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Talking with Plants

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on , 2001

Of course I talk to my plants. They talk to me, I need to answer. They talk with their color, their shapes, their fragrance, their behavior. If I went out in the garden and took in all that information without acknowledging it, my brain would overload. Or maybe it’s my heart. Because I feel so blessed by the beauty, by the pleasure that the plants bring to all my senses, by the wonder — that I feel the same way I do when someone I love hugs me. I have to hug back.

It takes a while to learn plants’ language. When my pachysandra leaves turn from a nice medium green to a more yellowish hue, the plants are crying for more acid in the soil; without it they can’t digest the iron that’s there. When my raspberry-pink William Baffin rose keeps blooming and blooming, it’s talking about how luxurious it is to be getting enough nourishment to keep making more of itself. When my Calamintha smells heavenly just because the sun is shining on its aromatic leaves, I think it’s singing me a song of happiness and health.

Plants communicate to each other with scents, too. For example scientists have found that certain plants attacked by pests emit airborne chemical “wound signals”, to which nearby plants of that species respond by strengthening their chemical defense systems against that insect. And plants say “come hither” to their pollinators with scent — or with color, like the red of the Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) in my back yard, which calls hummingbirds.

In The Secret Life of Plants, authors Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird cite studies on human communication with plants, including plants as lie detectors, plants’ ability to adapt to human wishes, and plants’ response to music.

So what do I say to my plants? Whatever’s on my mind as I visit with them, work with them. When I need to transplant, I warn the patient, and explain how it will be happier in its new home. When one of my plant friends is ailing, I say I want to give it what it needs. When I see a tiny new plant sprouting up, or a new flower budding, or a flower that has suddenly opened in the night, and turns a shining new face to the world... I find myself exclaiming, “Well, look at you!” I care about my plant friends; how could I not tell them?

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© Copyright 2001 Catherine Holmes Clark