Can plants feel?

THE DEBATE over whether plants have feelings is about to be reopened with the publication of research by scientists in Italy and Germany. Their findings suggest that plants under threat can marshal a positively devilish measure of cunning. They communicate the danger to plants nearby; and also call in help from other creatures.

Biologists at the University of Turin and the Max Planck Institute in Jena were yesterday reported to have found evidence that plants sensed — and reacted to — the presence of hungry, leaf-chomping grubs. Their response was to emit an odour similar to lavender. This alerted other plants to the presence of a predator.But it also served to call in what modern military planners would term air support. Wasps, the natural enemies of grubs, were drawn by the odour to the plant where they either devoured the grub or injected it with eggs that later killed it.