Sunday 28 June 2009

The Networking of Maize

Months ago, a friend sent me an article about how people who are part of the same social network - even if they do not know each other personally but are friends of friends - can influence each other when it comes to happiness, weight, health issues and so on (you can read the full articlet here: )

While I was walking home from work across the sunlit fields the other day, I was wondering whether plants know some form of networking, too.
Of course they do, to a certain extent, "network" when pollen is passed from one plant to the other. But is there more?

Looking closer at the field of maize I was walking past, I noticed that, in spite of the field having been worked on with the most efficient and modern machinery agriculture knows in this part of the world, the plants were far from uniform.
The rows were not entirely regular; the single plants seemed to be spaced at intervals resembling a barcode with some narrow bars closer together and then a gap slightly wider and then maybe only two bars close before the next gap, and so on.
No obvious pattern that I could detect there and that could have been caused by, say, the rhythm at which the sowing machine had dropped the seeds into the soil earlier this year.

Also, there were whole clusters of plants that did not grow as high and did not look as healthy as the others. None of those smaller plants stood single, there was always a patch of other, similar-looking ones around, as if they had been grouped according to size and health on purpose.

No other obvious factors were present to explain the (mostly oval or round) patches; no nearby tree was casting its shadow across, no pieces of rocks broke the uniform brown of the soil, and they were too far from the path and too big in size to be caused by dogs leaving some unwelcome chemicals behind in their irrigational efforts.

Now, of course I know that plants do not walk about and choose freely among their fellow plants where they want to take root and grow.
But still, the grouping is there, clearly visible even for someone like me who does not know much about plants in the first place.

So, is there such a thing as networking for maize and other crop?

If anyone knows, please tell me. It sounds like it could be a fascinating topic to follow up on.


  1. Unfortunately I can not open the full New Scientist article (even though I am a registered user I don't subscribe to the magazine) but I think that I get the general idea. I'm fascinated by your powers of thought and observation because I see fields of maize all the time both here in NZ and in France when I'm there. However I've never noticed anything but total uniformity. I suspect, however, that that is because I've never been looking and what I've seen is what I've expected to see. I do wonder, too, if that may have anything to to with GM crops.

    1. Oh! I didn't know the link does not lead to the full article anymore. I assure you it did back when I first received the link and posted it here. But yes, you have certainly no problem in getting the general idea.
      Here in Germany, GM crops are not allowed. There is an area somewhere up North where they have experimental fields; they need to be heavily guarded with lots of security measures because people are so violently opposed to GM food here.

    2. Actually true GM crops are not used here in NZ to the best of my knowledge (I don't know about France). What I was really thinking of was the crops modified by selection which are resistant to this and that and standardised for yield and so on. It's still messing around with nature and something we've been doing for centuries but more so recently. So many crops won't, for example, reproduce themselves so farmers (particularly poor ones in Africa) have top buy new seed every year instead of planting part of their harvest as was traditional. I know! I strayed miles from the subject. Sorry.

    3. No, no, nothing to be sorry for - that is the most interesting bit about commenting on blog, isn't it, when it opens different doors on various other subjects from the one starting point.