Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thigmomorphogenesis; say what?

For a long time I've made a little fun of the trees in my Flint Hills yard. They're perfectly fine trees, they are just, well, they are just a little thick around the waist, like a middle-aged male, and they lean a little bit to the south like, well, never mind. I've attributed both of those characteristics to the ever-present Kansas wind howling in from the northwest, but little did I know that the endearingly odd changes in my trees were a recognized scientific phenomenonen. In reading the latest book by Linda Chalker-Scott, The Informed Gardener Blooms Again, I came across the term "thigmomorphogenesis,"  which refers to changes (morpho) in the appearance of a plant in response to repeated touching (thigmo).  And repeated touching includes "touching" by the wind coming across the prairie. Recognized changes of thigmomorphogenesis include decreased stem elongation, increased stem thickness, smaller leaves, fewer flowers and increased senescence. This results in more firmly anchored trees with increased root to crown ratio that are then naturally more resistant to uprooting, splitting, and other wind damage. The whole concept of thigmomorphogenesis makes a little sense when you think of the short, stunted nature of alpine forest trees.  It also gives me a really good, smart-sounding excuse for the occasional lapse in flower production in my garden.

So thanks, Ms. Chalker-Scott, I'm now a little bit more horticulturally-educated, and I've also been firmly exposed for being no better than the grade school bully who makes fun of the new kid with glasses.  I mean, my trees couldn't help being short and squat and here I was making jokes of them.  I hope they don't develop a complex and sulk.  

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