Your plant might be telling you it’s stressed — you just can’t hear it | CBC News

Your plant might be telling you it’s stressed — you just can’t hear it | CBC News

A Windsor house plant enthusiast has made a big realization about his beloved green friends after reading up on a new study out of Tel Aviv University in Israel.

“It means that probably a lot of house plants are screaming,” exclaimed Drew Beaudoin.

The new study out of Israel — the findings of which were published by the peer-reviewed scientific journal Cell — has discovered that plants emit sounds, particularly when under stress — but at a range too high for humans to hear.

“We arrived to this research from an open evolutionary question because plants have a lot to benefit potentially from emitting sounds and from responding to sounds,” explained Prof. Lilach Hadany, who led the study.

‘Click, click, click’

In a video shared online by the university demonstrating the research findings, Hadany explained that the team tested the sounds emitted by plants in an ultrasonic range to see if they were indeed emitting sounds.

Researchers studied tomato plants and grapevines and recorded them with special microphones sensitive to ultrasound.

WATCH | A new study is teaching us new lessons about what happens to plants when they’re not having the best day. CBC’s Katerina Georgieva has more:

What happens to plants when they’re stressed?

A new study is teaching us new lessons about what happens to plants when they’re not having the best day. CBC’s Katerina Georgieva reports.

Then, they changed the frequency of the sounds to an audible level, and discovered that the plants were emitting clicking sounds.

When Beaudoin listened to the clicks for the first time, as demonstrated in the university’s video, they surprised him.

“That’s really weird,” he said.

“Now, when I forget the plant that’s sitting in the corner that I forgot to water and then overlooked, I’m just gonna hear that, ‘click, click, click, click, click.'”

Fewer sounds on a good day

Sandy MacDonald, a professor at St. Clair College in the Landscape Horticulture program, said while it was already known in research that plants can release chemicals and can have vibrations, this was the first time we’ve heard about plants actually producing specific sounds.

“I had these suspicions as well,” he said, “because we do realize that even though we couldn’t record a lot of these things in the past, that plants were interacting with each other and with their environment and with animals within that environment.”

Two professors stand in front of plants.
Tel Aviv University professor Lilach Hadany, right, led the study, working with Prof. Yossi Yovel, left. (Tel Aviv University)

Hadany also explained in the video that with a tomato plant, it emits very few sounds when it’s feeling well, but when it’s stressed, it emits lots of sounds, so much so that researchers can distinguish between different types of stress the plant is dealing with.

For Beaudoin, he’s most curious about how this might teach us more about how plants communicate.

“It’s just interesting to figure out what kind of evolutionary processes led them to create sound when they can’t perceive it, or to communicate with each other in the first place. Because for the most part, the plant is just — it’s on its own.”

‘Are they really communicating?’

That’s where Hadany is taking her research next, stating that someone might be listening to these sounds.

“The sounds are out there and contain information,” she said.

“Animals that can hear these sounds can respond to them, and possibly, we are testing whether plants can respond to the sounds of stressed plants.”

Professor is pictured in front of some plants.
Sandy MacDonald is a horticulturalist and professor at St. Clair College. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

This is of interest to MacDonald as well.

“Are they really communicating?” he asked.

He’s not convinced plants suffering from dehydration are crying out to others.

“But we do think that those small sounds being emanated might be triggers or cues to other organisms,” he said.

“I’m really curious to hear future study as we go further with this.”

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