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Updated: February 5, 2012 23:15 IST

Hedge your bet, plants “talk”

Hasan Suroor
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A cabbage plantation at a village in A.P.'s Visakhapatnam district. According to scientists at Britain's Exeter University, a cabbage was “heard” warning its neighbours of trouble ahead after it had a leaf snipped with scissors. File photo
The Hindu
A cabbage plantation at a village in A.P.'s Visakhapatnam district. According to scientists at Britain's Exeter University, a cabbage was “heard” warning its neighbours of trouble ahead after it had a leaf snipped with scissors. File photo

Prince Charles has long been mocked for claiming that plants could talk but now he can afford to have the last laugh as researchers say that it is indeed true. In fact, they claim to have caught them whispering on camera — the first time that such a process has been captured.

According to scientists at Britain's Exeter University, a cabbage was “heard'' warning its neighbours of trouble ahead after it had a leaf snipped with scissors. They said they were able to detect the process by modifying a cabbage gene which triggers the production of a gas that is emitted when a plant's surface is cut or pierced.

“By adding the protein luciferase — which makes fireflies glow in the dark — to the DNA the plants' emissions could be monitored on camera. One cabbage plant had a leaf cut off with scissors and started emitting a gas — methyl jasmonate — thereby ‘telling' its neighbours there may be trouble ahead. Two nearby cabbage plants, which had not been touched, received the message they should protect themselves. They did this by producing toxic chemicals on the leaves to fend off predators such as caterpillars,'' the Mail newspaper reported.

The footage will be the highlight of a forthcoming BBC series on plants by Iain Stewart, professor of Geoscience Communication who saw the experiment at Exeter University.

“It's fascinating to realise that there could be a constant chatter going on between different plants, that they can in some way sense chemically what is happening to others, like a hidden language which could be going on all around us. Most people assume that plants lead a rather passive life, but in reality they move and sense and communicate. It's almost like they show a kind of intelligence,'' he said.

Professor Nick Smirnoff, a biochemist who led the experiment, said: “We have managed to show in a visual way that the gas emitted by plants when they have been wounded affects their neighbours.''


Plant talking is an ancient Hindu vedic knowledge and it is not new to
us. The vedic Hindus have prayers for each elements and creatures that
dwell in this planet. We have prayer for water, earth, fire, plants
and what not to specify that they have sole and are connected. Only
the west did not know and do not recognize our knowledge or maybe they
are jealous as it is quite common with people to become jealousy when
they come across with an intelligent person at school, at work or even
at home. All our vedic knowledge has been translated by the west
without giving due credit to Hindus. One example of vedic people
knowing that the plants communicate is: “In Ramayana, the ayur vedic
plant was bought by Hanuman by bringing the entire sanjeevani
mountain, was not directly used to make the required medicine but, the
priest first prayed to the plant and offered sacred water and thus the
plant gave way to use its leaves to make medicine for Lakshman’s
recovery”.

from:  Karur Badrinarayanan
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 20:49 IST

With this news, I automatically predicted that people will start justifying that they "Knew" plants could talk by quoting carnatic ragas and Bose expts. But please hold on! Quorum sensing is a phenomenon which happens even in bacteria. So I am not surprised. Ample reports also exists how plants protect their boundries by producing toxic substance in their roots. In my view these events should be considered as reactive mechanism (or a basel protection mechanism) rather than adding emotive quality (or personification of plants). In a nut shell..."Plants dont think!"

from:  Siva Muthuswamy
Posted on: Feb 8, 2012 at 21:10 IST

Read the (Hi)story of Middle Earth in Lord of The Rings by Tolkien. Whether it is Shakespeare or Kamban, poets seem to have sharper ears!

from:  Sunder Paul Prabhakar Noone
Posted on: Feb 7, 2012 at 16:42 IST

concerned- you are absolutley right. JC Bose also made very sensitive instruments that detected signals from plants, not only gases but some electrical signals analgous to nervous system.
may be Hindu should run a regular column on Indian scientist and their contributions

from:  H K Krish
Posted on: Feb 7, 2012 at 13:43 IST

As Samidha has pointed out above, Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose had worked in this area much earlier. I am disappointed that whereas we gloat over the discoveries of the present day researchers, we sometimes miss the historical connection, the past, the scientists of yesteryears who found similar things, but whose work has been forgotten. I wish Hasn Suroor had done digging before writing this article.

from:  Ramaprasad
Posted on: Feb 6, 2012 at 20:01 IST

This is great news. JC Bose suggested this quite a while ago. Maybe, one day, people
from this society start to find things out for themselves. Maybe, then, JC Bose and
others like him will be heroes and not the current film and cricket people.

from:  concerned
Posted on: Feb 6, 2012 at 16:19 IST

Carnatic musicians knew this.If the "Ahiri" raga is played,the belief
goes,food will not be available.Hence a musician desiring to disprove this,went with a packet of food to the forest,tied the packet to a near by shoot,before getting into the 'alapana'.When he finished,at noon, he found the,bamboo plant up right with his food packet hanging well above his reach!There are instances of Banana plantations yielding higher growth,when music is played in the plantation.

from:  K P Natarajan
Posted on: Feb 6, 2012 at 12:20 IST

I no longer feel proud to be vegetarian

from:  samidha bankar
Posted on: Feb 6, 2012 at 11:26 IST

Prince charles has claimed that plants talk.In shakespeare's play
"AS you like it"another Prince in exile experienced that.In the
words of the great poet ,the readers could see this truth.He
says,"Tongues in trees,books in the running brooks,sermons in stones
and good in everything"Poet Kamban has written about the sound of
Vedas in The flow of River Sarayu in Ayodhya.Many poets had written
about the plants talking.Prince charles may not be a poet but he could
hear the talking of plants.

from:  seshachalam gopalakrishnan
Posted on: Feb 6, 2012 at 10:35 IST

Although the news that ‘Plants “talk”’ is sensational, it is not any thing new. Almost three decades ago, Baldwin and Schultz (1983) and Rhoades (1982) claimed that damage-induced airborne volatiles mediate plant defensive responses in neighbouring plants. The scientific news was shown on TV in USA. Recent research findings have shown that such signalling via volatiles is consistent withinplant signalling and is more significant than signalling between plants. Such defensive-triggering signaling may also exist in an animal’s population.

from:  Kanchi N. Gandhi
Posted on: Feb 6, 2012 at 00:04 IST

Are the researchers sure that they heard plants.....may be some
insects....

from:  praveeb
Posted on: Feb 5, 2012 at 23:48 IST
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