Plants Are Speaking Right Now, Probably in Your Backyard
Did you know plants make sounds? I didn’t up until a few years ago. The idea is fascinating, and surprisingly already proven in some scientific studies. For instance, at the University of Western Australia, researchers discovered corn plants created clicking sounds in their roots as they grew. Scientists found a similar phenomenon in pine trees coping with drought. The trees’ xylem tissue made snapping sounds when moving an air bubble. In 2017, the Yale School of Forestry produced a sound experiment where they developed a device to translate a plant’s pulses into sounds. They learned that plants vary in their “signatures” or “music.”
The Mysteries of Plant Communication
None of a plant’s sounds are perceivable to the human ear, but if amplified they are. That makes me wonder: if researchers heard sounds in a few scattered experiments, how many other plants are emitting sound? And what kinds of sounds? Do they change under different conditions? We already know trees communicate in forests via fungal networks in soil, passing carbon and nitrogen and phosphorous back and forth through roots, so it might follow that plants send communicative sound signals as well. Root systems are vast, complex, and mysterious so the questions are many.
A Story of an Imagined Sound
Needless to say, I’m excited by these findings. And being more of a creative type than a scientific type, I couldn’t help but write a story based on these ideas. Of course, in Song of the Tree Hollow, my cedar doesn’t make snapping sounds in its roots, but it does emit a life-force kind of vibration. In that story, the tree may be enchanted or merely a very talented tree. Yes, it’s a touch speculative or magical, depending on how you look at it. My point in writing about it is to capture the reader’s imagination and entertain by rendering a world that doesn’t quite exist.
Overall, I can’t help but to be inspired by our natural world. I think it’s capable of more than we know. Like naïve children, we’re just beginning to understand the forest’s intricacies. But perhaps, in another hundred years, we’ll know full well the messages that plants send each other. If we’re able to decode what the trees have to say, perhaps we’ll listen and respond in a wise, responsible way. In the meantime, I’ll take care of the trees I have on my little patch of earth called the backyard.