“Fetch, roll over, stay?” It’s fair to say that when scientist Monica Gagliano started teaching plants to do tricks her colleagues were dubious.
“They were just freaking out with the science,” Dr Gagliano said.
“Some of them would not even talk to me.”
But fast forward 10 years and Dr Gagliano is now at the forefront of a whole new field of science and has just returned from the US where she was invited to give lectures on plant bioacoustics at prestigious universities such as Berkeley and Stanford.
What she’d discovered was that we’d been underestimating the ability of plants to communicate and learn from the environment.
A marine biologist at UWA, when Dr Gagliano’s research started taking her away from animals and towards plants, she continued using the same experiments.
“Because I am not a botanist, I was looking at plants through the eyes of someone who normally looks at animal behaviour,” she said.
“I wondered if there was anything similar in plants and was surprised that there was.
“It’s basically like Pavlov’s dog, I used the same experiment and discovered that plants were really good at learning the tricks.
“They would make decisions and choices.”
But if proving plants are smarties was a stretch for her scientific colleagues, some of her background research was a real step into a scientific abyss.
“While I was diving into it in the lab, at the same time I was finding a lot of literature that showed have been talking to plants for a very long time,” Dr Gagliano said.
Armed with stories about tribal doctors being given the secrets of a plant’s healing qualities by the organism itself, she jetted off around the world to meet shamans, mystics and indigenous elders around the world.
“It’s one thing to read it in the papers, and another to see them doing it,” she says.
Dr Gagliano says she came to realise that the western scientific approach wasn’t the only way to approach plant communication.
“Usually our way dominates; what I learned is that the indigenous model and our scientific model are totally complementary.”
Knowing this side of her research is probably not going to cut it in most scientific journals, Dr Gagliano has written a book about her experiences, and acknowledges a stray into the metaphysical is going to cause further tension with some scientific friends.
Thus Spoke the Plant will be launched, somewhat ironically, at the vegetarian restaurant The Raw Kitchen in Fremantle this Tuesday, November 20 at 7pm. Tickets are $60 through Eventbrite.
The book is being distributed by Penguin, but is available online where the Chook noted it had already soared to number 2 amongst the shamanism best-sellers, slightly higher than number 8 where it sits in the ecology ranks.
by STEVE GRANT