Female Ferns Can Turn Their Neighbors Male

Plants communicate via pheromone
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Oct 25, 2014 4:49 PM CDT
This May 3, 2014 photo shows Fern Canyon, a narrow half mile slot with 50 walls covered in multiple types of fern in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in northwest California.   (AP Photo)

(Newser) – If you're a Japanese climbing fern, your sex may be up to those living around you. That's thanks to communication between the plants involving a pheromone called gibberellin, Vox reports. Early-maturing plants, which tend to become female, start developing the pheromone, but they don't finish. Instead, these plants send the chemical into the forest floor, where nearby plants can absorb it, Nature reports.

When these less-mature plants pick up the chemical, they finish the process of making gibberellin. Higher amounts of gibberellin tend to lead to male plants. In short, the older plants have caused their neighbors to turn male. The system generally leads to female ferns surrounded by male ones, meaning a more diverse bunch of plants, Phys.org reports. Plants have previously been shown to "warn" each other of danger.

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