treating plants as objects or as humans, I suggest a third way: let’s seek to understand plants on their own terms.



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