Plants show it is good to talk
Published 07/05/2013 | 00:21
If the Prince of Wales is unavailable, then a chat with a friendly neighbour might be the next best thing for your flowers.
The green-fingered heir to the throne once famously revealed that he encourages his plants by talking to them. Now scientists have shown that plants appear to "talk" to each other using sound.
A study showed that sprouting chilli plants grow more successfully next to a "friendly" neighbour, in this case an adult basil plant. Place them beside what to a chilli is a neighbour from hell - fennel - and germination is held back.
Somehow even as seeds the plants recognise what kind of folk live next door.
The experiment was set up to block all possible known means of communication between plants, including chemical and light signals, as well as physical contact.
Sounds generated by microscopic movements within plant cells might be the key to the mystery, the scientists suspect. Lead researcher Dr Monica Gagliano, from the University of Western Australia, said: "Our results show that plants are able to positively influence the growth of seeds by some as yet unknown mechanism.
"Bad neighbours, such as fennel, prevent chilli seed germination in the same way. We believe that the answer may involve acoustic signals generated using nanomechanical oscillations from inside the cell which allow rapid communication between nearby plants."
The findings are published on Tuesday in the online journal BMC Ecology.
Fennel is a bad plant neighbour because it competes aggressively, releasing chemicals that stunt the growth of its rivals. Basil, on the other hand, produces helpful chemicals that keep out weeds and act as natural insect pest killers.
Previous research by Dr Gagliano showed that, even when protected against fennel's chemical attack, chilli seeds are reluctant to germinate when placed near the plant.