Scientists Discover the Language of Plants

A new study shows that plants can talk.

Jul 8, 2023


Nature, Study
Scientists Discover the Language of Plants | A new study shows that plants can talk.

To the human ear a field of flowers is silent, save the noise of birds and insects. To certain animal ears, however, a field of flowers is full of conversation. Now, scientists have discovered that plants actually make noise as a way of communicating. In other words, they talk!

Learning the language of plants
It has long been known that plants communicate when they are stressed, reported The Times of Israel. You need only observe a houseplant to realize that a plant wilts when it needs water, or turns yellow at the edges when it has been watered too much.  Some plants may also emit a bitter taste when stressed to try and deter insects from taking advantage of their stressed state; while others may emit volatile organic compounds to let other plants in the area know about dangers.

Now, a new study that was published in Cell and conducted by researchers at Tel Aviv University, shows that not only do plants express themselves in the above ways when stressed, they also emit sounds, like talking.

According to NoCamels, plants emit sounds at frequencies between 40 to 80 kilohertz out of the range of human ears –  but within the range of some animals.  “Bats make sounds in these ranges all the time, and mice, dogs and cats can partially hear within it,” Dr. Lilach Hadany, a Professor in the Faculty of Life Sciences at Tel Aviv University, and one of the authors of the study, told NoCamels. 

A sign of stress
One of the primary breakthroughs of Hadany’s study, according to the Times of Israel, is that the researchers have managed to understand and classify the sounds that plants make for the first time. Plants that are not stressed make about one noise per hour, but plants that are stressed, dehydrated, or injured make many hundreds of sounds per hour; and each of these sounds seemed to be specific to the type of stress the plant was under. 

This type of information could be vital for agriculture. Knowing what sounds their plants are making could help farmers determine whether their crops are in danger or drought or disease and allow them to make the necessary changes to allow their plants to thrive. 

Amazingly enough, the researchers are not actually sure how the plants make sounds, according to NoCamels, though it may have something to do with cavitation. This is when the water tension in the plants becomes too high and the water turns to gas, making an ultrasonic popping noise. 

Whatever the case, this is still a game-changer for plant science, and potentially for the future of agriculture. One day soon your plants may be able to tell you if they are hungry, thirsty, or just feeling lonely. 

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Tiki is a freelance writer, editor, and translator with a passion for writing stories. She believes in taking small actions to positively impact the world. She spends her free time reading, baking, creating art, and walking her rescue dog.