Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario show that plants are capable of recognizing their siblings and will give them preferential treatment, competing less for valuable resources like root space than they otherwise would when surrounded by plants that are “strangers”.
“Our view of nature is sometimes that nature is red in tooth and claw—that every organism is out for itself,” says biologist Susan Dudley.
But in her laboratory here, Dudley has shown that nature has a softer side. Even plants can embrace family values.
Dudley and her students have shown that plants can recognize their siblings and give them preferential treatment. In 2007 they tested a hypothesis: that plants from the same mother would compete for less valuable resources (like root space in the soil) than plants that were strangers. To her amazement, Dudley says, “We found exactly what we predicted.”
In other words, the plants seemed to act altruistically toward their relatives. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the plants are being selfless. This altruism is most likely a strategy that evolved to increase the odds that a plant will pass on its genes.