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What Plants Talk About

In 1973, Lyall Watson, a South African botanist, claimed that plants had emotions that could be recorded on a lie detector test. His research was fiercely dismissed by many in the scientific community. Recently, researchers at The University of Western Australia relaunched the debate by revealing that plants not only respond to sound, but that they also communicate to each other by making "clicking" sounds. (The article was published in the journal Trends in Plant Science.)

There is a silent and oftentimes invisible plant intelligence. We now know that cabbage plants emit methyl jasmonate gas when their surfaces are cut or pierced to warn their neighbors of danger such as caterpillars or other predators (aka hungry humans). Studies also found that when the volatile gas was emitted, the surrounding cabbage plants appeared to receive the urgent message and immediately released toxic chemicals on their leaves to ward off potential predators. Similar studies gave similar results with many other plants (many of them are presented in the video at top).

If you cultivate a garden, you might have an average understanding of how plants, insects, fungi and macrobiotic life interact. Thanks to the amazing literature published nowadays, we more or less grasp concepts like companion planting, pest management, and nitrogen-fixing bacteria. But how much do we exactly understand about plants? What lies beneath their secret language?

Plants are more similar to humans than we generally assume. When you look closer (thank goodness for time lapse cameras), plants reveal a world of thriving activity, of complex communication, of phenomenal co-operation but also of ingenious chemical warfare. In the video above you will be amazed to see how plants eavesdrop on each other, talk to their allies, call in insect mercenaries and nurture their young. In other words, welcome to plants’ art of war.


  1. For more on what “plants talk about”, check out the eloquent writings of Stephen Harrod Buhner who provides interesting, mind-blowing information on plants and their ability to communicate (including with the help of mycelium) and create a plethora of useful and multifunctional biochemicals. The one book, of his 20 or so, that i am thinking of is called The Lost Language of Plants.

  2. The relationships within the natural world ,its abundance, diversity and staying power over millions or years is why the principles of permaculture design include being in in collaboration with nature .A classic reference is the Secret lives of plants

  3. I came here from a Coursera class “What a Plant Knows” This is a great addition to that class. I love the Nature programs.

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