Talking to Trees

by David Feather

“I talk to the trees, but they don’t listen to me.” This was part of a lyric to a song some of our older nature reserve walkers will remember. Well, there is a possibility that the lyric writer might have been mistaken.

A new book titled “The Heartbeat of Trees: Embracing our Ancient Bond with Forests and Nature” by Peter Wohlleben, translated by Jane Billinghurst, looks at research into the communications of plants. The Prince of Wales was reported as talking to his plants and he may not have been completely wasting his time, it seems.

Apparently trees do store memories. They communicate with each other through their roots systems and associated fungi and can even transfer sugar solution to their offspring the same way. So do they have some sort of brain? A research group at the University of Bonn has been looking into such a possibility. After all, they can process information and seem to make decisions – but consciousness would be a totally different matter.

The group sedated plants that feature moving parts, such as Venus Fly Traps. The anaesthetic deactivated electrical activity so that the traps no longer activated when they were touched. After the plants broke down the narcotics, they resumed normal behaviour. Did the plants wake up as we do after an operation. The head researcher responded with “No one can answer this as we cannot talk to the plants.”

When you hug a tree, nothing electrical happens because your voltages are the same, but is the tree aware of your touch? If you stroke tomato plants each day, the stems grow thicker but this may not be a personal response: the plants respond the same way to a breeze.

The roots of a tree are different and have a great deal of sensitivity. The root tips have a brain-like structure . They feel, taste and decide how far the roots will travel. The sensitivity that tree huggers are seeking is therefore below ground and really inaccessible.

Talking to trees may not be as daft as thought because plants seem to be able to hear. Scientists have discovered that the roots of a rockcress, Arabidopsis, oriented themselves towards the source of clicks at certain frequencies. This species of plant also seems to react to the noise of nibbling by caterpillars.

The possibilities are fascinating, so if you like talking to trees and other plants then continue to do so in the knowledge that you may be on to something.

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