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By: Efraim Harari

In the late 1980’s, scientists concluded that plants can communicate with their own species as well as with other plant species. This communication is through chemicals being released as a response to the environment. Research showed that when a plant’s leaves are eaten by insects, the plant releases volatile chemicals that signal other leaves to put up a defense. This warning signal can sometimes include information about the identity of the insect. Depending on the plant and the attacker, the defense might involve changing the leaf’s flavor or texture, or producing toxins or other compounds that make the plant’s flesh less tasty and desirable. When antelopes browse acacia trees, the leaves produce tannins that make them unappetizing and hard to digest.

In 1996, during a scientific study, botanists clipped leaves of a sagebrush plant in a way that mimicked the damage caused by insects. The plant released a puff of a chemical called methyl jasmonate. Tobacco plants growing downwind picked up on the chemical and immediately began boosting their own level of an enzyme that would make their leaves less tasty to insects. These tobacco plants suffered 60% less damage from grasshoppers and caterpillars than tobacco plants further away from the clipped sagebrush.

Plants Can Communicate with Insects!

Perhaps even more amazing than plants communicating with each other is the discovery that plants can also communicate with insects.

Research has shown that several species of plants, including corn and lima bean plants, emit a chemical distress call when attacked. In a scientific study, when lima bean plants were attacked by spider mites, the lima bean plants released chemical signals that attracted a new batch of mites. These mites ate the spider mites that were attacking the plants. When the plants were attacked by caterpillars, parasitic wasps which were far away picked up the scent released by the plants. The wasps located the distressed plants and proceeded to destroy the caterpillars.

Botanists call these insects “plant bodyguards.” Scientists today admit that plants speak in a chemical vocabulary that they cannot even begin to understand.

Torah Talk

The Language of Plants

Although plant communication was only recently discovered by scientists, our Sages were well aware of this phenomenon thousands of years ago.

The Ramban, in his introduction to his commentary on the Torah, wrote
the following:

Shlomo Hamelech, of blessed memory, to whom Hashem gave both wisdom and knowledge, knew everything in the Torah. In fact, his grasp of the Torah was so deep that he understood the secrets of all things, including the language of plants, the language of trees and roots, and all things both hidden and revealed. He discovered all of this through Torah study and its commentaries and teachings.

Additionally, it says in the Gemara (Sukkah 28a), when speaking about the wisdom of Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai:

Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai knew every part of Torah and knew astronomy, numerical calculations, the language of the angels, the language of the spiritual world, and the language of the trees....

Indeed, plants do have a language and can communicate, a fact revealed by Hashem through His Torah millennia ago.

Did You

Many drugs that we
use today are made from chemicals
that plants use to protect themselves.

Keep Out!

Ants that live in the whistling thorn trees attack animals that try to eat the leaves of the tree!

Just Joking

Q: Why did the gardener quit his job?

A: Because his celery wasn't high enough!

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