It was not so long ago that we acknowledged that even animals communicate with each other and some species even have their own language. Now we have something that can change your mind about the world once again. We need to understand that plants also communicate – and especially with us.
It may be difficult for many people to imagine that plants communicate, presumably because we understand communication only as our form of understanding certain sounds and gestures. But communication is much more. We also know from the animal kingdom that, for example, ants do not communicate via sounds but via fragrances. Combine the fragrances as we combine words: different fragrances can be combined into very different messages, for example, to convey warnings about intruders or information on a food source.
The Language of Plants
Several years ago, it was discovered that plants can communicate with each other via their roots. And far more complex than one might suspect. They warn each other against predators.
On the one hand, they use certain fragrances as a language. On the other hand, chemical messengers, electrical signals, and even Morse code. The research shows that this language of plants is far more detailed and complex than we ever suspected.
Plants can send incredibly complex information about fragrances and exchange information with each other. For example, plants tell their neighbors not only that they have been injured, but also what the pest has injured them. They can even send out a scent signal that is understood by the predators of these pests, for example, parasitic wasps. So, they warn their neighbors and call specifically for help at the same time.
In the meantime, there are so many dictionaries forming a ‘language of plants’ that this can no longer be ignored. The communication between the plants is so strongly networked that researchers speak of the ‘Wood Wide Web’ and assume that the roots of the plants form a huge, earth-spanning communication network.
The crops of our agriculture have lost many of these communication capabilities: they are ‘zombies’ that are no longer involved in this natural network. Our industrial monocultures are bald spots in the information network of nature. Plants also communicate with us. One might think that we cannot understand this chemical language of plants, but that is not the case, we already understand it. At least, our body instinctively understands it on many levels. For example, the human immune system also reacts to the fragrances, especially as other plants do.
Nature and the Immune System
How exactly does this phenomenon affect our immune system? So far, it is known that taking a walk through the forest will bring about several health-promoting processes. The fragrance messages emanating from the plants influence the number and activity of our cells, our hormone system, the concentration of various anti-cancer proteins (perforin, granzyme, and granulysin) and many other areas of our immune system.
Japanese researchers found out fragnance messages which interacts with our immune system. As a result, two forest walks increase our immune system by about 50%. The results of recent research are taken so seriously in Japan that a separate branch of medical research was established at various Japanese universities in 2012 – ‘Forest Medicine’ – a research based on a therapy known from traditional medicine, the so-called Shinrin-yoku (‘forest bathing’).
The Biophilia Effect
The forest sends signals not only in a purely chemical-physical way but also unconsciously communicates with us. Our body and mind have hardly changed in the last thousand years and still yearns for the security and the connection with nature.
This is easy to understand because man has evolved over millions of years with nature. A bustling city center is rarely considered to be a paradise for us. We are all yearning for idyllic nature’s silence.
A person is positively receptive to the sensations of nature in all our senses: the chemical messages of the trees, the visual stimuli, the smell, the birds, the sound of a stream, the sensation of grass under bare feet. All these impressions influence our hormonal balance, our immune system, our psyche, our brain and nervous system to a positive extent and can therefore also be used therapeutically. Nature can be a medicine we need more than ever before.
Nature as a Healer
Is it a coincidence that the prevailing diseases of our time are called ‘civilization diseases’? The fact that these diseases hardly appear in indigenous cultures certainly has to do with an increased burden of smog, industrial toxins, and radiation.
Do the body, soul, and spirit need nature to be completely healthy again? At least, we already know that nature can greatly alleviate many symptoms as shown by a number of recent studies: just being in the forest relieves pain, lowers blood sugar levels in diabetic patients, heals wounds faster, and reduces stress by influencing hormones. Cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine lower blood pressure and have many more beneficial effects. Judging from the fact that these relationships have hardly been explored so far, we can expect some interesting findings in the coming years.
Nature Deficit Disorder
The American writer Richard Louv was probably the first who found a name of ‘disease’ which is the reason for the modern society problem – a ‘nature deficit disorder.’ The young generation is especially affected like no other. In his book ‘Last Child in the Woods’, Louv explains that millions of children today no longer have access to nature and ‘prefer to play near power outlets.’
That’s an alarming trend. What do a human, a brain, and a nervous system do when the subconscious, archaically programmed yearning for nature finds no fulfillment? How does it affect the psyche of a child when forests, rivers, and tree houses are being replaced by white walls, screens, and plastic toys, which form the playing environment? What does happen to a baby’s development when looking at bare ceilings instead of passing clouds?
This concern could easily be dismissed if we did not have to acknowledge all the described relationships between forest and human as scientific facts.
Only the intense experience of being out in nature can evoke in a child this intense form of wonder, spiritual curiosity.
Is Nature Experience a Basis for Being Human?
Louv has sparked a worldwide debate. In the meantime, his theses have been confirmed by numerous studies: many mental disorders in childhood do not occur in contact with nature and can be significantly improved by re-establishing contact. In medicine, this recognition has not yet approved. People still prefer to use psychotropic drugs, instead of looking for other contexts.
The positive response of the human body to nature is instinctive and at a very deep level. Louv believes that it forms the basis of our development as a human being – a foundation that millions of children have lost today.
Back to Nature
Louv asks, ‘How would our lives change if our lives were as involved in nature as they are in electronics today?’ How would society change? That’s quite an interesting question.
Louv is convinced that today, more than ever, we need nature if we really want to survive. Our cities have to be designed in such a good way that we could combine all our technologies with nature.
The Louv’s hope is that the 21st century could become the century in which man is reunited with nature. One can only hope that he is right. The awareness that nature literally communicates with us, greatly enriches our own experience and gives us back some signals which we all consciously understand on a deep level.
The whole planet is our home. We love our home and therefore should maximally merge with nature and feel all its manifestations.