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Photo by Flora Westbrook from Pexels

For people, and many other animals, family matters. Consider how many jobs go to relatives. Or how an ant will ruthlessly attack intruder ants but rescue injured, closely related nestmates. There are good evolutionary reasons to aid relatives, after all. Now, it seems, family feelings may stir in plants as well.

A Canadian biologist planted the seed of the idea more than a decade ago, but many plant biologists regarded it as heretical—plants lack the nervous systems that enable animals to recognize kin, so how can they know their relatives? But with a series of recent findings, the notion that plants really do care for their most genetically close peers—in a quiet, plant-y way—is taking root.

Some species constrain how far their roots spread, others change how many flowers they produce, and a few tilt or shift their leaves to minimize shading of neighboring plants, favoring related individuals. The new work may have a practical side. In September 2018, a team in China reported that rice planted with kin grows better, a finding that suggested family ties can be exploited to improve crop yields. “It seems anytime anyone looks for it, they find a kin effect,” says André Kessler, a chemical ecologist at Cornell University. (1)

Inside the dark forest of existence, a tree grows.

Up to the sky, away from earth. To reach the stars.

Not upwards. But next to each other.

A new tree. Another one. And another…

A forest made of individuals. All living together.

Existing only because the tree next to them does.

Humans breathing silently. Inside the woods.

They are here now. Only because the trees are.

In a vast empty forest full of life.

Only the emptiness of existence can make us laugh.

Dream of a world with no forests.

And all the butterflies will go away…

Inside the sunny forest of life.

A tall tree falls with a loud bang.

Silently…