Aspirin is among the most popular remedies used by people. Turns out some plants like it too.
Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research were surprised to discover that stressed plants produce an aspirin-like chemical that can be detected in the air above the plants.
The chemical may be a sort of immune response that helps protect the plants, the scientists speculated.
According to the researchers, the finding raises the possibility that farmers, forest managers and others may eventually be able to start monitoring plants for early signs of disease, insect infestation or other types of stress.
"Unlike humans, who are advised to take aspirin as a fever suppressant, plants have the ability to produce their own mix of aspirin-like chemicals, triggering the formation of proteins that boost their biochemical defenses and reduce injury," NCAR scientist Thomas Karl, the lead researcher, said in a statement.
"Our measurements show that significant amounts of the chemical can be detected in the atmosphere as plants respond to drought, unseasonable temperatures or other stresses."
While researchers had known that plants in the laboratory produce a form of aspirin known as methyl salicylate, they had never looked for it in the forest.
But when they set up measuring devices in a walnut grove near Davis, Calif., to monitor plant emissions that can affect pollution, they discovered measurable amounts of methyl salicylate, according to their report published in the journal Biogeosciences.
In addition to having an immunelike function, the chemical may be a means for plants to warn neighboring plants of the threat.
"These findings show tangible proof that plant-to-plant communication occurs on the ecosystem level," said NCAR scientist Alex Guenther, a co-author of the study. "It appears that plants have the ability to communicate through the atmosphere."