15. Do other than humans Communicate – What about Plants?


It is said that what sets humans aside from animals is a language. Surely the ability to communicate has been an advantage for the human race. What is forgotten is that other species also have the ability to communicate. I believe the difference is that human communication many times is lacking. The English language has many words that are spelled the same, said the same yet have different meanings. There are thousands and thousands of languages used across the world in different lands. Even when the speaker and the listener of a particular language is used, its connotation depending upon the situation that it is used in may be unclear to the speaker as well as the listener.

Animal species such as whales who do communicate with one another it appears have less of a problem understanding one another. More modern thinking individuals do believe that different animal species can communicate however, most individuals do not believe that plants have the ability to communicate. Fred Farmer of the University of Lausanne believes that the leafy green plant world that we all live in can communicate among itself as well. Ecologist Richard Karban is trying to learn their alien language. Karban, who teaches at the University of California, Davis, is listening in, and he’s beginning to understand what they say. Two studies published in 1983 demonstrated that willow trees, poplars and sugar maples can warn each other about insect attacks: trees near ones that are infested with hungry bugs begin pumping out bug-repelling chemicals to ward off attack.

Scientists have revealed that plants communicate through the air, by releasing odorous chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and through the soil, by secreting soluble chemicals into the rhizosphere and transporting them along threadlike networks formed by soil fungi. They can do it using sound, smell, the emission of volatile chemicals, magnetism, electricity and light; and through their leaves as well as their roots.

Basically, there are five ways in which plant life does communicate among itself. Plants can call for help. An example of this is the wild tobacco plant which can identify a hornworm caterpillar by its saliva. When attacked by this caterpillar, the tobacco plant emits a chemical signal that appeals to the insect enemies. Within hours, caterpillar predators like the big-eyed bug show up, ideally driving the pest away.

Plants can also eavesdrop on the chemical signals of their brethren, and sometimes respond to another plant’s SOS cry by ramping up their own defenses proactively, knowing that a hungry insect is nearby. And plants can defend their territory compete with each other for sunlight, jostling for position among their neighbors. They also can push out competition in other ways. The invasive knapweed plant-native to Eastern Europe, but wrecking havoc on U.S. grasslands-has roots that release certain chemicals to help the plant take in nutrients from the soil.

Plants can recognize their siblings. Sibling plants were more considerate of each other’s needs. Experiments showed that sibling plants recognize each other via chemical signals. Like animals, they tend to recognize and support their kin. Plants that were grown in pots with relatives, had more restrained root growth than plants grown with random strangers.

Plants can communicate with mammals. Plants go out of their way to attract more than just insects. A carnivorous pitcher plant native to Borneo has evolved to hijack bat communication systems, turning the bats’ echolocation to its advantage. According to a new study in Current Biology, Nepenthes hemsleyan has a concave structure that is specially suited to reflect bat echolocation, helping the bats find the plant. The bats roost in the pitcher plant, and provide important nutrients by way of the bat guano that gets distributed in the soil nearby.

But can plant talk? In recent experiments they discovered that the roots of corn seedlings make clicking noises and also react to the sounds of similar frequency, bolstering the theory that plants can ‘talk’ to each other. Some plants, such as tomatoes and blueberries, can ‘hear’ the buzz of an approaching bee and will release pollen at just the right moment.

When a bee lands on the flower, there’s a tiny exchange of energy, creating an electric field that the bee feels. This is thought to imprint the flower on the bee’s memory.


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