Stories and Traveltips

ID #5166

I Talk to the Trees, Bushveld, South Africa

If you visit a game reserve in Southern Africa you may notice that browsers such as kudu, impala and giraffe graze almost abstractedly. They take a few mouthsful, a few steps and then a few mouthsful again. Perhaps more importantly, they do not eat all of the foliage on one tree before moving to the next tree.  Initially no significance was attached to this behaviour. However, after a particularly severe drought a few years ago, several kudu which had died of starvation were discovered with their stomachs were full of food. At the time there was no explanation for what had happened.

Searching for an explanation, an enterprising researcher subsequently discovered that when the foliage of trees which are frequently browsed (e.g. acacia species) is damaged, the trees produce tannins which make the leaves unpalatable. This explains why browsers take a few mouthsful and then move on – the trees respond by producing tannins to protect themselves. Not particularly surprising you might say. However, the innovative researcher analyzed the response of adjacent trees as well. To his surprise, he discovered that they too produced tannins.

This led to the rather startling conclusion that trees are able to communicate with one another.

One famous individual has been ridiculed for saying that he talks to his houseplants. In retrospect, you may want to apologize for thinking such thoughts, for it may well be that he is correct. Furthermore, next time you abuse you houseplants by neglecting or abusing them, don’t be surprised when they keel over stone dead. Be careful -- you have been found wanting.

Alan McIver

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Last update: 2014-05-14 14:10
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.2

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