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Apparently plants “scream” when they get really stressed

Research from the Tel Aviv University has shown that plants “scream” when placed under life-threatening stress, in the same way that they “see” light.

Plants definitely don’t have vocal cords or human-like auditory systems, but research into their sensitivity and sources of light has shown scientists something pretty crazy. Turns out that even the most mundane patches of grass are complex living creatures that have the capacity to “scream” when placed under stress.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University “found that tomato and tobacco plants made sounds at frequencies humans cannot hear.” This discovery was made by placing high-frequency microphones 10 centimetres away from the specimens, allowing them to capture the plants’ ultrasonic squeals (approx. 20 to 100 kilohertz in pitch).

plant scream
Photo: Matt Anderson/Getty Images

The research team say these “screams” are sounds “[that] insects and some mammals would be capable of hearing and responding to from as far as 5 metres away.” 

Tomato plants stressed by drought can make an average of 35 sounds per hour, as compared to tobacco which can make 11 screams p/h. Interestingly enough, unstressed plants “produced fewer than one sound per hour.”

“Our results suggest that animals, humans, and possibly even other plants, could use sounds emitted by a plant to gain information about the plant’s condition,” the researchers reported.

Read the full study here.