Updated: Sep 13
We’ve all heard that you should talk to your houseplants. We know they can listen, but new research is showing us that they’re actually conversationalists, and not just good listeners!
You may have already heard my story of how I was first introduced to plants as being chatters. My first herbalist teacher said she wasn’t going to simply tell me what the healing properties of each plant were. First, she said, I had to go outside and listen to what the plants had to tell me. Well, I was pretty shocked that she was so casually suggesting that plants could talk! I mean, I’d heard about talking to your houseplants, but it had never occurred to me that they could talk back. They absolutely can, and there’s some exciting new research just published in Cell this week showing just how much they have to say!
Through controlled experiments on tomato and tobacco plants, Itzhak Khait et al. showed that plants actively send airborne sounds into their environment*. The researchers recorded vibrational frequenices emitted from plants remotely, both in acoustic chambers and in greenhouses and found that the sounds were not just random emissions, but were encoded with information as the plants responded various inputs from their environment. It's evidence for what ancient plant practitioners, and traditional medicine people have always know: plants have a voice!
This research is a step forward from experiments done decades ago that showed the effects of sound on plants, showing that plants are affected by the inputs of sound frequencies in their environment (even down to the level of their gene expression), but until now there was no evidence that they were capable of emitting sounds. This new field of plant bioacoustics research is so exciting because until recently the "research" showing that plants were also capable of emitting sounds was often mixed up with demonstrations of somewhat hokey devices that we hooked up to a plant and (arbitrary) assigned musical notes to the electrical current flow between the leaf and root system of a plant. No doubt these multimeter devices were helpful for demonstrating the electrical nature of plants, but not evidence for the acoustic and vibrational signals of a plant.
This new study along with research from Monica Gagliano and others, appears to show that for the first time scientists have been able to directly observe plants providing output into their environment via sound wave vibrations—opening our broader understanding to the newly coined phrase of plant bioacuoustics.
The researchers also explain that the emitted sounds carry information about the state of the plant. You’ve heard me go on and on about the vibrational state of a plant, and how important that is for its ultimate effectiveness, or ability to provide a positive input on the mental, emotional and spiritual levels. The higher the vibrational state of the plant, the greater its potential impact. The vibrational state of the plant is affected by how it’s grown, harvested and processed. Its vibrational state does not become static once it’s harvested, it continues to dynamically respond to various inputs. This is a major reason why we reiki our plant ingredients and products to raise their vibrational state.
The plant sound vibrations recorded in this study are above the range of normal human hearing perception. They exist in the ultrasonic range. But just because we can’t physically hear them doesn’t mean we aren’t impacted by them. Many animals, insects and pollinators demonstrate their ability to perceive and respond to vibrational sounds in the ultrasonic range. Our emotional, mental and spiritual bodies respond to and are affected by vibrational frequencies in this range as well. It’s what happens when you pick up on an ‘energy’, or a ‘vibe in the room’. You are able to respond the vibrational state of the environment without the necessary obvious cues to your five senses.
What’s exciting about this research is that it’s the first time we have demonstrable evidence from the field of scientific inquiry to demonstrate that plants are active senders of information via sound wave vibrations into their environment, and not simply passive receivers. Scientists are starting to agree: plants are chatty!
And of course they are, so are we! The question is what can be gained from learning to listen. Perhaps plants can teach us more that we could ever imagine about who we are and what we are here to do. Theirs is history built over millions of years, often in close partnership with humans. It’s my feeling that as we learn from them, we learn about ourselves, the nature of our existence and who we really are. Fascinating chat if you ask me!
Curious how you can start establishing your own relationship with plants? Start here with our interviews with Brooke Medicine Eagle and Tanah Whitemore, both offer their advice and wisdom for learning to listen to plants.
If you liked this article, you'll love our newsletter! Sign up and get all of our best content delivered to your inbox!
*Khait, Itzhak, et al. "Plants emit informative airborne sounds under stress." Biorxiv (2018): 507590.