Do plants communicate with each other?

Do plants communicate with each other? That is a good question ! Researchers have explored the question to lift the veil on the mystery that reigns over the plant world. So no more tension: yes, plants communicate with each other. They would even be sensitive to their environment. Here’s what we know about plant communication.

A silent language in plants

Communication between plants is not what we imagine between humans. It is a communication that goes through silent signals. One of the signals is: electric and very slow† The electric current travels through the organs of the plant and when two plants touch each other (for example at the level of the roots), they can communicate about their feelings. The other is a communication through volatile chemical messages† These are messages that travel through the air, a bit like a carrier pigeon. This technique allows two plants to communicate even if they are several meters apart. In both cases it is called slow communication as it takes several hours.

plants communicate communication acacia
Credits: czekma13/iStock

Communication in case of danger

Plants can pass on the message to each other in case of danger. This is the case of an acacia in South Africa that can warn his peers† When the leaves are affected, they produce tannin, a toxic product for animals, but also ethylene in the air. While an antelope browsed on its leaves, the acacia warned its ilk by releasing ethylene as it spread through the air. After realizing that a threat was near, the other acacia trees began charging their leaves with tannin to protect themselves. This phenomenon has also been observed in maples or poplars in France.

communication between parents

Another supportive communication seen in plants is that of parents. Indeed, some trees, such as pines, have the ability to:adapt their growth to the plants that grow around them

In pines, for example, the parents recognize the young pine plants growing at their base. The tree can then choose to create fewer roots to give it the space it needs to grow, but also to provide it with essential nutrients via the roots and mycorrhiza. Young plants in the undergrowth have difficult access to light. And so the photosynthesis that produces these nutrients is rarer. Conversely, in the case of a strange species,tree can choose to compete with the neighbor to develop its roots.

Plants and animals

The line between communication and manipulation is fine. What we do know is that plants communicate with animals and insects. Tomatoes, corn, cabbage or even tobacco produce substances that they release into the air to: attract natural enemies of their own pests

The language of pollinators is also a language, because it goes through the visual (colored flowers, large sizes, etc.), but also through the olfactory (fragrant flowers). The plants then produce fruits and vegetables that attract animals that can spread future seeds!

The little extra: We also know that plants respond to touch, such as the sensitive (Mimosa pudica) which responds to the slightest touch by enclosing its leaves.