We’ve known for a long time now that plants ‘feel.’ That is, if you have sensors hooked up to a plant, and you cut it, the sensors will register a signal that roughly translates into: GEEZE, THAT HURT!
Scientists are now discovering that plants may also ‘think.’ One type of plant, for example, is known to be able to sense the presence of friends or foes, and decide how to approach them. Another plans its growth two years into the future, based on its predictions of weather patterns, making it a great deal smarter than your local weather broadcaster.
Some plants remember past transgressions. Most seem to be able to communicate — to other plants, and insects — using chemical signals. And apparently some can even do Euclidean geometry, which puts them ahead of the average American high school student.
These findings have profound implications for scientists, philosophers, and yes, you over there, sitting on your couch. For example, this means that it’s not just your imagination — the dandelions really *do* duck when you mow your lawn. They’ve also probably worked out how to hold their breath until you’re done spraying the weed killer.
It gets worse. If plants remember past wrongs, then you might want to consider apologizing the next time you bump a tree with your car — otherwise you might find yourself concussed by a falling branch when you pass by again. Or for that matter, it may turn out that none of us has ever really stepped on a rake — maybe the grass has been throwing it at us all this time. Think I’m being paranoid about the possibility of plant aggression? Just remember that it is, as they say, a jungle out there.
On the positive side, parents can now get their own back. Well-meaning but generally rebellious teens delight in announcing — usually after Mom has spent several hours on a fancy Sunday roast dinner — that they’ve suddenly taken up vegetarianism. Parents can wave these studies under the teen’s nose, and follow-up by offering a tempting bacon sandwich every time the kid is playing music too loud or taking too much bandwidth.
Also good news is the fact that we’ve discovered the secret talents of plants before it was too late. If the average strangleweed has decision-making capabilities, this does not bode well for the future of the human race. Indeed, we’re always making movies and writing books about machines going berserk and taking over the world. Perhaps we should be more worried about the local flora.
That’s because there are trees that have survived since before Socrates was a wee lad. A strong vine can, over time, pull down a solid brick wall. An innocent patch of moss can make walkways slippery and treacherous. In fact I’m beginning to think that, opposable thumb or not, the only reason it’s me sitting here writing this and not a humourous oak tree is simply that I type faster. Most mornings, anyway.
I would suggest that we need to do more research into plant intelligence. Do they have religious beleafs? Is a tree’s bark worse than it’s bite? Having mastered geometry, have any plants branched out into calculus? Twigonometry?
What about the legal and moral ramifications? Will pasturing sheep suddenly be tantamount to grass genocide? Are we likely to see the rise of advocacy groups named PLANTA who decry the overcrowding and forced yield increases of crop farming? Will grocery stores sell free range oatmeal at a premium?
Finally, philosophically speaking, we may have to ask that ancient, puzzling question once again: If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one around, does it make a sound?
And if it does, is it: GEEZE, THAT HURT!
PS – If you liked this piece, you’ll love Knock on Wood.
Incoming search terms: do plants have feelings, plants feel pain, are plants sentient