Video of plant talking to its neighbor

Plants do whisper to one another, not through sound but through a delicate haze of airborne compounds. This invisible language of the leaves has intrigued scientists since the 1980s, leading to discoveries that plants use these chemical signals to ward off herbivores and alert their neighbors to danger. Now, a team of Japanese researchers at Saitama University have used a fluorescent miscroscope not just to see, and better understand, how plants send these signals but how they receive them—a part of the conversation that had remained largely a mystery.

Their experiments involved exposing Arabidopsis thaliana—a common weed in the mustard family—to volatile organic compounds emitted by neighboring plants under attack. The plants were genetically engineered to glow green in response to calcium ions. (Human cells also employ calcium signaling.)

By watching the plants light up, the researchers observed how quickly and effectively these signals triggered defensive responses.

As seen in the video below, "the undamaged plants received the messages of their injured neighbors loud and clear, responding with bursts of calcium signaling that rippled across their outstretched leaves," explains Science Alert.

This research not only provides insight into the sophisticated communication network of plants but also underscores their ability to respond swiftly to environmental threats.

"We have finally unveiled the intricate story of when, where, and how plants respond to airborne 'warning messages' from their threatened neighbors," molecular biologist Masatsugu Toyota says. "This ethereal communication network, hidden from our view, plays a pivotal role in safeguarding neighboring plants from imminent threats in a timely manner."

Previously: Trippy timelapse of two plants over a 24-hour period