Scientists Say Trees May Have a Heartbeat

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The idea that plants are somehow less alive than people is a common one, but it’s also outdated, according to many scientists. Plants have much more in common with animals than people might realize. They may even have a “heartbeat.”

Of course, trees don’t have hearts, so they don’t have a heartbeat in exactly the same way that humans do. But one study showed that trees do seem to have a rhythmic system for pumping fluids throughout the tree’s “body,” which is the exact same function as your own heartbeat. It’s as if they have a very slow version of a pulse.

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This pulse seems to be responsible for pumping water to the higher parts of the tree. Previously, scientists believed that those parts of the tree obtained water via water collection and evaporation on the lower leaves. But study lead András Zlinzky and his colleagues examined 22 different species of trees in windless, sunless conditions. They found that the trees’ branches moved on their own over the course of hours, so slowly that it would likely be missed by the naked eye.

This observation led the researchers to theorize that, instead of evaporation, a pulse-like pattern better explains the ability of trees to change shape.

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“We’ve discovered that most trees have regular periodic changes in shape, synchronised across the whole plant and shorter than a day-night cycle, which imply periodic changes in water pressure,” András told New Scientist.

There’s still much to be discovered about how exactly this process works. If only trees could talk…