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Verdant Vocalizations: Plants ‘Communicate’ With Sound

Animals may not be the only lifeforms with the capacity to swap information acoustically.

Mimosa pudica flower

Photo: John Tann (Flickr)

Also known as 'sleepy plant', Mimosa pudica's leaves fold up even when only one part of the plant is touched. It was one of the first plant species known to be capable of coordinated movement and internal communication.

Sounds In The Soil

It has been known for some time that plants interact both with each other and with their larger surroundings via chemical, luminous, tactile and even electromagnetic exchanges.

Drought-stressed peas can prognosticate dry conditions to still unaffected peers by emitting hormones, for instance, and tomato pollen tubes have been shown grow towards positive diodes.

Recently, however, research has indicated plants may also use sound to transmit vital information. According to a study published this spring in the journal, Trends in Plant Science, corn saplings can both produce and respond to underground clicking noises.

Marco… Polo

Spurred on by previous findings in the area of plant communication, evolutionary biologist, Monica Gagliano, and a team of researchers performed a two-stage experiment to investigate possible acoustic signaling among corn saplings.

First, high-tech monitoring equipment confirmed that the roots of corn saplings indeed produce sonic vibrations in the soil at about 200 Hz (approximately the G below middle C). Next, the team submerged the roots of corn saplings in water and played back the clicking.

The roots, apparently attracted to the noise, grew in the direction the sound was coming from.

Growing Body Of Evidence

In the same way cabbage has been shown ‘warn’ adjacent plants of voracious insect larva and pruning shears, Gagliano concluded that her subjects were using sound to alert each other of potential threats in the environment.

The research adds to a steadily growing body of evidence that plants are capable of more sophisticated ‘interlocution’ than ever before imagined.

Something to think about that when you’re weeding your garden this afternoon!

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Earth Eats Staff

Earth Eats Staff is a weekly podcast, public radio program and blog bringing you the freshest news and recipes inspired by local food and sustainable agriculture.

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