Humans may be the most intelligent of all species, but we can not really deny that all forms of life are intelligent and it does not mean only the little animals and bugs but also fungi and plants. One of the most beautiful phenomena that you will witness in nature is the “Crown Shyness” that lets little cracks of light reach the ground through the thickest of forests because the tree tops refuse to touch each other.
The phenomenon, also known as canopy disengagement, occurs mostly with plants of the same species when crowns do not touch each other, but it can also be seen among different species. Crown shyness was documented in scientific literature around the 1920s and then gave rise to many theories, but so far there is no agreement on what is the exact cause of this phenomenon.
In 1955, Australian forester M.R. Jacobs wrote in his book “Growth Habits of the Eucalypts” that tips of the trees are sensitive to abrasion that causes the gaps in the canopies. Dr. Miguel Franco observed abrasion damage in Picea sitchensis and Larix Kaempferi in 1986 and thus, supported the same theory. Some experiments conducted on such trees showed that these gaps eventually fill up if the trees are prevented from swaying with the wind.
The abrasion theory remains widespread, but some other scientists suggest that the mechanism is meant to prevent the spread of leaf eating insects. Such pests work together to create structures going as far as 10 cm off of the branches just to reach other plants. Thus crown shyness serves as a defense mechanism.
A Malaysian scholar studied the mechanism in Dryobalanops aromatica trees and found no trace of abrasions. Thus. he concluded the reason to be the light sensitivity of the tips, which stopped growing upon getting close to other trees. The reasoning is backed by science that suggests that plants are able to sense the proximity of other plants using far-red light.
Whatever the reason may be, the phenomenon is spectacular to look at. If you wish to observe it in person, you may visit the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia located in Kuala Lumpur.
Images: Bored Panda