When Plants Cry

Here’s another Wonderful Thing.

First, I’ll show you, then I’ll tell you.
But what you see here is NOT rain,
is NOT dew.


[wild violet / Viola sororia]

Is it “transpiration:” where water evaporates from tiny holes in leaves (stomata)?

Is it some special deal with wild violets?
Here’s a wild grapevine:

[wild Fox grape / Vitis labrusca ]

And a Beebalm:

[Beebalm / Monarda didyma]

Even a tomato leaf:

[cherry tomato]


Guttation happens when a plant overdoses on water, and the extras need to leak out. Guttation is a system of relief valves.
If a plant has special nozzles (“hyathodes”) at leaf margins, water can just weep away.

[White grass / Leersia virginica]

Guttation as word and process were both new to me this spring. It was an out-and-out wonder—utterly enchanting—and I wanted to see it again and again.
Each morning found me kneeling in the yard to see if the violets were crying.

And now, after a dry spell, Nashville has had buckets of rain, so Guttation is back.
This time, I took time to share it.

We must share Wonderful Things, yes?

It happens to grasses, too, which need a better camera:

[River oats / Chasmanthium latifolium]

Guttation is beautiful to see, but not so beautiful to say, is it?
That hard “G” seems too hard.
It comes from the same word where we get gutter, from the Latin gutta, which means “drop.”

[Black-eyed Susan / Rudbeckia fulgida]

The crying happens—not surprisingly—at night.
I know *I* do my best crying at night.

But this is why you have to look for the tears as early in the morning as light permits.

[Yellow Jewelweed / Impatiens pallida, from July]

In order to weep properly, a plant must be fairly short: say, less than three feet tall.

Conifers don’t cry, so don’t bother looking at pines, despite the name.
Don’t look for crying citrus, either.

[Wild violet / Viola sororia]

What other plants cry?
Let me know what plants you find?

[Wild columbine / Aquilegia canadensis]

Guttation is magical to us, but to invertebrates, it’s life.
“Bees and many insects . . . rely on guttation to drink. This is particularly dangerous for them when the plants they drink from have been sprayed with pesticides and insecticides.”1

Yet another reason to tell a Lawn “care” service to skip herbicides, pesticides, and petroleum-based fertilizers.

Otherwise, Guttation really is something to cry about.

[Eastern firefly / Photinus pyralis, in July]

More #SidewalkNature:

My Instagram posts are 100% nature, and most of it the Sidewalk kind.

I’m not fond of facebook, but some people aren’t on Instagram, so I post nature things there from time to time.

Comment on this post, or if you have a general comment or question, click the Contact page. Corrections, suggestions, and new friends are always welcome.

Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist in Nashville, the hackberry-tree capital of the world.

She writes about everyday natural wonders amid every habitat loss, and her essays have appeared in Creative NonfictionBrevity, Fourth Genre, Hippocampus, The Hopper, Flyway, The Common, City Creatures, The Fourth River and other journals.

1Guttation” at Nature & Garden

4 thoughts on “When Plants Cry

  1. I’ve seen this in one of my houseplants in my bathroom! I always thought it was just condensation from watering, but this makes much more sense! Cool! Another interesting way to love nature!

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