Opinion | Off the Cuff

Beware: Plants may be prying into your room!

If plants can converse and chatter, they must be having emotions like us

  • By Lalit Raizada Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 20:00 December 31, 2012
  • Gulf News

I am feeling scared ever since I read a media report from London about a research that has revealed that dumb-looking plants do talk to each other! And they not only warn their fellow beings of any impending danger from predators, they take steps to defend themselves.

Impliedly, to do this, they must be having their own variation of eyes and ears. Does that mean that potted and other plants have been watching activities taking place around them — in our rooms, balconies, on the lawns or behind the bushes?

Clearly, as the scientists have found out, if they talk among themselves, what would they talk about? Naturally, about what they see around them.

My gosh! Why did the scientists not carry out their research earlier and warn us against the machinations of innocent-looking plants which have been trusted through the ages? In any case, their late discovery can’t undo the damage already caused to us.

Certainly, our privacy has been violated in a brazen manner. Who knew the beautiful shade plants in our bed rooms had prying eyes!

The research report carried by Daily Mail said scientists at Exeter University found that plants swaying in the breeze may actually be conversing with each other in their own “complex, invisible” language, which we are not familiar with.

How I wish they did not hear and understand our “visible” whispers or loud talks in our living and bed rooms or on the lawns. Who knows what these wretched plants are up to? Mischievous fellows! Whatever it is, I have decided to move all shade plants out of our rooms. Enough is enough. No more trusting them.

The scientists claim to have, for the first time, captured on video camera the plants communicating with each other. Is it not astonishing? After reading the report, I now carry a pocket-sized magnifying glass and look deep into the flowers, even the stem, to locate their eyes and ears that have been spying on us. So far, I have not succeeded though.

The study, published in the journal Trends in Plant Science, said in order to find out how plants talk, the researchers modified a cabbage gene which triggers the production of a gas emitted when a plant’s surface is cut or pierced. By adding the protein luciferase — which makes fireflies glow in the dark — to the DNA the plant’s emissions could be monitored on a video camera.

One cabbage plant that had a leaf cut off with scissors started emitting a gas — methyl jasmonate — thereby “telling” its neighbours that there may be trouble ahead. Two nearby cabbage plants, which had not been touched, received the message that they should protect themselves. They did this by producing toxic chemicals on the leaves to fend off predators such as caterpillars, the Daily Mail reported.

The researchers say it raises the possibility that plants are all communicating with each other in a complex “invisible language”, which we know nothing about. Scientists say they have managed to show in a visual way that the gas emitted by plants when they have been wounded, affects their neighbours but at this stage they do not know why. (Humans, please note.)

Maybe, the plants could have been trying to alert the plant’s other leaves against a potential threat to them, Nick Smirnoff, who led the research, has said.

I am not a scientist, but I feel that if plants can converse and chatter, they must be having emotions like us — love, hate, jealousy, joy and anger. That is why I get inquisitive and sceptical when a robust, well-developed white Rose sways menacingly and meaningfully leans over a pretty red rose in its immediate neighbourhood.

“What is happening there?” I would ask the two by reflex action.

Perhaps, if I could hear them, the white rose would be telling me: “Nothing. I was just wishing her Happy New Year.”

Lalit Raizada is a journalist based in India.

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