Plants Use 'An Internet Of Fungus' To Communicate

If you were a childhood fan of Little Shop of Horrors, perhaps you fantasized about owning a talking plant with a stellar singing voice, hopefully minus the man-eating. But if someone told you that plants can actually talk, it would probably sound like a load of Audrey's number two. Alas, you won't find many real-world examples of giant Venus fly traps snacking on demented dentists and convincing Rick Moranis to keep quiet about it. But that doesn't mean plants can't communicate in meaningful or just plain mean ways.

For instance, if you snip tomato plants or deprive them of water like a botanical lunatic, they release "ultrasonic screams" that some scientists interpret as cries for help. But when they aren't being tortured by scientists, plants victimize their fellow vegetation. Using a rudimentary "internet" made of fungus, they perform what the BBC likens to "cybercrime." Let's get to the bottom of how these photosynthesizers turn photo-sinister.

The root of all leave-il

An estimated 90 percent of land plants have "mutually beneficial relationships" with fungi, per the BBC. The strength of these relationships is largely rooted in thin threads called mycelium which make up the majority of a fungus's body. Mycelium doubles as underground internet fibers referred to as the "wood wide web." Plants use it to share nutrients with their neighbors or sabotage each other by delivering toxins that hinder growth or otherwise harm their fellow fungal net users. Hence, the cybercrime comparison.

In addition to serving as accomplices to plant crime, fungi assist plants in absorbing water, supply vital nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, and improve their immune systems. Meanwhile, plants feed fungus networks carbohydrates. Some plants produce compounds that attract fungi and beneficial bacteria. Meanwhile others, like the phantom orchid, use fungi to steal nutrients from trees connected to the network. These plants may not come from the Black Lagoon or from past the stars or beyond the moon, but much like Audrey II, they can be mean green mothers, and fungus is their willing Rick Moranis.