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Green Symphonies

Plants may be just as noisy as other organisms.

Plants may be just as noisy as other organisms.

By Monica Gagliano

New research reveals plants emitting and responding to sounds.

Monica Gagliano is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Centre for Evolutionary Biology at the University of Western Australia.

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For thousands of years, indigenous healers and shamans around the globe have been learning the “songs” of plants, through which they are taught how to diagnose and treat specific illnesses (see box). This may sound as crazy as the inventor in Roald Dahl’s The Sound Machine, yet in a recent paper in Trends in Plant Science I have confirmed with colleagues from the UK and Italy that plants do indeed generate their very own cacophony of sounds. Furthermore, there is every reason to think that plants would have evolved to respond to sounds given that they, just like all of us, live in a very noisy world.

The idea that plants are capable of producing, detecting and using acoustic signals is not new. The study of plant bio­acoustics, however, has suffered from the methodological and technological problems of early investigations in the 1940s, and this historical baggage, in conjunction with folkloric and at times esoteric reports of the influence of sound and even music on plants have severely hindered investigations of this aspect of plant ecology – until very recently.

We have taken a fresh look at the idea and carried out a series of experiments testing whether plants can produce, detect and respond to acoustic vibrations. By using modern laser technology and a non-contact method of measuring vibrations, we were able to detect a Doppler shift in the frequency of...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.