Do Plants Have Feelings And Are They Conscious?

Thanks to a 2006 article in the journal Trends in Plant Science, people have ran with the idea that since plants are living things, they handle information the same way a sophisticated nervous system of an animal does. This means that much like animals (and even humans), plants are conscious, or at the very least, very much aware of things happening around them. This implies that, and you know where we are going with this, that plants can feel emotion like happiness, sorrow and make intentional decisions.

Sounds just about not right.

The same reaction can be said for Lincol Taiz, a retired plant biologist peeved with the idea that has permeated the scientific space for the better part of a decade. It also doesn’t help that with this came the rise of the field of “plant neurobiology,” which he watched with growing dismay. According to him, the chances that a plant is aware you stepped on its leaves the same way you’d be aware of someone touching you are “effectively nil.”

“There’s nothing in the plant remotely comparable to the complexity of the animal brain,”  wrote Taiz in an  opinion piece  in the Aug. 1  Trends in Plant Science. “Nothing. And I’m a plant biologist. I love plants.” Per Taiz, he loves plants not because they “think like humans,” but for “how they live their plant lives.”

Of course, some plants do exhibit sophisticated behavior. Wounded leaves for example, send some sort of warning signals to the plant’s other parts. Venus Flytraps can “count” the times an insect touches it that make some form of short-term memory. However, unlike animals that use brains, plants employ different methods with a vastly different nervous system. That’s because plants live a sedentary lifestyle on the ground, which means they don’t require quick thinking or a nervous system that would use a lot of energy to enable animal-like behaviors.

Taiz also argued as to what use consciousness would have for a plant. Sure they can fret and feel emotions, but how would that be useful if you’re a plant? Besides, they already do enough by producing oxygen and sustaining us, he said.

Houseplants Pictured: Tiled marble wall with houseplant and door steps. Quick Image/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images