Plant Scent Camouflage

Plants are constantly battling herbivores to avoid being eaten. One way they do so is to disguise their scent.

“Plants emit an extraordinary diversity of chemicals that provide information about their identity and mediate their interactions with insects,” observes Chinese botanist Pengjuan Zu. Being on the meal ticket has plants in a continuing war to deceive their predators.

Insects have exquisite senses of smell. Plants, being rooted to the spot, don’t want to stand out, and thereby paint themselves a target for lunch. “Plants want to avoid being located and eaten so do their best to smell like other plants,” notes British botanist Phil Stevenson. Plants specifically mimic other plants which their predators don’t like to munch.

The implications of plant intelligence are obvious. Plants are aware of their situation and know that of their neighbors, including the threats that other plants face. This savvy cannot be explained physiologically, as plants have no identifiable sensory or intelligence system.

Pengjuan Zu et al, “Information arms race explains plant-herbivore chemical communication in ecological communities,” Science (19 June 2020).
Phineas Ruekert, “Plants can camouflage odours to avoid being eaten,” (19 June 2020).