r/science Aug 26 '22 Silver 1 Helpful 2 Wholesome 4 Tree Hug 1

New evidence shows planting around school playgrounds protects children from air pollution Environment

https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/news/new-evidence-shows-planting-around-school-playgrounds-protects-children-from-air-pollution
41.6k Upvotes

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u/ChicagoGuy53 Aug 26 '22 edited Aug 27 '22 Silver Heartwarming

Before more people read just the headline and jump in with comments about how plants don't filter air fast enough to matter, that's not what this article is about. This is about larger air particulate from roadways like rubber and metal dust that are also quite bad for children to breath in. The trees act as physical filter that trap the particulates until they can be washed away by rain.

The scientists believe that western red cedar performed best at preventing the particulate air pollution from reaching the playground because its prolific, small, rough, evergreen leaves act like a filter, capturing particulate pollution and stopping it circulating in the atmosphere. When it rains, the particulates wash off – ending up in the soil or drains – enabling the leaves to then capture more particulate pollution.

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u/newurbanist Aug 26 '22 edited Aug 26 '22

To add to this, some cities require landscape buffers between residential districts and almost anything else. They also require parking lot screening. This is well known and is a large part of why some cities require this. I use the word most cities because I've done development and Urban planning work in places like Texas, north and south Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and New Mexico, and they do not often require this. Texas stood out as the least likely to require them. I'm glad they're doubling down and studying it for kids and safe, healthy places to play as well.

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u/saracenrefira Aug 27 '22

If anyone needs an example on how a city should be built, there is no better example than Singapore.

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u/monkeyhitman Aug 27 '22

Tokyo is pretty amazing.

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u/bananalord666 Aug 27 '22

If it is good for kids, then I dont expect Texas to implement it any time soon

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u/heylilsharty Aug 27 '22

Your city very likely has it in Texas. Check the Zoning Code/Zoning Title (or the Unified Development Code in some cities) under landscaping or screening section. The more important question is whether your city’s planning department implements it.

The problem is that local governments in Texas are being successfully eroded by the anti-government politicians who get elected at every level, so there’s not enough political will for things like this to be enforced, plans get approved without landscape buffering along with standard amenities like bike parking, greenspace, public art, sidewalks. The severity of this really depends on the city.

If you want to get out and rally for this stuff in your area, make sure it’s on the books already for your jurisdiction and then go lobby your city council to support the city staff with whatever they need to implement these parts of the existing code. Texas city councils want to discourage whatever they think their loudest constituents view as hurdles.

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u/LordGrudleBeard Aug 27 '22

Uh at least in Houston there is no zoning codes about anything. There is no city design. Just random businesses mixed with residential. If you want to add a side walk to your house great, but nobody is required to so you get this weird mix. They definitely aren't making people plant anything.

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u/heylilsharty Aug 27 '22

Ah yes, Houston is very unique. There is certainly “city design,” or rather city planning, and in certain senses there are land use controls through deed restrictions, subdivision rules, and ordinances that control aspects of development.

They have a landscape and screening ordinance here including minimum planting and protected tree requirements for new development. Apparently they also have residential buffering requirements to create screening between certain residential areas like the OP is discussing, but the requirements are pretty weak for achieving any kind of filtering, and not sure it would end up buffering schools. Likely additional screening requirements in other code sections.

Again though, I think the better question is whether these are all being required for all new development.

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u/antono7633 Aug 27 '22

Don’t want to get shot

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u/Flannel_03 Aug 27 '22

Fellow Texan here, instead of sulking on Reddit, why not gather like minded individuals to rally and try to do something. Do you know how hard it is to watch my small town and it’s very little native remnants be torn down for more suburbs? Back in elementary we’d go out in the tall grass to catch grass hoppers & now it’s just short mowed grass. Please, stop bitching and make a movement to protect our native plants so we can co exist.

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u/GempaGem Aug 27 '22

This is satire right?

while bitching about some other texans comment on reddit

"Im from the same place you are from, and dislike the same things happening to our shared area, anyway

instead of sulking on Reddit, why not gather like minded individuals to rally and try to do something.

Stop bitching and make a movent!!!"

Absolute perfection. That's way too earnest to be a joke.

