Take another look because it seems there might be an awful lot of chatter going on in the flower beds.
In news to gladden the heart of Prince Charles, who was once much mocked for having conversations with cabbages and the like, it appears science has caught up with what many gardeners have long held true – plants can communicate.
Researchers revealed how plants talk by modifying a cabbage gene which triggers the production of a gas emitted when a plant’s surface is cut or pierced.
By adding the protein luciferase – which makes fireflies glow in the dark – to the DNA the plants’ emissions could be monitored on camera.
One cabbage plant had a leaf cut off with scissors and started emitting a gas – methyl jasmonate – thereby ‘telling’ its neighbours there may be trouble ahead.
Two nearby cabbage plants, which had not been touched, received the message they should protect themselves. They did this by producing toxic chemicals on the leaves to fend off predators such as caterpillars.
It is the first time such a process has been caught on camera. Scientists say it raises the possibility that plants are all communicating with each other in a complex ‘invisible language’ which we know nothing about.
The footage will be shown as part of a three-part series called How to Grow a Planet, starting on Tuesday on BBC2 and presented by Professor Iain Stewart.
Professor Stewart, who saw the experiment at Exeter University, said: ‘The gas triggered a change in the biological activity in the two neighbouring plants. They detected the message warning them to protect themselves.
‘It’s fascinating to realise that there could be a constant chatter going on between different plants, that they can in some way sense chemically what is happening to others, like a hidden language which could be going on all around us.
‘Most people assume that plants lead a rather passive life, but in reality they move and sense and communicate. It’s almost like they show a kind of intelligence.’
The work was led by Professor Nick Smirnoff, who said it does not mean plants feel pain because they have no nerves.
Professor Smirnoff, a biochemist, said: ‘We have managed to show in a visual way that the gas emitted by plants when they have been wounded affects their neighbours.
‘But at this stage we don’t know why. They could have been trying to alert the plant’s other leaves to the damage and their neighbours have just picked it up, or they for some reason evolved to alert other plants.
‘It is not clear why that would be beneficial as you would think plants would be in competition with each other. So there’s a lot more work to be done.’
Here is the link to the BBC iPlayer for those that are able to watch it. It was shown for the first time last night.
How to Grow a Planet: Life from Light