When Trees “Talk”
THE African antelope called kudu, with its magnificent spiral horns, is a stately looking beast. Conservationists were therefore alarmed when large numbers of kudu began dying of starvation in small South African reserves. The deaths seemed inexplicable, for the reserves had plenty of trees for the animals to nibble on. However, after much investigation, an amazing explanation has emerged: The trees have been “talking” to one another!
Nonsense? Well, reports South African Panorama: “Trees have a secret weapon against kudu and other leaf eaters . . . When a kudu grazes from a tree, the leaves are stimulated to produce a form of tannin known as Tannin K.” Kudu cannot properly digest these leaves and soon stop eating. “But can’t they simply move on to another tree?” you ask. Here is where tree “talk” comes in.
Professor van Hoven claims in Custos magazine that “it was recently proved beyond doubt that when a plant’s leaves are injured, aromatic compounds are released into the air to which other plants of the same species are sensitive.” In effect, the trees warn their neighbors that hungry browsers are in the area. And how do these neighbors respond? By likewise producing harmful tannin in their leaves. After all, survival is at stake! “Plants which lacked this ability to defend themselves . . . inevitably became extinct as time progressed,” speculates Professor van Hoven. So within a relatively short time after a kudu begins nibbling, one species of tree after another might be ‘shutting down’ its food supply. In fact, it appears to take up to a few days before the leaves of an injured tree return to normal.
The trees’ natural protective mechanism is a real problem when the kudu are kept in small reserves. Researchers soon noted that the death rate of kudu in the smaller reserves was six times higher than in the large ones. Why? Overstocking of kudu. Says Professor van Hoven: “Our advice to game farmers . . . is to keep no more than three to four kudu per 100 hectares [250 a.] . . . If there are more kudu fenced in, it is advisable to provide them with food supplements in winter.”
Of course, it will be necessary to duplicate the laboratory findings under natural conditions before it is known for sure how many trees really “talk” and to what extent. Nevertheless, even these preliminary results point to design in the living creation and the awesome intelligence of the God who made all things.