When Prince Charles admitted many years ago that he talks to his house plants, he was immediately dismissed as being “potty.” But the latest research indicates he may be on to something.
Let’s take a look into the minds of plants.
A research team at the University of Western Australia discovered that plants have long-term memory.
Led by Dr. Monica Gagliano, the team dropped potted Mimosa pudica plants onto cushioning foam from a height that would shock the plants, but not harm them. (This plant species was chosen because they close their leaves whenever threatened.)
After a few drops, the plants stopped closing their leaves. This indicated that they had “learned” that the action would not harm them.
The drops were continued with multiple plants over various time periods. Twenty-eight days after the initial test, the plants still remembered and did not react to the drop (although they did react to other stimuli).
For one month, the London-based Royal Horticultural Society recorded the voices of 10 people, reading from literary or scientific works. The recordings were then played back through a set of headphones attached to ten tomato plant pots. (Two other tomato plants were used as a control.)
With everything else being equal — same tomato variety, same soil, same care — the plants that had been attached to female voices had grown an inch taller than the others at the end of the month.
The researchers are unsure why the plants responded more favorably to the female voice. Perhaps it’s related to women’s greater range of pitch or tone that affects the sound waves that hit the plant. They suggest that, just like any environmental factor, sound affects plant growth.
The man who started the trend of talking to house plants was Cleve Backster. A former CIA interrogation specialist, Backster performed an experiment in 1966 using two potted plants and a polygraph machine. (His ground-breaking research is documented in the New York Times bestseller, The Secret Life of Plants.)
One plant was attached to the polygraph and the other plant was stomped on. According to the polygraph, the plant that witnessed the stomping registered fear.
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Multiple people then walked into the room where the plant was located, including the person who had stomped the other plant. While the polygraph registered no reaction to the other people, when the stomper walked into the room, the plant again showed fear. It seemed to recognize this person. Backster also determined that plants register happiness when watered.
Backster’s findings have been reproduced by others, including Russian scientist Alexander Dubrov and IBM research scientist Marcel Vogel. These three researchers also took things a step further and claimed that plants could actually read our minds.
In 2018 furniture giant Ikea devised a live experiment for Dubai school children. For 30 days, two identical plants were displayed at the school, where they were provided with the same amount of light, water and fertilizer.
The children were asked to record both negative and positive comments (e.g., playground taunts and compliments). These comments were then played back to the plants using a computerized voice.
At the end of the test period, the plant that had been “bullied” displayed drooping and dying leaves. The other plant thrived.
The Bully a Plant project was designed to raise awareness about Anti-Bullying Day in the Middle East. The project was documented in a YouTube video. But some viewers have questioned the science behind the experiment, calling it a hoax.
How Do Plants Think Without Brains?Dr Gagliano and her colleagues admit that they do not conclusively know how plants learn and remember, since they lack brains or neural tissue.
One possible explanation is calcium-based cellular signaling. Another is cellular information processing via ion flows. Plants are known to have well-established pathways, and they may use these to transmit information via electrical signals.
So is it a hoax? You be the judge:
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“The best friend on earth of man is the tree: when we use the tree respectfully and economically we have one of the greatest resources of the earth.”
– Frank Lloyd Wright