Appreciate Your Plant Family!

Plants can recognise their relatives, make decisions, and even COUNT, scientists say

  • Prince Charles  was roundly mocked for saying he talked to plants years ago
  • And now it appears plants may be smarter than even the Prince of Wales thought
  • Plants can count, make decisions, recognise relatives and remember events

If  he were that sort of chap, Prince Charles would be within his rights to deliver a right royal ‘I told you so’.

For in the years since he was roundly mocked for saying he talked to plants – and that they ‘responded’ – evidence has grown that he may have been on to something.

And now it appears plants may be smarter than even the Prince of Wales thought.

According to researchers, plants can count, make decisions, recognise their relatives and even remember events.

For in the years since he was roundly mocked for saying he talked to plants ¿ and that they ¿responded¿ ¿ evidence has grown that he may have been on to something. Pictured: Stock photo of houseplants on a window

For in the years since he was roundly mocked for saying he talked to plants – and that they ‘responded’ – evidence has grown that he may have been on to something. Pictured: Stock photo of houseplants on a window

According to researchers, plants can count, make decisions, recognise their relatives and even remember events. Pictured: A gardener pruning a Hibiscus Plant

According to researchers, plants can count, make decisions, recognise their relatives and even remember events. Pictured: A gardener pruning a Hibiscus Plant

And while they may not have a brain, they can learn in a similar way to humans and animals, say scientists.

Professor Umberto Castiello said: ‘Although the idea that plants may behave in a cognitive way may baffle the public, many of us are genuinely amazed by the complexity of plant responses.

‘Evidence is accumulating supporting notions that plants can communicate, remember, decide, and even count – all abilities that one would normally call cognitive if they were observed in animals.’

Professor Castiello said many studies show their cognitive abilities. One found Venus flytraps can ‘count’ the number of steps their prey made.

Scientists observed that the plant trapped prey only when an insect triggered it twice within 20 seconds. This means the plants can remember the first signal for a short time. The reason why plants need to ‘count’ the steps of its prey could be to avoid wasting energy by responding to random raindrops or windblown debris.

Another experiment showed the flowering plant Mimosa pudica can remember being dropped.

The plant was dropped from 6in 60 times in a row and by the end of the experiment it no longer folded its leaves in a defensive response as it realised being dropped from that height would not hurt.

‘The plant “realises” that being dropped is normal,’ Professor Castiello, from the University of Padua in Italy, wrote. ‘More astonishingly, this reflex lasts up to a month which demonstrates the acquisition and expression of a long-lasting memory.’

And shrubs can recognise their kin too as they release more chemicals when planted near their relatives which helps them stave off predators.

It is even thought plants can manipulate competitors when resources are scarce. Plants experiencing a lack of water can share this information with nearby shrubs by sending signals via their roots.

This prompts a nearby plant – its competitor – to start conserving water and this behaviour ultimately benefits both.

Professor Castiello concluded: ‘The question should no longer be if plants are cognitive organisms but how plants make use of their cognitive capacities.’



Consciousness and Plants

The Science of Plant Intelligence Takes Root

Jack Fox-Williams, New Dawn
Waking Times

For centuries, Western philosophy has viewed animals and plants as unthinking automatons. The famous 17th (century) scientist and philosopher, Rene Descartes, maintained that non-human organisms cannot reason or feel pain; they are robotic machines that purely act on impulse.1

While science has recently proven that animals are intelligent creatures, capable of logical thinking and emotional experience, the notion that plants possess a similar kind of intelligence is largely disregarded by the scientific community. It is assumed that because plants do not possess a brain, they have no conscious experience.



Goethe and other thinkers through history observed that plants constitute an intelligent life-form, develop symbiotic relationships with other organisms, and can respond to complex changes in the environment. While the scientific community explains the intelligence of plant behaviour in terms of electrical and chemical responses to sensory stimuli, others believe that plants could provide a valuable insight into other forms of consciousness.

One of the most famous scientists to observe plant intelligence was the English naturalist, geologist and biologist, Charles Darwin.2 While Darwin is most prominently known for the theory of evolution, he was deeply fascinated by the behaviour of plants and made a valuable contribution to the botanical sciences. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Darwin maintained that plants are not unthinking automatons but highly complex and receptive organisms. In one of his last works, The Power of Movement in Plants, published in 1880, Darwin suggests that the root of the plant operates in a similar way to the neural networks found in lower animals, receiving information about the external environment and communicating it to other areas of its structure, writing:

“It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the tip of the radicle thus endowed (with sensitivity) and having the power of directing the movements of the adjoining parts, acts like the brain of one of the lower animals; the brain being seated within the anterior end of the body, receiving impressions from the sense-organs and directing the several movements.”3

Unfortunately, Darwin’s observations were rejected by leading scientists of the time, particularly the eminent plant physiologist Julius Sachs. He labelled Darwin an amateur scientist who performed careless experiments and acquired misleading results. However, in-depth analysis of plants is beginning to reveal they possess highly developed neural systems and even utilise the same neurotransmitters we do.

