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Corny conversations prove plants 'talk'

I talk to the trees, that’s why they put me away

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Setting aside any jokes about Prince Charles and talking to plants, an Australian scientist has turned up evidence that plants can use sound for rudeimentary communication.

In a wonderful example of “why not test it” science, a University of Western Australia researcher decided to listen to growing corn plants – and yes, they “talk”. As the university’s release dryly puts it: “plants appear to react to sounds and may even make clicking noises to communicate with each other.”

Having first determined that young corn plants seemed to emit a clicking sound, UWS postdoctoral research fellow Dr Monica Gagliano – working with Professor Daniel Robert at the University of Bristol and Professor Sefano Mancuso of the University of Florence – then tested whether the plants reacted to sounds as well as emitting them.

By suspending growing corn plants with their roots in water, they determined that the roots lean towards a continuous sound emitted at around 220Hz, a frequency similar to that of the “corn clicks”.

Dr Gagliano puts her decision down to a passing thought: "Everyone knows that plants react to light, and scientists also know that plants use volatile chemicals to communicate with each other, for instance, when danger - such as a herbivore – approaches … I was working one day in my herb garden and started to wonder if maybe plants were also sensitive to sounds - why not? - so I decided as a scientist to find out."

Learning the extent of the role such communications play in plant biology is next on her research wish list. ®

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