James Gunn’s forthcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 features a character named Groot: a talking tree, voiced by Vin Diesel, capable only of saying his own name (albeit in a multitude of different ways).
Poor Groot appeared to have met his demise at the end of the last Guardians movie but, to the delight of fans everywhere, regenerated from a cutting as the adorable Baby Groot.
Ahead of the soon to be released sequel, however, new research suggests that the concept of “talking trees” isn’t just confined to the realms of fantasy and science fiction.
Previous research has suggested that woodland trees may be able communicate and exchange nutrients through underground fungal networks.
But certain rainforest species, scientists revealed this week, have developed a rudimentary “language”, allowing individual plants to exchange detailed information about soil conditions, temperature changes and possible threats.
Unlike Groot, these trees have also mastered more than one “word”.
Hevea brasiliensis, also known as the rubber tree, was observed making minute movements in its root hairs and branches and emitting coded electrical signals, which receptors on other plants of the same kind were able to pick up on.
One combination, scientists found, indicated that a rain storm was on its way. Younger plants, still adjusting to life in the forest, were able to “hear” the message and utilise their moisture supplies accordingly.
The two-year-long Brazil-based study also showed that socratea exorrhiza, otherwise known as the walking palm, was able to use a combination of carefully adjusted leaf-rustling sounds and a high-pitched “scream”, inaudible to human ears, to warn that danger – from a hungry herbivore, for example – was in the area.
Most astounding of all, however, was the revelation that the trees don’t just communicate essential information. Instead, they share anecdotes, "sing", and sometimes appear to comfort each other.
Remarkably, they even have a sense of humour.
Scientists were initially puzzled when they found that some species were sharing false information – then emitting a complex series of high-frequency noises and chemical signals a few minutes later.
“We were unclear exactly what we were dealing with, until we realised that we had discovered the tree equivalent of a practical joke,” Professor Mark Sinclair, co-author of the new study, told The Telegraph.
“In one case, a socratea palm managed to convince nearby specimens that a group of hungry beetles was heading their way. Once it sensed the other palms were panicking, it emitted a signal indicating that there was nothing to worry about, followed by what we can only describe as 'a cheeky giggle'.
“The trees were deliberately exchanging false information, fooling the other trees into responding to the signals – then laughing about it."