Modern Science & Plant Intelligence

While it is easy to dismiss these findings as pseudoscience, more and more scientists are recognizing that plants exhibit brain like-functions and make sentient decisions. In 2009, researchers Dieter Volkmann, Stefano Mancuso, Peter W Barlow and Frantisek Baluska, published an article in the journal Plant Signal Behaviour entitled “The ‘root-brain’ hypothesis of Charles and Francis Darwin” in which they examined Darwin’s root hypothesis and whether current scientific literature supports his theory.

Based on complex analysis of scientific data, they concluded that “recent advances in chemical ecology reveal the astonishing complexity of higher plants as exemplified by the battery of volatile substances which they produce and sense in order to share information with other organisms about their physiological state.”4 According to the paper, plants can recognise self from non-self and roots, even secrete signalling exudates that “mediate kin recognition.” Moreover, plants are “capable of a type of plant-specific cognition, suggesting that communicative and identity re-cognition systems are used, as they are in animal and human societies, to improve the fitness of plants and so further their evolution.”

…  One of the most interesting scientists to have undertaken research into plant intelligence is Monica Gagliano, associate professor at the University of Western Australia. In 2014, she conducted a series of experiments using Mimosa Pudicas plants to work out whether plants ‘memorize’ changes in their environment.

In order to test her hypothesis, she placed the plants in pots and then loaded each one onto a specially designed plant-dropping device. Each plant was dropped from a height of six inches, sixty times in a row at five second intervals. The plants would fall onto a soft foam to prevent them from bouncing, with the drop quick enough to cause the plants to curl up their leaves. Since the plants were not harmed in any way, Gagliano wondered whether they would eventually realize the drop did not signify an external danger. After a short amount of time, she found that “some individuals did not close their leaves when fully dropped.”The plants realized that falling from six inches would not cause them any harm and no longer curled their leaves.

Members of the scientific community were cynical of Gagliano’s findings, suggesting the plants merely became exhausted. Gagliano disproved this theory by taking a group of plants and placing them in a shaker in order to deplete them of energy. She found that the plants still curled their leaves, indicating they only became unguarded when dropped from a height to which they had become accustomed.5

Gagliano’s research has significant implications in terms how we see plants. The fact that they respond differently to situations that present no harm to those that do, implies plants recall sensory information and ‘memorise’ changes around them. While there is much uncertainty as to how plants recall this information, Gagliano believes it could be representative of a distributed intelligence operating entirely different to the mammalian brain.

This corresponds with Rupert Sheldrake’s ‘morphic resonance’ hypothesis that memories are not stored in the brain but in a universal informational field. …   Examples like this suggest memory may not be an entirely neurological phenomenon but exists in other forms; this may explain why plants are able to memorise information without possessing a physical brain structure.6

The notion that plants operate within a wider intelligence network is supported by recent experiments in plant communication. …

Plant Sentience in Shamanic Cultures

The belief that plants constitute an intelligent life form is commonplace in shamanic cultures, particularly those found in South America. As Michael Winkelman, Associate Professor at Arizona State University states, “the self-identifications with the broader universe, particularly personification of the sentient cosmos which is a hallmark of ecopsychology, is a fundamental aspect of shamanism.” 

…  Many people who have ingested Ayahuasca, an entheogenic brew made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine in South America, report telepathic communication with plants, animals and people during the experience; the natural world becomes personified as an animated fractal intelligence that is constantly adapting, changing and evolving. …

In this sense, recent experiments into plant intelligence prove what shamanistic cultures have known all along – that plants are intelligent, sensitive and sentient life-forms.9 By observing their behaviour, we can learn more about the natural world and the complexity of all living things. Although modern science provided us with tremendous technological innovation and development, the reductionist belief that animals and plants are ‘mechanical’ in their nature, rather than a dynamic expression of intelligence and consciousness, has disconnected us from our environment and thus ourselves.

A Challenge to Outmoded Paradigms & Thinking

There are significant social, philosophical and religious implications for plant intelligence. It challenges the anthropocentric and monotheistic view that humans are the only species with a mind and a soul – we are not the most important entity in the universe but part of an interconnected web of life.

…(he independent scholar, author, teacher, and speaker on sacred plant medicine Stephen) Buhner notes:

“The older, reductive, mechanistic paradigm that looked at the earth as a ball of non-sentient resources, we do with as we please, has reached its limits. It is destroying the ability of most life forms to endure, and the eco-systems of the planet. Younger and less mentally restrictive scientists in every field are finding that the world around us is far different than the picture that reductionists have created and taught us to believe. All life is intelligent, none of it is mechanical, and you cannot use the ecosystems of the planet as resources for unlimited extraction.”11

Plant intelligence also forces us to reconsider the nature of consciousness. Mainstream science currently posits the idea that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the brain (it is generated by the brain). When we die, the brain ceases to operate, and consciousness switches off. In this reductionist perspective, plants and animals possess a very limited consciousness since their brains are not as neurologically complex. But the fact of the matter stands that modern science does not understand the mystery of consciousness and the process by which neural pathways, which are non-conscious, become self-aware as a complex web of connections in the brain. If plants have the ability to recall sensory information, socially communicate with each other, and respond to complex changes in the environment, we are forced to rethink our current models of consciousness. It may be the case that the human brain constitutes a very specific expression of consciousness, and intelligence manifests across a broad spectrum of life with plants possessing their own unique form of awareness which modern science does not currently understand.

