Plant Physiology 114:S-285 (1997)

Temporal integration of touch stimuli in reducing stem elongation of tomato seedlings

Thomas Björkman and Lauren C. Garner

Department of Horticultural Sciences, New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, Cornell University, Geneva, NY 14456-0462

ABSTRACT Tomato seedlings grown in close proximity elongate rapidly in a shade-avoidance response. A daily touch stimulus can eliminate the extra growth associated with shade avoidance. Experiments to determine how the touch stimulus is integrated were performed on tomato seedlings grown in a square array 22 mm apart, starting when 2 fully expanded leaves overlapped between plants to induce the shade-avoidance response. The standard touch stimulus was applied by brushing the surface of the canopy 10 times each morning with a piece of Styrofoam sheet. This treatment reduced the daily growth rate from 7.7 to 5.8 mm/day, but quadrupling the dose further reduced growth only slightly (J. Amer. Soc. Hortic. Sci. 121:894). The ability of the plants to sum individual stimuli was tested by varying the interval between the individual strokes. Intervals of 0.01, 0.1, 1 and 10 min all produced the same growth response. Thus the individual stimuli were perceived as a single stimulus, at long intervals separate stimuli would have increased the response. Nor was there a refractory period of insensitivity following the stimulus that would have reduced the response at longer intervals. The height reduction was directly proportional to the number of days that the treatment was applied, indicating that each day of treatment reduced the growth rate for only one day (from 5.9 mm/day to 2.7 mm/day). Treatments could be applied either in the morning, preceding the period of slowest elongation, or in the afternoon, preceding the period of maximum elongation with the same effect. Thus brief stimuli are integrated during the day and expressed as a reduction of growth the next diurnal cycle.

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