Plants complain when stressed: Harvard and Tel Aviv scientists found

Plants that go through stressful situations, such as lack of water or stem cutting, produce about forty sounds per hour, while well-hydrated ones are quieter, with only one sound per hour. The statement is part of a study carried out by scientists from the Harvard University and Tel Aviv and recently published in the prestigious magazine Cell.

Now, the question that immediately arises is: if plants make noise, why can’t humans usually hear them? The reason, in the view of these specialists, is that they are emitted at a frequency that is difficult to perceive. In fact, they are so high pitched that few people, and in specific situations, can hear them. However, some animals can hear thirsty plants: bats, mice and moths could live in a world full of vegetable sounds.

How to hear the groans

To listen to the plants, scientists at the University of Tel-Aviv, in Israel, placed tobacco and tomato plants in small boxes equipped with microphones. These devices picked up any noise, including noise the researchers couldn’t hear. As a result, the sounds were particularly evident in the cases of the plants that were stressed due to lack of water or recent cutting. In that sense, what are these sounds like? According to the researchers, if sounds are slowed down and speeded up, they sound like popcorn when it explodes in a pan.

It is evident that plants do not have vocal cords. Under this premise, the theory of how they make these sounds is based on their xylem: The tubes that carry water and nutrients from your roots to your stems and leaves. Like water being sucked into a light bulb, when an air bubble bursts, the clicking noise. The appearance of air bubbles is more likely during stress from lack of water, when these sounds are more frequent. However, the researchers clarify that, to know the exact mechanism, more studies are needed.

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Artificial intelligence is in everything

Scientists have developed a algorithm that allowed deducing whether a plant had been cut or was under stress due to dehydration from the sounds he was making. They managed to obtain an accuracy of 70 percent, with which the state of the crops can be monitored thanks to the sounds that are emitted.

To validate this way of measuring stress, the team of scientists recorded the sounds of plants in a greenhouse. After filtering out the ambient noise, the murmurs of the plants remained. The authors of the scientific work thus learned that not only tobacco and tomato plants make sounds, but also those that make wine grapes.

Scientists have managed to understand the sounds that plants make. Now the question is, can they hear? In previous work, they observed that night primroses they release sweeter nectar when exposed to the sound of a bee flying by. While more studies remain to confirm this, plant noises are an important feature of ecosystems that can influence animal behavior.

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