To conclude, there is increasing evidence suggesting plants are an intelligent life-form. Recent scientific experiments indicate that plants are able to retain sensory information, respond to complex changes in their environment and even communicate with one another via complex biological networks. While we have yet to fully understand how plant intelligence works, these experiments challenge the orthodox scientific view that plants are non-sentient, and intelligence only emerges via neural pathways in the brain.

An interview with Stephen Harrod Buhner accompanies this article and can be read inside the same issue of New Dawn.


THe Intelligence of Plants

Plants Are Far More Intelligent Than We Ever Assumed

Like higher organisms, plants appear able to make complex decisions. A new study shows that plants may be able to initiate a survival mechanism by aborting their own seeds to prevent parasite infestation.

Plants have previously been shown to draw alternative sources of energy from other plants. Plants influence each other in many ways and they communicate through “nanomechanical oscillations” vibrations on the tiniest atomic or molecular scale or as close as you can get to telepathic communication.

Plants exhibit intelligence with an intrinsic ability to process information from several type of stimuli that allows optimal decisions about future activities in a given environment.

Stefano Mancuso from the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology at the University of Florence, Italy, and his colleagues are starting to apply rigorous standards to study plant hearing (Trends in Plant Sciences, vol17, p323). Their preliminary results indicate that corn roots grow towards specific frequencies of vibrations. What is even more surprising is their finding that roots themselves may also be emitting sound waves. For now, though, we have no idea how a plant might produce sound signals let alone how they might detect them.

Scientists from the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the University of Gottingen have now shown from their investigations on Barberry (Berberis vulgaris), that it is is able to abort its own seeds to prevent parasite infestation.

The results, as reported in a news release, are the first ecological evidence of complex behaviour in plants. They indicate that this species has a structural memory, is able to differentiate between inner and outer conditions as well as anticipate future risks, scientists write in the renowned journal American Naturalist — the premier peer-reviewed American journal for theoretical ecology.

The European barberry or simply Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) is a species of shrub distributed throughout Europe. It is related to the Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) that is native to North America and that has been spreading through Europe for years. Scientists compared both species to find a marked difference in parasite infestation: “a highly specialized species of tephritid fruit fly, whose larvae actually feed on the seeds of the native Barberry, was found to have a tenfold higher population density on its new host plant, the Oregon grape”, reports Dr. Harald Auge, a biologist at the UFZ.

This led scientists to examine the seeds of the Barberry more closely. Approximately 2000 berries were collected from different regions of Germany, examined for signs of piercing and then cut open to examine any infestation by the larvae of the tephritid fruit fly (Rhagoletis meigenii). This parasite punctures the berries in order to lay its eggs inside them. If the larva is able to develop, it will often feed on all of the seeds in the berry. A special characteristic of the Barberry is that each berry usually has two seeds and that the plant is able to stop the development of its seeds in order to save its resources. This mechanism is also employed to defend it from the tephritid fruit fly. If a seed is infested with the parasite, later on the developing larva will feed on both seeds. If however the plant aborts the infested seed, then the parasite in that seed will also die and the second seed in the berry is saved.

When analysing the seeds, the scientists came across a surprising discovery: “the seeds of the infested fruits are not always aborted, but rather it depends on how many seeds there are in the berries”, explains Dr. Katrin M. Meyer, who analysed the data at the UFZ and currently works at the University of Goettingen. If the infested fruit contains two seeds, then in 75 per cent of cases, the plants will abort the infested seeds, in order to save the second intact seed. If however the infested fruit only contains one seed, then the plant will only abort the infested seed in 5 per cent of cases. The data from fieldwork were put into a computer model which resulted in a conclusive picture. Using computer model calculations, scientists were able to demonstrate how those plants subjected to stress from parasite infestation reacted very differently from those without stress. “If the Barberry aborts a fruit with only one infested seed, then the entire fruit would be lost. Instead it appears to ‘speculate’ that the larva could die naturally, which is a possibility. Slight chances are better than none at all”, explains Dr. Hans-Hermann Thulke from the UFZ. “This anticipative behaviour, whereby anticipated losses and outer conditions are weighed up, very much surprised us. The message of our study is therefore that plant intelligence is entering the realms of ecological possibility.”

But how does the Barberry know what is in store for it after the tephritid fruit fly has punctured a berry? It is still unclear as to how the plant processes information and how this complex behaviour was able to develop over the course of its evolution. The Oregon grape that is closely related to the Barberry has been living in Europe for some 200 years with the risk of being infested by the tephritid fruit fly and yet it has not developed any such comparable defence strategy. These new insights shed some light on the underestimated abilities of plants, while at the same time bringing up many new questions.

April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.