The river giveth and it taketh

Loren W. Brabec

Of course plants don’t talk to each other! Or, uh ... do they?

On Monday and Tuesday, May 14-15, I tilled and planted my two garden spots. That Monday, I optimistically sowed seeds, already visualizing myself sitting on the patio with a cool beverage and a freshly-cooked zucchini sprinkled with pepper and Parmesan cheese and garnished with a strip of ham. Fresh, cool cucumbers lined up on the counters of my mind, and snappy green beans waited their turn. 

On that Tuesday, I buried a few more seeds and stuck my tomato and pepper plants in the ground. Mental images of a grand, spectacular salad appeared as though on cue, and the scent of just-cooked squash, sprinkled with just a hint of brown sugar, wafted into my nose from somewhere behind me. I saw my friends – karaoke pals and former co-workers – anxiously waiting to take delivery of my kale and lettuce. Maybe this is why I work so hard out there.

Then, on Tuesday, May 22, I saw the first shoots. Every sunflower spot and each zucchini hill was adorned with tiny green stems and leaves. They hadn’t been there the day before, and I had to wonder: Did they decide together to come out today or was this just a coincidence? Do plants communicate to each other? If so, how?

It is a scientific fact that sound is transmitted through a “medium,” and this medium can be gaseous, liquid or solid. Click two stones together while you’re underwater, and the sound is not only audible, but bolstered, amplified as it were, by the density of the water. It’s unmistakable, even at a great distance.

Imagine now that you’re a tiny sprout. You’ve just emerged from the seed but are still underground. As you make your way upward, you continuously rub the soil, scratching out sounds that are certainly audible to other living things beneath the surface. Worms, grubs, millipedes and other small creatures hear your growth and monitor your upward progress like they would a blip on a radar screen.

Other sprouts sense your growth and know that you, like they, are getting closer and closer to that glorious moment when all of you, in one great symphony of sound, crack the surface and join the world of sun, wind and rain. Like the marathon runner who waits for the runner behind her to cross the finish line at the same time as she, do those in the lead hold back just a bit so all can “cross over” at once?

I now sense that you think this can’t be true. You maintain that plants don’t communicate and that I might have even been smoking some of them.

Believe what you want. However, you can’t deny that this happens in gardens all over town, all across the state, year after year. It can’t be coincidence, not considering this huge wheelbarrow full of observational data.

Check your seed packs. Printed on them is a range of days before germination. It’s there to allow for differences in soil conditions, rainfall amounts and temperatures. Yet, those shoots appear above the ground almost simultaneously. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

And now, my plants – even those of the same kind – are of various heights. Above ground and on its own, each plant races toward paydirt, much as a tailback scurries toward the endzone. They’re done talking now.

Loren Brabec is a contributing sports writer for the Isanti-Chisago County Star and author of several Braham sports books.

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