Can plants hear?

There is an Indian folktale in the Panchatantra about a barber getting privy of the King’s mystery. He is cautioned not to tell anybody or he would be executed. In any case, he can’t hold the secret to himself. So he strolls deep into the jungle and when he feels safe that there is no one around, murmurs into a tamarind tree that the king has donkey’s ears. At some point later a drum is produced using the wood of the same tamarind tree and when the drum is beat, it sounds, “The ruler has jackass’ ears!” Though it sounds funny, it brings us to the big questions!

The question about the acoustic ability of plants has been intriguing science for many decades. How do plants find out to reach out to the source of water? Well, the latest proof points in the direction of what we have been suspecting all along. Plants do hear and seek water. 

In other words, plants respond to the sounds rather than the presence of moisture, as if they can feel sound. The plant cognition research team lead by Monica Gagliano conducted several experiments to see if the plants could decipher the presence of water only by sound. They played water flowing through a sink and a recording of the same sound to common pea plants with roots separated in tubes and examined how the roots responded. The scientists found that root systems did not grow toward the recorded sound but did grow toward the water flowing through a pipe. They could even distinguish between fake water sounds and the real thing.

“It was…extraordinary and surprising that the plant could actually tell when the sound of running water was a recording and when it was real, and that the plant did not like the recorded sound,” writes Gagliano.

Not only that, when water was available from natural sources—in the soil—and was still flowing from the sink, roots grew toward the natural source. This indicates the plant made a choice. “From this, we begin to see the complexity of plant interactions with sound in using it to make behavioral decisions,” Gagliano explains.

Next time you confess your secrets around plants, reconsider.

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Nature at its best is a great repository of knowledge and most of it is still a mystery to our minds. However, at Atrimed Plant Science, we have willed ourselves to research, understand the best kept secrets of Nature and use that knowledge to the betterment of our health. We believe in thinking beyond, knowing beyond and using our best research abilities to understand the science plants use to live, thrive and grow. In this blog, you would find details of some interesting plant facts and the science behind them. Read on and share your comments with us.