If you ever thought your houseplants might be plotting against you, you could be right. There is mounting evidence that plants can communicate internally and with each other.
“I think we’re seeing that the complexity [of communication] is just as great with plants as it is with animals,” says Mamta Rawat, a microbiologist and program director at the National Science Foundation (NSF). “I think there’s a lot more to be learned—we’re just touching the tip of the iceberg.”
In March, a new study showed many different plant species can communicate stress through ultrasonic sounds at frequencies too high for us to hear.
To thrive, a plant must communicate among its roots, stems, leaves, flowers, and fruit. For example, roots can detect drought and tell leaves to limit transpiration and conserve water. But instead of those signals moving through a nervous system, Simon Gilroy, professor of botany at University of Wisconsin-Madison, says in plants, it’s more like plumbing. Electrical signals travel through the movement of chemicals, explains Courtney Jahn, a biologist and NSF program director who studies plant interactions.
When danger lurks, plants have to react quickly before they can be consumed. Many plants send out the hormone jasmonic acid, which starts the production of a toxin to defend itself. The cry can be so distinct that animal species are thought to be able to detect the danger signal (a mouse might “hear” it, an insect might “smell” it), like hearing someone yell “ow!” in the distance. Of course, we can’t tell whether those signals just happen, or if they are intended for others.
Maybe someday, we’ll know exactly what plants are saying, both throughout its structure and to the rest of us. It sure would make caring for them a lot easier.
For more detail, see “Plants can talk. Yes, really. Here’s how.” by Allie Yang at https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/plants-can-talk-yes-really-heres-how?.