In his fictional story, The Sound Machine, Roald Dahl proposed over 70 years ago that plants could emit high-pitched screams undetectable to the human ear. Recent studies suggest that this fictional concept may have some truth to it. According to a study published in Cell, plants create noise that can be heard from several meters away when they are stressed, even though they don’t scream in the way we do. This finding is significant since plants have been around longer than previously thought, implying that the world may have always been a noisy place.
“Even in a quiet field, there are sounds that we don’t hear, and those sounds carry information,” explains Lilach Hadany, a senior author of the study and an evolutionary biologist and theoretician at Tel Aviv University. Moreover, some animals can hear the noises plants make, indicating that there may be an acoustic interaction between plants and animals. Scientists also note that dehydrated plants emit different sounds than well-hydrated plants.
Recent studies suggest that when plants are close to becoming dehydrated, they emit different noises, possibly warning the world around them, even before showing signs of wilting. This finding supports Dahl’s fictional story from 1949, although the popping noises observed during the study are quite different from the shrieking sounds in the story.
Although plants do not scream as we do, the discovery that they make audible noises and communicate with their surroundings is fascinating. This communication may play a role in how other creatures interact with plants, such as bees or other pollinators. The researchers have released an audio recording of the noises for interested individuals to listen to.
Scientists still have much to learn about this phenomenon, including how plants create these sounds. However, with further research, they may uncover more information about the popping noises that plants use and even determine if there is a plant out there that screams as we might expect.