Can’t You Hear Me Buzzing

So did you see the article in National Geographic about how plants can “hear” the buzzing of bees? A researcher at Tel Aviv University named Lilach Hadani found that Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) measurably responds to that buzzing sound in two ways.

2014-06-07 10.24.12 Bumble bee and baptisia
Is the nectar of this Wild Indigo getting sweeter in response to the sound of this bumblebee? And can Wild Indigo hear as well as Evening Primrose?

First, this plant increases the concentration of sugar in its nectar by up to 20%. And second, the Evening Primrose will itself vibrate in response to the sound waves given off by the wings of bees. The effect was produced by exposing the plants to the recorded droning of bees, and also to similar low-frequency sounds. Mid- and high-frequency sounds produced no response.

Hadani thinks that the flowers themselves are important to this botanical “hearing”. Evening Primrose has bowl-shaped flowers like little satellite dishes. But do plants with differently shaped blooms hear just as well – or at all? Only further research will tell.

2014-04-06 13.17.59 crocus tommasinianus with bees

Of course, it’s misleading to say that Evening Primrose hears bees or anything else. They don’t have ears, brains, or a nervous system. But they can sense the sound and react to it, just as they can sense when they are touched. Perhaps they feel the sound waves given off by a bee’s wings the way the hearing impaired can feel the vibrations of music.

Speaking of which, Hadani’s research does not support the idea that plants react to music, or prefer classical to rock-and-roll (or the other way around). That theory has been pretty thoroughly discredited.

Anyway, it’s a pretty interesting article, so go read the whole thing.


40 Comments on “Can’t You Hear Me Buzzing”

  1. We used tell people to talk to their plants, that it made the plants thrive. A neighbor once told my father that he talked to his tomatoes but they were never as good as my father’s. My father said, “What are you saying to them?” Plants must react to their environment in many ways we have yet to discover.

  2. Thank you for the link. I’ll add that to my reading for tonight.
    Given the amount of bees in my yard each summer I have wondered if there was any cross communication going on between them and the flowers.

  3. I was happily reading along, about 80 per cent attentive, until I got to this: “the team also ran tests on flowers that had one or more petals removed. Those flowers failed to resonate with either of the low-frequency sounds.” That really stopped me. Fascinating article.

  4. It is not surprising. It is amazing that more are investigating such theories though. Just a few decades ago, we judged plants and well as animals, by our own standards, and ways of perceiving things. No one would have considered that plants can hear, merely because they lack the means with which to hear in the same manner that we do.

  5. Hello Jason, given I’m tone deaf, I’m still not going to risk singing to my plants. It’s interesting – the focus on Evening Primrose as we have this gradually self-seeding it’s way around the garden. As the flowers open in the evening and fade the next morning, I thought this plant was pollinated by moths. Never-the-less, it’s funny to hear that it’s not just the walls that have ears, but plants too!

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