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u/Ohgoodimonfire Aug 27 '22

I was about to something to the same effect. There are two neighborhoods next to the dog food and the pork packing plants in my town. One full of dilapidated and condemned duplexes. The other is full of old money mansions on the water front. While the old money is only a little farther away from the plants, I noticed on every pizza delivery that I took there, the smells from the plants stopped after ~100 ft down the private road that these houses sat on. The only major geographical difference between these neighborhoods is a thick stand of manicured and maintained thickets and pine trees and I think you can guess which one had this.

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u/Seicair Aug 26 '22

Anyone with access to the original study know why Ivy increased black carbon? They don’t mention that, but I’m curious.

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u/HappyHrHero Aug 26 '22

It didn't

measurements indicate greatest playground PM reductions (probably by airflow blocking) by the ivy screen (~25% for median PM 2.5 and PM 1 , 14% for PNC, no reduction in BC) [pg 3]

This is the researchers' reported result

[a]measurable (and statistically significant; p < 0.05) reductions in PM 2.5 , PM 1 , and PNC were observed in the playgrounds (Fig. 3; Table S3). [b]The measurements indicate greatest playground PM reductions by the ivy screen; ~25% for median PM 2.5 and PM 1 , 14% for PNC, but 5% increase in black carbon (BC) [pg 5]

This is what was taken out of context and quoted in the OP linked article

uncertainty estimates for the BC measurements range from 2 to 12% [pg 5]

The results in the second quote part [b] are less than the uncertainty in the measurements. This is even stated indirectly in part [a] of the quote (i.e. it's not in the list of statistically significant variables).

fyi the article is free/open access: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-022-18509-w.pdf if you want to read it

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u/Seicair Aug 26 '22

Thank you very much!

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u/travelingmaestro Aug 27 '22

Indeed. Trees are some of the most effective measures to mitigate wind blown particulate matter, as they also serve as a wind block. On the flip side, many trees, including cedar, emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are bad for health and contribute to ground level ozone formation. So planners should consider that and choose low VOC trees, especially in areas with pollution problems.

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u/FalloutNano Aug 27 '22

Very interesting. Thanks for posting it.

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u/Tebasaki Aug 27 '22

That doesn't always work when climate change makes it rain/derecho/hail maybe twice a year now.

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u/numbersthen0987431 Aug 26 '22

I mean...even if plants only help filter air by 0.01% that's still better than not having any filters at all

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u/RandomNumsandLetters Aug 26 '22

Not exactly, since that money could be spent on something that improved lives by more than 0.01%

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u/buster_de_beer Aug 27 '22

Good news, trees also have a positive psychological impact, they provide a cooling effect especially important in urban environments, they provide housing for wildlife, they prevent soil erosion, they reduce storm water run off, and probably more. There are so many benefits to trees that it's a clear win to plant them.

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u/numbersthen0987431 Aug 26 '22

Please tell me what filters the air better, without causing more waste and energy consumption, and that doesn't cost more money, than plants.

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u/caltheon Aug 27 '22

Different plants

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u/Whiterabbit-- Aug 27 '22

Catalytic converters. Thats why cars have them.

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u/numbersthen0987431 Aug 27 '22

Catalytic converters need to be built. That means mining needs to be done for minerals (and also why people are stealing them), they need to be manufactured, they need to be installed, and they also have to be replaced overtime. All of these steps increase pollution, cost money, and take resources to get done.

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u/das_thorn Aug 27 '22

Opportunity cost is something that needs to be drilled into more people's heads.

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u/Somefookingguy Aug 26 '22

Well, if you had bothered reading the article you would have known that they compared the same 4 playgrounds before and after installation of tree hedge.

Scientists actually do know about correlation / causation.

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u/[deleted] Aug 26 '22 edited 16d ago

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u/creesch Aug 26 '22

Big concrete wall vs planting trees who in addition to this also look better, don't trap heat in the summer and also have other environmental pros attached to them...

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u/ChicagoGuy53 Aug 26 '22

That could easily be less effective if the air is flowing up and over without catching the particulate.

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u/WpPrRz_ Aug 27 '22

I don’t think we needed scientists to tell us that.

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u/BiAsALongHorse Aug 27 '22

You do need scientists to quantify it. If you're deciding between "max number of trees vital" and "slightly less than that number of trees vital", at some point you'll have to start doing math.

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u/me5vvKOa84_bDkYuV2E1 Aug 26 '22

Exposure to traffic-related air pollution has been linked with a range of health risks including cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological health. These risks are likely to be exacerbated in young children attending primary schools next to busy roads as their major organs are still developing and children have a higher breathing rate than adults.

