Plants are smarter than people think: New research shows flora can distinguish between members of their own family and unrelated vegetation, Nature reports. Plants tend to share resources more equitably with nearby siblings by developing smaller root systems, but compete for available nutrients when neighbors are strangers. "Plants have a secret social life," said one researcher.
Scientists don't know how plants tell kin from outsiders. Some speculate that, like animals, they may have family-specific immune proteins that are recognizable to other relatives. Ecologists have long been aware that plants react differently when they're alone or growing in groups, but the new research marks the first discovery of kin recognition among plants. (Read more science stories.)