Technology + Cannibal Plants = Science?

We all know that, in much the same way that Americans take in sugary soda and greasy hamburgers through our sloppy pieholes, plants take in water and nutrients from the soil through their roots to sustain themselves. Lately, scientists have been studying how, in the same way Americans add cheese to everything to increase our cholesterol count, adding peat and pine substances to a water supply can improve plants’ water uptake and transfer abilities.

Go With the Flow (Meter)

To study the effects of the added organic materials, scientists used a high-tech flow meter (likely a Siemens flow meter) to investigate the hydraulic conductance of root systems growing in soil with varying amounts of nutrient enrichment.

“The flow of water through plants has been commonly analyzed using the parameters of flow rate and the difference in water potentials between the rhizosphere, roots, and leaves,” said the study’s lead author, Brian E. Jackson; Lesley Judd, William Fonteno, and Jean-Christophe Domec co-authored the findings. Jackson continued, “Alternative measures are root hydraulic conductivity and […] conductance, physiological traits that describe the ease with which water can move through the [root system]. These traits are indicators of plant performance and adaptability to a given environment.”

Experiments were conducted using chrysanthemums, coleus, hibiscus, and buddleja plants. The chrysanthemums and coleus were grown in three different peat-based soil mixes (with 20% 30%, and 40% shredded pine additives), and one “control” soil with no enrichment. Hibiscus and buddleja plants were grown in two different enhanced soils (with 25% and 50% shredded pine wood added), and one control soil.

Mum's the word.

Mum’s the word.

Forced Cannibalism in the Name of Science

Feeding plants other plants proved to be beneficial, especially in the chrysanthemums’ case. All enhanced-soil samples of the species show a positive response, with increased root hydraulic conductance noted in the flow meter readings. However, it appears as though this increase was due to improved growth of the roots themselves, rather than an improvement in the roots’ efficiency.

“The substrates used in these studies only had an effect on root biomass of chrysanthemums, but […] had no differential effect on root hydraulic conductivity,” the study reads, in part.

Still, the experiments proved that the flow meters were an effective way to measure the data. According to the report, “Our initial evidence indicated that the […] flow meter is capable of measuring hydraulic conductivity on the container-grown herbaceous and semi-woody plants we tested.”

If these studies continue to show improvement in plant growth through forced cannibalism, it could be a boon to those growing crops for human consumption. Since we apparently can’t stop eating everything that fits in our mouths, this could potentially be at least part of the solution to ever-increasing worldwide hunger. There are a lot of plants in the world, and a lot of science to be scienced. It might be a good time to be a Siemens distributor.

The full study is available online at HortScience.

Photo credit: patrick_standish via Foter.com / CC BY

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