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even trees/plants socially distance

Updated: Dec 19, 2021

Social distancing, yes, we all know. But, naturally occurring with trees?! Initially I thought not, but since I observed this during a walk, I know now it's also a well documented observation known as crown shyness, or canopy disengagement. A phenomenon observed in some tree species in Singapore and other countries in the region where the crowns of fully stocked trees intentionally avoid each other and are 'socially distanced'! They intentionally form channel-like gaps especially amongst trees. The photo below was taken at Bukit Timah in Singapore.

Why? How come? I don't think even the biologists know (Rebertus, Alan J (1988). "Crown shyness in a tropical cloud forest"(PDF). Biotropica. 20 (4): 338–339. doi:10.2307/2388326. ISSN0006-3606. JSTOR2388326)

Some say it's to avoid disease spread. Other's say its because the leaves and branches are rubbing each other leading to “reciprocal pruning” of adjacent trees? Thus, inducing the crown shyness response. Even others say it's got to do with mutual light sensing by adjacent plants, and photoreceptor-mediated shade avoidance response (each needing more light) - from observations that growing tips were sensitive to light levels and stopped growing when nearing the adjacent foliage due to the induced shade.

But whatever the case may be, this phenomenon is as clear as day for all and sundry to see. So no joke - plants, it seems also want, and value their personal space.

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