Humans perceive the world through their own experiences. It can be useful for understanding other human beings, but it can sometimes become an obstacle to co-living with pets and plants. For example, hugging other people might be viewed as a comforting and friendly gesture, and petting dogs or cats is a sign of love and affection, but how will plants react to the same action? Do plants even like to be touched? It turns out that being too touchy with your green pets can cause them stress, and a plant in a state of distress is an unproductive plant. Handling plants and making them happy is more complex than one might initially think.
Can Touching Plants Affect Them?
Touching plants can affect them. Some species, for example, many succulents, have a fine, dusty-looking layer on their leaves. It's called 'farina,' and it acts as sunscreen, protecting the leaves from sunburn. If you notice farina on your plant's leaves, avoid touching them, as the oils on human skin can easily remove this protective layer.
A great visual example of plants reacting to human touch is Mimosa pudica's reaction. This plant is also known as the 'sensitive plant' or 'shame plant.' Once touched, these plants close up and reopen later. These closing motions are a stress reaction, requiring the plant to spend a lot of energy protecting itself instead of growing and getting luscious foliage. If you repeat this feelings experiment every day, you will witness an obvious decline in plants' overall appearance and health.
Do Plants Get Stressed When Touched? Can It Kill Them?
Just like with people, a plant might react differently to being touched. You can determine which plant won't mind a bit of cuddling based on their nature and where they typically grow.
Indoor plants with broad leaves, such as Monsteras, Alocasias, and Pothos, enjoy occasional wiping. This cleaning procedure helps remove dust and monitor for any pest activity. However, you should be very gentle when wiping the leaves. Any contact, be it with your hand, washcloth, or even another plant, will trigger a stress response in your plant.
These stress responses often involve producing and releasing hormones and chemicals designed to deter herbivory or save your plant from becoming a snack for some curious cat. Producing these chemicals takes a lot of energy, which can be replenished by photosynthesis. Your green pet will use the energy needed for growth or maintaining existing foliage on protection.
Recent studies show that touching plants alters their genome, reducing their growth by upwards of 30%. It's crucial to avoid unnecessary contact as much as possible to prevent your plant from getting stressed.
Hardier plants like fruit trees and vegetable plants can withstand a bit more handling planting, though too much vigorous movement or excessive touching can damage the plant or reduce its overall growth. Excessive contact with fruiting and flowering plants might stunt their growth. Fortunately, touching your plants won't kill them, but it's best to err on the side of caution and keep the cuddling to a minimum.
In conclusion, it's best to avoid cuddling time with your plants, no matter the specimens. Your green pets will thank you with more plentiful, lush growth and a longer, more productive life.
How Do Plants Respond to Touching or if They Touch Each Other?
Gentle touches to examine plants for pests, clean or trim them, move to a better location or repot into a bigger container are acceptable for many plants, but even they can cause some stress.
Like humans, plants have stress hormones. To understand why green pets are so reactive to being touched, you have to think about their natural habitat. In the wild, plants are touched only when they become food for pests or animals. Therefore, any form of physical contact triggers a stress response. Some plants may produce chemicals to deter herbivory, using valuable energy which could've been used for growth or fruit/flower production.
When plants grow close to each other and eventually touch, one plant will benefit from this interaction, while the other will suffer. Plants often will reach towards stimuli like light or objects needed for stem support. Tendrils coil around a trellis for support or, in some cases, around other plants, in action called 'thigmotropism.' Unfortunately, this 'plant hug' is usually fatal, or at the very least detrimental, to one party. The plant reaching for a hug will take up light, space, and nutrients needed for healthy growth. Sufficient spacing is vital to keeping plants happy, as it prevents green pets from hugging and keeps their root systems separate, which is extremely important for plants growing in one container.
Plants Arrangement Tips To Prevent Touching Each Other
If you have many plants growing in a small space, some of them are likely taking up each other's space. It could be the reason for stunted growth and unhealthy appearance. Here are some things you can do to arrange your plants, providing each its personal space:
- Space your plants apart. It's the most obvious solution, though it might not be applicable to everyone, especially those working with small spaces. If you have room to spare, space each plant apart so that none of the green pets are touching. A nice bonus that comes with spacing is if one plant gets infested with pests or diseases, it's less likely to spread to other plants.
- Play with height. Small space or not, you can use height differences in your plants to better utilize your space. Place short plants underneath taller ones, and ensure that the leaves aren't invading anyone's space. It's even easier with trailing plants, as you can hang them from the shelf and let the leaves drape over the pot.
- Let them climb. Climbing plants, such as Monsteras and Pothos, can be trained to climb up a moss pole or wall instead of another nearby plant.
- When in doubt, prune it out. If you're lacking space and your plants are growing like crazy, consider giving them a trim to allow for more 'breathing' room. It is a temporary fix, though if you like your plants at their current size, you can continue regular pruning. Be careful not to overdo it, as excessive cutting might lead to more stress.
Which Plants Like to Be Touched?
While no plant is a fan of cuddles, some can handle touches better than others. As mentioned previously, broadleaf houseplants can benefit from a gentle leaf cleanse, which helps remove dust. Wiping the foliage helps plants photosynthesize more efficiently and can also alert you of any changes in the plant's health, like pests or fungi.
Some good examples of plants that don't mind gentle touches are jade plants, Aloe, and Peace Lilies.
Outdoor plants are more used to contact with rain, wind, or other 'touching' stressors, inevitably occurring when a plant lives outside. However, it doesn't mean that those green pets enjoy being handled. Too much stress from touch, whether by rain or hand or being too close to other plants, often triggers a stress response. Growing big plants without proper spacing will damage some of them, as they won't get enough nutrients and sun.
Why Do Plants Like to Be Touched and Why Not?
Most plants prefer no-contact relationships with their owners, but there is a time and place when touching your green pet is unavoidable. Below we prepared a list of reasons to avoid touching your plant, as well as some cases when you must provide gentle care:
- Cleaning. Gently wipe the leaves of dirt or dust accumulation. Plants ultimately will tolerate this procedure since it makes photosynthesizing easier.
- Pruning. Even though pruning triggers a stress reaction, the overall results are worth the stress endured by the plant. Avoid cutting your plant too often to minimize the stress, and try to carry out this procedure during the active growing season.
- Sun damage. Avoid touching succulents with a powdery coating. This coating protects them from the sun and does not grow back once it has been rubbed off, leaving a permanent effect on your plant's overall health. Leaves without this coating are more susceptible to sunburn, which can cause whole leaves to be damaged, rendering them useless in producing energy for the rest of the plant.
- Energy consumption. Carnivorous plants, such as Venus flytraps, should not be touched to induce closing. Like the sensitive plant, this costs energy to close and open back up. For a plant that also consumes live insects, this energy is extremely valuable.
- Sensitive or fragile leaves. Maidenhair ferns and other plants with delicate foliage are susceptible to damage from the oils on our skin. Avoid touching these plants when possible to ensure you're not unintentionally stunting their growth.