Written by: Maureen Van Ness, Master Gardener, 2015
Thigmomorphogenesis. Big words are fun. If you break them down, their meaning becomes simple. Thigma is Greek, to touch. Morphe, for shape, and genesis, origin. The meaning, then, is about the response of a plant’s growth and development by touch. In nature this is accomplished by rainfall, the rustle of animals moving past, or, of course, wind.
In an experiment where trees were grown in a sealed biosphere, scientists found that the trees fell over before they were fully grown. Why, in an ideal environment, with no stress or complications, would this happen? Their conclusion is applicable to all our lives; without the stress of environmental challenges and health issues, the trees did not have the deep root strength to support themselves.
Are you starting seedlings indoors this spring? Nurture them by running your hand across the new leaves to stimulate root growth and strengthen plant stems. A small fan set up to gently blow across the plants will accomplish this, but without the benefits to yourself of touch and connection with the growing plants. I won’t judge you if you talk to them while you do this. This is also a good time to pay attention to their needs and watch them grow. Daily running your hands across the plants will benefit both them and you through calm reassurance that growth will happen and we can trust in life.
We are currently in a time of “abundance of caution, social distance and self-quarantine,” as Covid-19 wields its way around our world. If we can view this time through the lens of thigmomorphogenesis, we gain the perspective of growth and strength. It helps to know that our choices are protecting ourselves and others and our society will be healthier through this with stronger roots and growth.
As your plants adapt to the challenges of their new environment, through your touch and connection with them, perhaps you can find the strength and agility to meet your new circumstances, too. By creating a positive stress response we find a point of calm and being grounded. Growth encouraged. Strength. Flexibility. Facing adversity. And ultimately productivity and health.