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Can plants talk to each other? - Richard Karban

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Can plants talk to each other? It certainly doesn’t seem that way: They don’t have complex sensory or nervous systems, like animals do, and they look pretty passive. But odd as it sounds, plants can communicate with each other — especially when they’re under attack. Richard Karban explains how.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Richard Karban
  • Script Editor Eleanor Nelsen
  • Director Yukai Du
  • Animator Jiaqi Wang
  • Composer Angus MacRae
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
Additional Resources for you to Explore
For more information about volatile communication between plants, Kat McGowan has a recent article in Wired Magazine.

Underground fungal networks that allow plants to share information and resources are described by Suzanne Simard in her TED talk, The Networked Beauty of Forests.

Different researchers define concepts such as communications and language differently.  Michelle Bishop adds her take on the qualities that are required for language in her TED-Ed lesson, Do Animals Have Language?  The same logic and set of criteria could reasonably be applied to plants.

The subject of plant communication has been hotly debated in the scientific community over the past several decades.  While most scientists now agree that communication does occur, there is still considerable controversy about how to interpret these phenomena.  Michael Pollen offers a fascinating glimpse of this debate in this New Yorker article.

For a comprehensive scientific description of the various ways in which plants sense their environments and communicate with other plants and other organisms, Richard Karban has recently published a book entitled, Plant Sensing and Communication (2015, University of Chicago Press).

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Create and share a new lesson based on this one.

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Richard Karban
  • Script Editor Eleanor Nelsen
  • Director Yukai Du
  • Animator Jiaqi Wang
  • Composer Angus MacRae
  • Narrator Addison Anderson