Plants often thrive best when they are near other plants that are also thriving. Now, a group of scientists say that plants may actually be listening to one another on an acoustic level in order to get a feel for how they should be growing. In the past, chemicals, contact, and light have all been shown to stimulate growth and, in the most recent study, “good neighbor” plants have shown to have a good effect on plant growth. Perhaps more importantly, even when separated by black plastic, the plants were still able to tell whether good neighbor or bad neighbor plants were growing nearby.

The study was published on Tuesday in the journal BMC Ecology after which a press release was produced that explains the study a bit further. The study is a follow up to an earlier study that looked at “bad neighbor” plants that, you guessed it, caused growth problems. This time around, the scientists took a look at chili plants, planting them next to plants like basil in order to see if a “good neighbor” reaction might occur. These “good neighbor” plants did prove to have an effect, helping to keep out weeds and other pests.

Currently, the studiers do not know exactly how the plants are able to tell when good neighbor plants are nearby if they are completely separated. The possibilities are somewhat puzzling and seem like they could come right out of the mind of a science fiction writer, but one studier, Dr. Monica Gagliano, believes that acoustic signals may be generated, which would explain how the plants are able to identify one another, even when separated by darkened plastic.
“Our results show that plants are able to positively influence growth of seeds by some as yet unknown mechanism. Bad neighbors, such as fennel, prevent chilli seed germination in the same way. We believe that the answer may involve acoustic signals generated using nanomechanical oscillations from inside the cell which allow rapid communication between nearby plants.”

Cleary these “acoustic signals” haven’t been verified yet, but even the fact that plants are cognizant to “bad neighbor” and “good neighbor” plants is an astonishing find. We’ll keep you updated as more studies are done to determine whether or not the bad neighbor plants are actually effectively trash-talking one another.

Image Credit: Shutterstock/ Xerography

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