Plants May See, Feel Pain, Talk, and Have Consciousness

Plants, which people have long thought to be somewhere lower on the hierarchy of living things, seem capable of much more than people know. 

Now, some are beginning to place plants at the top of the hierarchy, despite humans’ sense of supremacy. After all, in the end, we become plant food after years of depending on plants entirely for the air we breathe.

Right now, it’s important to recognize the importance of plants more than ever. In the Amazon, the rainforest is nearing an “irreversible tipping point.” Analysts have discovered over a quarter of the rainforest is now emitting more carbon than it absorbs.

However, there is a narrow window in which to avert disaster. If the people of the world unite in recognizing the importance of the forests, we have a chance. Therefore, it’s time to recognize how much we need plants and that we’ve long overlooked their amazing qualities.

How Plants May Suprise You

Although most people view plants as incapable of pain and unable to see, this may be completely wrong. Plants may “experience sensations and even may reflect on them,” including pain.

František Baluška, a plant cell biologist at the University of Bonn, believes without question that plants feel pain. Further, they may have consciousness, as seen in tests where they seem to “wake up” after being given anesthetics.

“Did the plants wake up as we do when we come to after a general anesthetic? This is the critical question, because in order to wake up, you need one thing above all others: consciousness. And it was exactly this question that a reporter from The New York Times posed to Baluška. I really liked his answer: “No one can answer this because you cannot ask [the plants],” wrote Peter Wohlleben.

New research into invertebrates, lobsters, octopuses, and squid finds that they probably feel pain. Thus, a backbone is not necessary to feel and react to being hurt. Now, we’re beginning to verify the same about plants. Meanwhile, though not scientific, perhaps empathy could have resolved the question of animals feeling pain long ago.

Can Plants See?

This one is perhaps most surprising: some research suggests plants can “see.”

For example, the plant Arabidopsis thaliana, or rockcress, has many types of photoreceptors that allow it to sense light. Notably, even the roots are light-sensitive. As one of the most studied plants in science, it was a big surprise when researchers discovered Arabidopsis also sprouts a strange, unnamed appendage. Usually, it grows when it doesn’t get enough daylight.

According to Baluška, a South American vine seems to have some way to see its surroundings. The vine mimics the plant on which it grows, producing leaves that look like its host.

Researchers placed it on a fake plastic plant to rule out the idea that the vine was changing its leaves based on some chemical detected from a host plant. Somehow, the vine could change its leaves to look like a plastic plant.

“The vine imitated the artificial leaves, just as it had imitated the leaves in nature. For Baluška this is clear proof that the vine can see. How else could it get information about a shape it had never encountered before? In this case, the usual suspects—chemical messages released by the host plant or electric signals between both plants—were absent. He went further. In his opinion, it is conceivable that all plants might be able to see,” reported Peter Wohlleben.

As incredible as it sounds, researchers think the transparent waxy cuticle on plant leaves may allow some type of sight.

“In several plants, the cuticle is constructed in the shape of a lens, which means that it focuses light, making the cuticle functionally similar to the lens in our eye,” Wohlleben writes.

See more from Next Observer:

Plants That Look Like Animals

If plants can see, it changes how one might see plants that create flowers that look like animals. In some cases, flowers look incredibly like exact matches of their pollinators.  

In one case, a fruit appears to be from a Nariphon, a tree from Buddhist mythology. In the myths, the Nariphon bears fruit in the shape of young female creatures. Obviously, pictures of these fruits are likely a hoax, though quite interesting. (see video below) 

The Plant “Root-Brain”

Italian philosopher Emanuele Coccia, who wrote The Life of Plants, believes there is no “hard boundary” between the plant and animal world. However, it’s not a new idea, but one suppressed for at least a century.

Long ago, Charles Darwin postulated that the tips of plant roots functioned like a simple animal brain, a “root-brain.”

“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,” Darwin wrote.

After 125 years, Darwin and his son Francis’ ideas about a root-brain were revived by scientists. As you might expect, in Darwin’s day, the leading botanists rejected the idea that plants have a sort of brain. Plant physiologist Julius Sachs “castigated the Darwins for being amateurs.”

If there were no resistance to the idea that plants and animals share more in common, imagine how the world might be different today. 

Trees Talk

Relatively recently, scientists have acknowledged how trees can talk through an underground mycorrhizal network. After years of brushing aside such notions, the mainstream realizes it’s true, perhaps just in time. Similarly, corals in the ocean can communicate and respond to sound.

For more, see: Scientists Learn How Corals and Trees Talk in Complex Ways

Plants Will Endure But Will We?

Although people may consider themselves masters of adaptation, plants can survive for thousands of years in the most inhospitable climates. Long ago, after towering megafungi terraformed Earth, the forests changed the environment, producing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide. From there, plants continued to evolve and grow almost everywhere.

For example, the Welwitschia plant somehow survives on only two inches of precipitation a year in the deserts of southern Africa. In Afrikaans, the plant is named “tweeblaarkanniedood,” which means “two leaves that cannot die,” reports the Times.

After humans are long gone, adaptable plants will eventually grow, transforming our civilization’s ruins. For example, Sir David Attenborough has been to Chernobyl to see it for himself first-hand. Nature is reclaiming the city, and the haunting empty shells of buildings are all that remain. 

If we can realize that nature’s biodiversity is essential for our own survival, perhaps we will avoid such a fate. Otherwise, the plants won’t see or feel us anymore, and perhaps to them that will be just as well?

See the haunting scene from Chernobyl from Nature Connection:

Featured image: Screenshots via YouTube

Corbin Black

Corbin is an artist and former biology major who enjoys exploring the world of weird news and the unknown. A blogger and SEO writer, he has written for numerous websites under various pen names covering a range of topics from the mundane to the fantastic.

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