I read a short story long ago about a scientist experimenting with plants.

The scientist found that plants would react to murder or torture being carried out on people, and used that effect to help catch at least one murderer.

The short story is obviously intended to be humorous.

The scientist is explaining how he helped catch the killer, and explains that he needed a very long plant to make a directional detector.

The story ends with a play on words. The scientist caught the killer because he "heard it through the grapevine."

This is science fiction - scientist using cutting edge technology to carry out a task.

It would have been written/published in the 1960s or 1970s.

I'm pretty sure it was inspired by Cleve Backster's experiments using a polygraph on plants.

The story may also tie in with the song "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" that was popular in the late 1960s.

Does anyone know the title of the story, who wrote it, and in what collections it was published? I'd like to read it again.

  • 1
    Could this have been a Feghoot?
    – DavidW
    May 25, 2020 at 16:16
  • 1
    @DavidW: It is that kind of story. I don't remember anyone like "Ferdinand Feghoot" in the story.
    – JRE
    May 25, 2020 at 16:21
  • @JRE It's definitely a Shaggy Dog story, even though doubt it contains said canine.
    – Spencer
    May 25, 2020 at 16:44

1 Answer 1


Crying Willow by Edward Rager.

I read it in Asimov's 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories.

If this is the story your memory isn't quite correct. Plants communicate their distress to each other, and the grapevine detector is used to catch someone who is torturing a plant. No humans were harmed in the making of this short story.

The tree being tortured is a willow, and the woman who owned the tree complained it was crying. Yes, it was a weeping willow - the jokes are all around this standard. This is, of course, exactly the sort of humour Asimov loves best and no doubt that's why he included it.

“One thing I’ve been curious about,” I said. “You seemed to know about the willow’s dilemma before the police report. How did you find out?”

“You see, sir, plants do broadcast their anxieties to other plants, but usually only those in the immediate vicinity can pick much of it up. However, an antenna can be made by allowing a vining plant with broad leaves to grow along a specially shaped trellis. I have such a system.”

“That’s what enabled you to pick up the willow’s distress signals?”

“Yes, sir. I heard it through the grapevine.”

  • 1
    Thank you! That question has been torturing me since I read it. May 25, 2020 at 16:58
  • That's the one.
    – JRE
    May 25, 2020 at 17:12

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