Plants do not have legs to run away from their enemies – flying, crawling and jumping insects that want to eat them. However, plants are not defenseless. They talk to each other by releasing volatile perfumed chemical compounds into the air to warn neighbours of danger or convey when they’re hurt.
A common example is the smell of cut grass, a mix of volatile molecules that smell fresh and green are released when a plant is damaged.
‘Plants are nature’s chemists. They take a few simple inorganic molecules and produce thousands of different organic molecules by just adding (energy from) sunlight,’ said Professor Matthias Erb
, a plant scientist at the University of Bern, Switzerland. He found that volatiles aroma molecules are release when plants are attacked by insects to attract natural enemies of the herbivore. For example, if a caterpillar munch on the leaves of a plant, these volatile aroma molecules may attract wasps - its predator.
One of the volatile aroma molecule it emits is indole, which has a pleasant flowery aroma in small concentrations, it is present in sensual white flowers such as jasmine - an ingredient found in the Garden of Emotions collection.
Indole is not released by cutting plant. It requires the presence of moth caterpillar saliva to activates defense responses in the plant to release indole.
Plants do not have noses, so how do they smell these aroma molecules?
‘Our hypothesis is that volatiles enter through the stomata, small pores in leaves. We expect that there are sensors inside the leaf, perhaps proteins on the surface of cells, that the volatiles bind to,’ said Prof. Erb.
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