New research from the University of the West of England suggests that mushrooms may use a 50-word language to communicate with each other.
Andrew Adamatzky, director of the Unconventional Computing Laboratory at the University of the West of England and author of the study, observed electrical impulses from mushrooms that he suggest may correlate to a language.
“We do not know if there is a direct relationship between spiking patterns in fungi and human speech. Possibly not,” Adamatzky told The Guardian. “On the other hand, there are many similarities in information processing in living substrates of different classes, families and species. I was just curious to compare.”
How do Mushrooms Communicate?
Mushrooms are more than just the stalk and cap. These fungi actually contain an impressive underground network of filaments called hyphae (the entire network is known as the mycelium). Scientists suggested that fungi send electrical signals through these hyphae similar to signals sent via the human nervous system.
These electrical signals are a way for mushrooms to communicate and respond to their environment. But, Adamatzy decided to take this a step further and investigate if this form of electrical communication followed a recognizable human language pattern.
For this experiment, he used tiny electrodes to measure the patterns of the electrical spikes in four species of fungi.
Adamatzky categorized the spikes into “words” and found that the mushrooms used a vocabulary of 50 words to communicate. Interestingly, many of these mushroom word lengths were similar to those of human words. Adamatzky even used an algorithm to analyze the communication pattern and proposed that these fungi words were grouped into sentences.
According to the study, the split gill fungi formed the most “complex sentences.”
While Adamatzky doesn’t think the spiking events are random, according to The Guardian article, it is still unclear exactly what the mushrooms might be saying to each other. However, experts suggest that the fungi may be communicating about resources or changes to their environment.
Do Other Plants Speak to Each Other?
Mushrooms are not the only plants that scientists think may communicate.
A 2014 study suggested that a certain parasitic plant may use RNA to share information with its host. And a 2018 study on corn seedlings found these plants pass information through their roots to neighboring plants.
Despite this growing body of research about plant communications, scientists need a lot more evidence before they can classify these communication patterns as a language.
Even Adamatzky recognizes that this is very early in the research process. In the study, he noted that humans still haven’t figured out what our pets are saying and he acknowledged that this study is just scratching the surface of potential fungi communication.
“There is also another option – they are saying nothing,” Adamatzky told The Guardian. “Propagating mycelium tips are electrically charged, and, therefore, when the charged tips pass in a pair of differential electrodes, a spike in the potential difference is recorded.”
Fungus on Translation Apps?
Adamatzky is ready to expand on his findings. In the study, he offered three routes for future research on fungi communication.
He recommends studying more fungi species to see how that changes the data. He also suggests analyzing and categorizing the words and grammatical structure of the mushroom language.
Even with these proposed future research endeavors, scientists say there would need to be a lot more research before we could truly think about actually being able to translate fungi words.
However, it is interesting to consider what new technological and scientific breakthroughs could offer. While it sounds like something out of a science fiction story, maybe one day we will be able to understand what plants are saying to each other or possibly even communicate with them.
Would that mean we could actually keep our houseplants from dying if we can ask them what they need? Only time will tell.
For now, the next time you’re on a hike, keep an eye out for mushrooms and just imagine the conversations they could be having with their 50-word vocabulary.
While we don’t offer mushroom translation services, ALTA does provide translation services for more than 100 human languages. Check out our services to learn more.
Stephanie Brown is a New York City-based travel blogger and freelance content creator.
You can find her at The Adventuring Millennial.