By John Salak –
One of the quickest ways to start a roaring augment among a diverse group of people doesn’t have to involve politics, religion or even whether the Jets need to go in another quarterback direction after losing Arron Rodgers four snaps into the 2023 season. No, a good rhubarb can be cooked up by simply tossing out an opinion on whether plants can feel emotions and communicate.
There are endless pro and con studies, for example, on whether plants do better when music is played in their vicinity or if someone takes the time to speak to them. There has also been a fair amount of research on whether plants emit noise.
Researchers at Tel Aviv University, in fact, were all pumped up earlier this year to report that plants make click-like sounds beyond the hearing range of the human ear but possibly perceptible to bats, mice and insects that indicate they’re under stress.
“We resolved a very old scientific controversy: we proved that plants do emit sounds,” gushed study leader Prof. Lilach Hadany. “Our findings suggest that the world around us is full of plant sounds and that these sounds contain information—for example about water scarcity or injury. Apparently, an idyllic field of flowers can be a rather noisy place. It’s just that we can’t hear the sounds.”
Okay, maybe the Israeli researchers aren’t claiming they’re ready to sit down for a bull session with a field of sunflowers, but they are putting popping plants into a whole new realm. Well, maybe everyone needs to quiet down when it comes to communicating with plants, at least that’s the take of researchers from Heidelberg University.
This German team not only knocked down the idea that plants are feeling and caring creatures, they went as far as to warn against “anthropomorphizing” plants. In other words, stop giving trees, shrubs and weeds human characteristics.
This research project scrutinized the assertions in two widely received books about the hidden life of trees and the search for the so-called “mother tree.” In these works, trees are attributed with human characteristics and behaviors, including the ability to feel pain and pleasure, to communicate with one another and work with other trees for mutual benefit. None of this is supported by credible research, they claimed.
They specifically noted that “many publications” based the concept of trees nurturing trees based on the transfer of carbon from older to younger trees via networked fungi are flawed due to a lack of control variants.
“And where the data does actually suggest such a transfer, the quantity of carbon transferred is so small that it is physiologically completely irrelevant for the recipient tree,” added Prof. David Robinson who led the Heidelberg study.
Okay, maybe trees and plants don’t really talk or respond to people. But what’s the harm in believing?
Ultimately, this kind of thinking “based on pleasant-sounding but false messages” could have fatal consequences for the adaptation of forests to climate change if related political decisions are based on unfounded notions rather than scientific fact, Robinson warned.