Wildflowers in the north 390.
(photo credit: Joe Yudin)
Although the habit of Britain’s Prince Charles of talking to his plants to “help
them thrive” has never been scientifically proven effective, researchers at
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have shown that plants can “sense and react
to distress signals” from their floral counterparts.
The unusual research
was just published in the openaccess journal PLoS (Public Library of Science
As plants usually are not mobile, they are suited to a variety of
difficulties and challenges. But until now, their ability to use environmental
information about distress that they absorb from nearby plants has not been well
A BGU Blaustein Institute for Desert Research team, headed by
Prof. Ariel Novoplansky, discovered recently that “distress signals” are
transmitted from one plant to its neighbors via their roots in the ground.
Distress can be caused, for example, by dryness or salt. Soon after the exposure
of one plant to distress, its neighbors not yet affected suddenly react as if
they had suffered themselves. Other members of the team were Drs. Omer
Falik, Yonat Mordoch, Lydia Quansah and Aaron Fait.
Using an experimental
system that ruled out an ability for the plants to be in contact with its
neighbors in various other ways, it was found that the result of the cues was
like that in a “broken telephone” children’s game. The plants that received the
distress signals from nearby transmitted them to more-distant plants in a chain.
The far-away plants reacted to the signals the same way, the researchers
The receipt of these signals increases the more distant plants’
ability to survive stressful conditions in the future, they said. For example,
plants can close their stomata (leaf pores) to prevent moisture from escaping
the plant. Until now, such abilities were known only is creatures with a central
Further work is underway, they said, to study the
underlying mechanisms of this new mode of plant communication and its possible
adaptive implications for the anticipation of plant stresses.