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Environment & Outdoors

Tips for Hardy Gardeners: screaming tomatoes and "The Botany of Desire"

Tortoiseshell Black/Dribble

Scientists at Pennsylvania State University have discovered that caterpillars can "silence a tomato's cries for help."

You can read the article here and the actual research findings here.

Scientists found that a caterpillar called the tomato fruit worm not only chomps on tomatoes and their leaves, but also deposits enzyme-laden saliva on the plant, interfering with its ability to cry for help.

In some cases, plant distress signals can even summon help from other species. That's what happens with the tomato. When caterpillars nibble on the plant's leaves, the leaf pores release volatile chemicals that are detected by a type of parasite: a wasp that lays eggs inside caterpillars. (Not to overwork the horror-movie analogy, but as with the hapless astronauts in the "Aliens" franchise, it doesn't end well for the caterpillar.) 

'Like a horror movie': Caterpillar silences tomato's cry for help, scientists find

And if that's not creepy enough, Tom Kasper raises a question author Mark Pollan tackles in his book The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World: are we manipulating plants or are they, in fact, manipulating us?

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