Plants vs mobile ’phones

Could leaves be causing communication chaos in modern life?
Image: Wikimedia Commons.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

When it comes to plants and mobile phones, it’s usually good news, e.g. the proliferation of devices that celebrate our angiosperm cousins with the suffix ‘-berry’ in their names. Hence, the Blackberry (whose keyboard’s buttons apparently resemble the drupelets of the fruit of the same name); the Elderberry (designed for the more mature person, and presumably with bigger, more visible buttons?); the Gooseberry (for those without a partner); the Pokeberry (for those with Facebook friends…); the Pigeonberry (offering a translation tool for those whose English is not that good); the Barberry (with built-in Wetherspoon’s pub-finder app, but quaintly only available in North Africa’s Mediterranean coastal areas); the Bilberry (with built-in contactless payment facility, and which, allegedly, can be hybridised with the Barberry to enable you to settle your drinks ‘tab’ when otherwise unable so to do…); the Loganberry (for those whose musical tastes are restricted to Irish Eurovision-winning entries); and the Blueberry (geographically limited to Stilton and Denmark)*.

But that seems to be limited to the reproductive parts of plants. When we consider the organs of the vegetative plant body, such as leaves, a different story emerges. Apparently, mobile phone signals are being blocked in the UK by leaves on the trees. A curious state of affairs, which apparently has been made worse by planning constraints that encourage mobile phone masts to be hidden from sight, behind such things as … trees(!).

Encouraging news is that the problems are reduced once the leaves fall (but presumably only a temporary/temporal respite where deciduous trees are used?). Partial good news is that only the signals for Vodafone and EE (apparently now renamed ‘Tee-Hee’ by some wag…) seem to be affected by this (t)issue.

However, the fact that the situation is worsened when leaves get wet does not bode well for mobile phone users in the British summer (which, whilst it may be leafy, is often wet as well…). Surely, not since leaves on the line felled the once-mighty Great British railway network and stopped its trains in their tracks, has plant power been so disruptive to our modern lifestyle!

But every cloud and all that: it looks like there can be no eavesdropping without leaves-dropping, which must surely – and rather pleasingly – hack-off some so-called newspaper journalists engaged in nefarious activities. And for those of you looking for a botanical research project to engage today’s ‘tech-savvy’ generation of students with plants, why not get them to investigate whether mobile phone reception differs in evergreen or deciduous tree areas (and even between species..?), and whether there’s a seasonal dimension to performance in those areas? Just don’t expect them to phone in regularly to let you know how they’re getting on. No news is good news…?

* [Don’t forget Shropshire blue! – Ed.]