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What do plants talk about?

Dr. Suzanne Simard, University of British Columbia and

Dr. Suzanne Simard, University of British Columbia and graduate student, Marcus Bingham, use Geiger counter to determine if radioactive materials representing nutrients were shared though the root system from the Douglas fir ‘mother’ tree to other nearby vegetation. Credit: Ian Kerr, CSC

Lots of readers tell me they talk to their plants -- some even sing to them -- and they all claim the plants benefit from the interactions. I used to think the only benefit to plants was the carbon dioxide exhaled through speech (or song), but a couple of years ago I read a study that showed tomatoes grew better and bigger when exposed to music -- from a radio.

And now a new "Nature" documentary is exploring the "intelligence" of plants and associates them with "behavior." Many may scoff initially, but the evidence is compelling. And why shouldn't it be? Plants are living, growing, breathing life forms. I'm not contending that they form thoughts or can reason, because they obviously don't have brains or eyes or ears, but there could be something going on in there.

Experimental plant ecologist J.C. Cahill of the University of Alberta maintains that, contrary to popular belief, plants don't lead solitary and sedentary lives. We already know that many plants enjoy a symbiotic relationship with companion plants, helping one another by, say,  repelling insects or increasing their bedmate's crop production. But Cahill  builds a case that plants actually evesdrop on eachother, talk to their enemies, call in insect allies to fight those enemies, recognize their relatives and nurture their young.

The fascinating program, "Nature eavesdrops on what plants talk about," airing Wednesday at 8 p.m. on PBS, features Cahill and several colleagues as they document how their experiments and findings support these new discoveries in plant behavior.

Watch the short promo here:

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