Shhhhh. Listen Closely. Your Plants Might Be Talking With extremely sensitive microphones, a new exhibit at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden shows it's possible to hear the sounds that plants make when they're growing.

Shhhhh. Listen Closely. Your Plants Might Be Talking

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Is that the hum of a UFO? A nuclear power plant? Actually, it's the sound of corn as it grows. And an exhibit at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York puts the sound of corn and other plant sounds on display. NPR's Dana Cronin visited the exhibit and brought back this report.

DANA CRONIN, BYLINE: It's a hot day in Brooklyn when I meet Adrienne Adar, the artist behind the "Sonic Succulents" exhibit. We're standing beside Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, and I have my microphone stuck in a big, yellow megaphone in a corn patch.

This one sounds good, too.


ADRIENNE ADAR: So you can hear a bit of crackling and stuff like that, and that's the corn growing.

CRONIN: Adar planted this corn patch back in May. And now, three months later, the stocks are over 6 feet tall and fruiting. And you can hear what all that growing sounds like.


ADAR: It can be a little bit meditational, you know? People were sitting and, especially, children were sitting on the ground and putting their heads in, like, the lower horns and just hanging out.

CRONIN: Adar says the whole point of this exhibit is to show that plants are alive. They grow, breathe and communicate in their own ways. She says audio was the most effective way to get that across.

ADAR: You hear a sound, a big sound, and you move. And you - what is that? Or if you hear something in your apartment moving, you're like, what - you know? You kind of assume it's an animal. You always think there's an alive quality.

CRONIN: Adar says she also wants to show visitors to the exhibit how we, as humans, affect plants. To put the visitor in the mind of a plant so to speak, we go inside where a long line of potted plants are paired with headphones. I put the headphones on, and Adar thumbs a succulent leaf...


CRONIN: ...And flicks the spines on a cactus.


CRONIN: Ooh, that's very springy. It does kind of sound like an instrument, like a xylophone almost.

There are little microphones embedded in each planter that pick up the plant's internal vibrations. So the sound is a reflection of what the plant feels when we touch it. Taya and Julian Dupont (ph) are visiting the exhibit from France.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Speaking French).

CRONIN: They're headphone-clad and are stroking the leaves of a palm plant.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: That sounds like scraping or something. Like, you know, you can feel the texture, I guess.

CRONIN: Adar stands nearby, watching visitors handle her plants.

DIASON ALVAREZ: Is this for real?

ADAR: Yeah.

ALVAREZ: It looks so fake.

CRONIN: Diason Alvarez (ph) is visiting from Miami, and he's touching a cactus.

ALVAREZ: I have some tiny ones at home, but they're tiny.

ADAR: Now when you go home, you'll be like...

ALVAREZ: I mean, I've always loved my plants, so I still - I'm really gentle with them, anyway.

CRONIN: And for those who maybe aren't as gentle, Adar says she hopes they walk away with a new respect for plants.

ADAR: Listen to what it feels when you touch it. So when you step on a plant or when you, you know, see, maybe next time it kind of changes the behavior.

CRONIN: The exhibit runs through October 27.

Dana Cronin, NPR News.


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