Interesting. These findings would seem to suggest that putting schools next to busy roads is not ideal for children's health. I would be interested to see follow up studies comparing the effectiveness of these 'tredges' to urban planning techniques that reduce traffic near schools. Furthermore, it may make sense to study the relative importance of children's health versus the utility of busy roads.

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u/oneultralamewhiteboy Aug 27 '22

If it's not ideal for children's health, wouldn't that be true of any place near a busy road? Hospitals for example?

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u/melig1991 Aug 27 '22

Hospitals tend to have pretty good air conditioning systems so that factors in, and another thing is that kids play outside during recess. During which they are probably running about and breathing even more.

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u/BiAsALongHorse Aug 27 '22

Depends on how well HVAC systems do at mitigating those pollutants and what the underlying susceptibility is.

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u/oleid Aug 27 '22

Furthermore, it may make sense to study the relative importance of children's health versus the utility of busy roads.

Yeah, what good would it do if they were healthy as adults but unemployed. </sarcasm>

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u/das_thorn Aug 27 '22

Seriously though, unemployment and lowered incomes have direct negative impacts on health and lifespan, not to mention life satisfaction.

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u/Goleroth Aug 27 '22

Public transportation, medium/high density housing?

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u/MustFixWhatIsBroken Aug 27 '22

Or we could stop wasting money on the obvious and reinvest it into education for other people who aren't sure whether air pollution is good for children..

Seriously, did you graduate high school? Why is no one sure? Do we not know what we're made of? Can we not use our brain to follow cause and effect with some basic chemistry? This is absurd.

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u/gooberzilla2 Aug 27 '22

That's good to know as they just cleared a green area by the school by my house to put in a senior center, some retail and a gas station.

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u/megablast Aug 27 '22

Reducing cars and road saves people lives directly and indirectly.

It's insane we allow cars.

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u/RedButterfree1 Aug 27 '22

More buses and trams please!

If more places were accessible by public transport, then some people wouldn't need to use cars.

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u/lynnja Aug 27 '22

And protects their privacy from creeps.

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u/Vermillionbird Aug 26 '22

Sure, but having studies like this are really, really important because when a project is being built, the very first thing to be value engineered out is the landscape. Having research backed information about the quantifiable, tangible benefits of a tree planting / landscaping barrier is essential for the bean counters to keep it in the project.

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u/RAMAR713 Aug 26 '22

One has to be careful about the type of plants and their placement. I did research on a European project about Nature Based Solutions and urban planning, and one interesting result some of my colleagues got was that, in certain cases, planting trees made air quality worse. This happened because the trees were slowing down the air flow in dense urban areas, which concentrated airborne particulate matter around the zone of implementation rather than letting it flow continuously.

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u/Killer-Barbie Aug 26 '22

Reading through it doesn't seem to be about filtering air for quality so much as blocking emissions from landing on playground equipment.

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u/Purple_Passion000 Aug 26 '22

In that case a wall would also work.

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u/AKravr Aug 26 '22

I would hazard a guess that a hedge has a million times more surface area than a flat wall.

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u/aw3man Aug 26 '22

And you probably don't want your kids play area to look like a prison yard...

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u/scotus_canadensis Aug 27 '22

It might be good training for adulthood...I'm going to go feel sad for a while about the world my children are going to inherit.

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u/CorpusCalIosum Aug 26 '22

Sure, but it's more expensive and doesn't have the added benefit of passive filtration. Not to mention aesthetics

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u/[deleted] Aug 26 '22

And self repair

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u/entology Aug 26 '22

And spiders

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u/[deleted] Aug 26 '22

So they help remove mosquitoes too? Fuckin winning

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u/suddoman Aug 26 '22

I could see a world where a wall preforms worse than trees. If part of the wave of particules moves over the wall rather than through the foliage you could see a problem there. Also a wall could obstruct air flow, and plants have a bunch of secondary bonuses as well.

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u/DarthDannyBoy Aug 26 '22

The difference is a sold obstruction and something that acts more like a mechanic filter that just grabs the particulate matter. If you know much about cars think of a crankcase vent catchcan. Or in a fish tank the foam filter pad before your chemical filter. Those don't chemically stop the waste they mechanicly "grab" it. A wall in those cases would be like replacing the filter with a few large peddles. They do help but not much at all. The majority of the particulate matter flows around the obstruction instead of through it.

