A group of New York graduate students is giving plants a voice. Literally.

The students havedeveloped a system of sensorslinked to prerecorded phone messages so whena plant is too dry— or pleased that it was watered — a human getsa call.

The four students at New York University's interactive telecommunications program (ITP) are testing Botanicalls, a system that "opens a new channel of communication between plants and humans, in an effort to promote successful inter-species understanding," their website says.

It's also intended to keep their plants alive. "Our concern about bringing plants into the ITP community was their chance of survival —high-paced technologists seldom have time to stop and smell the flowers, let alone water them," they write on their website.

"'But, what if,' we wondered, 'the plants could call us and tell us what they needed when they needed it?'"

In response, they set up a system with asoil-moisture sensor, triggering a series of computerized links thatassess the data and make a decision about whether a phone message should be sent. "There are set thresholds, unique to each plant, for minimum and maximum soil moisture."

So far, there are five possible messages:

  • A request for water.
  • A really urgent request for water.
  • Confirmation and thanks for watering.
  • A request for more water if the watering was not sufficient.
  • A warning that the plant's been over-watered.

So the human who has done right by the fiddle-leaf fig might get a call saying: "I don't know if it was you, but someone gave me a nice watering. I want to express my thanks. I feel great."

The scotch moss message is recorded with a Scottish accent."Someone just watered me. It wasn't enough. I don't know what you were thinking."

The students are working on a home model of the system which might be ready this fall, Kati London told National Public Radio."And we're fine-tuning codes for plants in the same room so they can talk to each other. Let's say I'm a fiddle-leaf fig and I need light and I can't get it. I can ask the other plants in the same room with me ifthey have light. If no one else has light, I can deduce that it's either nighttime or cloudy. But if I notice that the spider plant haslots of light, I can call and say, "'Move me next to the spider plant!'"

The other students involved are Rebecca Bray,Robert Faludi andKate Hartman.