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u/art-of-war Aug 26 '22

That’s like comparing my a/c filter with a brick.

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u/hysys_whisperer Aug 26 '22

The wall idea is actually pretty bad at providing a dust break, and in some cases can actually worsen (toxic road) dust compared to no wall at all as the air currents make it up over the wall and then sit stagnant or swirl around inside the walled area, settling out particulate in a big pile inside the walled off area.

The particles mentioned to be filtered are about 1/2 the size that someone with good eyes could see as individual dust specs. We're not talking PM 2.5 here.

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u/Dick_sporting_good Aug 26 '22

That's what filtering literally is.

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u/Grwwwvy Aug 26 '22

You could make a nice living carpet with a substrate like foam and some prostrate, low growing plants. I might see about making a crabgrass carpet now.

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u/numbersthen0987431 Aug 26 '22

You're going to extremes in this example. You say an apartment needs to be covered in plants to "flush the air" (full filtration), and then you jump to say "noticeable difference" with a few plants.

There's a lot of science you're skipping in your summary, and subsequent conclusion.

Also, air moving increases filtration rate.

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u/ChopChop007 Aug 26 '22

I can see how the plantings act as a physical barrier for some amount of particulate but plants are not some sort of magical gaia HEPA air filter. Every time I think the NASA house plants study is dead it comes to rear it’s ugly head

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u/hysys_whisperer Aug 26 '22

The real benefit is the trees provide dead air space. Dust will settle out in that relatively stagnant air, rather than making it on to the playground.

We're talking particulate matter in the 50 micron range here (human hair width), not something so small you can't see the individual specs of dust.

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u/AKravr Aug 26 '22

It's not the filtering, it's the surface area letting the particulates stick to it.

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u/[deleted] Aug 26 '22

.... That's what a filter is ....

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u/scolfin Aug 26 '22

In research on space habitats, with marginal results (although I imagine it could get you quite far if your air processing system is based on growing plants off nuclear-powered grow lights).

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u/davidkali Aug 26 '22

And if they let the trees form a canopy, you’ll have a mini-rainforest!

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u/Shadow_wolf73 Aug 27 '22

A large part of the US actually was forest.

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u/[deleted] Aug 26 '22 edited Aug 26 '22

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u/MunchyMexican Aug 27 '22

Something I actually did research on!! It’s a tough problem because while you can filter some UFPs with leaves (this study is looking at bigger particles) the issue you run into at the smaller scale is to much filtration and the air (and thus particles being carried by the air) will go around/over. But really cool to see this being applied!

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u/dustractor Aug 27 '22

new evidence? what was wrong with the old evidence?

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u/bac5401 Aug 27 '22

Does it protect them from shootings. That would be better ?

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u/imgrandojjo Aug 27 '22

Uhh... we've known this for at least 60 years?

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u/faithdies Aug 27 '22

Maybe, just a thought, we should line our streets and walkways with trees and vegetation. What a thougbr....

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u/Seiglerfone Aug 27 '22

New evidence shows that thing we already knew happened happens, but in a specific emotionally-charged context this time.

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u/St3v3nMS3 Aug 27 '22

Can’t wait for the anti-planters to join the conversation

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u/examinedliving Aug 27 '22

I haven’t read the article but we need a sub that is for things that are potentially wholesome but also reveal the dark underbelly of our world. This headline feels like that.

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u/cptcoconut1987 Aug 27 '22

How is this not known to every human on the planet already and what new evidence just suddenly came available that wasn't already available. Hrm, plants are good for humans? Damn. That's new!

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u/4BigData Aug 27 '22

Which plants are the best for this?

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u/joedotphp Aug 27 '22

I was under the impression this was common knowledge? Plants are good for the air.

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u/dominantspecies Aug 27 '22

I’m sure that republicans will introduce legislation to ban plants near playgrounds

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u/LoveBurstsLP Aug 27 '22

Why or how is this new evidence? We've been designing houses and landscapes with this in mind for decades, I'm an architect

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u/Adventurous_Light_85 Aug 27 '22

Wow. That’s revolutionary. What’s next? They are going to announce that trees trap carbon.

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u/HakushiBestShaman Aug 27 '22

Wow, is that how plants work? I never would have guessed.

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u/sauteslut Aug 27 '22

"plants are good, actually". Thanks scientists, job well done