Do Plants Have Intelligence?

“In some Native languages,
the term for plants translates
to “those who take care of us.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer

“Chi Mai” by Ennio Morricone (courtesy of Krzysztof – Fairyland):

 

“Plants are agents of nature’s self-organising intelligence.”
David Crow

Courtesy of M Zeki Althunhisar:

Dr. William Lauder Lindsay, a physician and botanist wrote in 1876: “It appears to me that certain attributes of mind, as it occurs in Man, are common to plants.” Other scientists have since come to the conclusion that while we are the most intelligent among all animals, humans are not the only ones that display this biological property. The precursor to plants and animals had already genetics that during evolution were shared by both plants and animals.

Kingdoms in Another Time – Plants and Fungi (courtesy of Atheos Nous):

The implications of the studies described below in this post, and many others, show that evolution was based on the inheritance of acquired characteristics, as claimed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Biological intelligence is a part of our genetic make-up, like the shape of our body, and is present in similar, but not in the same form, in all creatures. In his ‘Power of Movement in Plants’, Darwin wrote: “It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the tip of the radicle (root) thus endowed , and having the power of directing the movement of the adjoining parts, acts like the brain in one of the lower animals.”

The Roots of Exploring Plant Intelligence (courtesy of World Science Festival):

StanleyMiller

Scientists say that trees are social beings. They can count, learn, and remember. They nurse sick members, warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network, and for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots.

“How Trees Secretly Talk to Each Other in the Forest” (courtesy of National Geographic):

By the way, a couple of interesting asides. There are communities in India that have learned how to train the roots of rubber fig trees to form natural suspension bridges that can span over 100 feet and last five hundred years.

Courtesy of Mike Marlowe:

The living root bridges of Meghalaya (courtesy of Thirsty Universe):

In the late 1980s, NASA studied house plants as means of providing clean and pure air for their space stations. They found Peace Lilies and Chrysanthemums to be the best all-rounders at air filtering.        

“Crisantemi” by Giacomo Puccini (courtesy of Mikel Toms):

Today scientists from various universities, working on developing Darwin’s root-brain hypothesis, use the term ‘plant neurobiology’ that points to the similarities between plants and animals. Of course, we must remember that evolution created specific sets of cells, tissues and organs. While animals developed weight-supporting skeletons, plants have developed woody trunks. The issue of the degree of plant intelligence is not as yet fully understood and needs more studies. What we know now is that plants are able to differentiate between red, blue, far-red and UV lights and respond to them. They know that they are being touched, can respond to compounds in the air and they can hear. They know gravity and respond by growing up, but putting roots down. They are aware of their past and accordingly modify their present physiology as they remember their previous experiences,  like infections.

Professor Stefano Mancuso describes how plants interact with each other (courtesy of Gottlieb Duttweiler Inst):

How plants see and experience the world (courtesy of Next Observer):

 

SummerField

As yet, we don’t have the knowledge to prove if plants can suffer or be happy in our understanding of the term, but it also means that we cannot disapprove of the terms being used. Most good gardeners think that well-looked after plants do look happy, and wilting ones do not, but it is still an unanswerable question. Darwin’s experiments to establish whether the tip of the plant senses gravity, then passes this information along, instructing the plant to grow the roots down, and the top towards the light and up, was successful in positively answering this particular question. But even this issue is much more complex when looked at today. Advanced studies using advanced microscopes revealed the complex subcellular structure of roots. Part of the root cell contains a heavier than the rest of the cell structure that researchers call statoliths,  from the Greek, meaning ‘stationary stone’. Further research, including taking plants under weightless conditions (effectively zero gravity) in spacecraft, has confirmed that the presence of statoliths is necessary to react to gravity and grow roots down. In spacecraft, roots were growing in every direction.

How plants adapt to growing in space (courtesy of VideoFromSpace):

 

WhiteBriarRoses9

It is extraordinary and inspiring to think what is going to be discovered in the next century. When Darwin designed his experiment to find which part of the plant can see the light, and found it was the tip, which then passes the information to the stalk and which then bends towards the light, he didn’t know that years later a Danish plant physiologist Peter Boysen-Jensen would use this knowledge to expand the findings. Like Darwin, he cut the tip of two plants and then used a piece of glass between one tip and its stump, and a thin slab of gelatin between another tip and its stump. The plant that had the gelatin reacted to the light by bending, while the one with glass did not. It was obvious that the bending signal coming from the tip must be soluble since it could pass through the gelatin but not through glass. Later on, in the 1930s, it was discovered that it was a growth-promoting chemical called auxin (Greek for ‘increase’). It is a very prevalent hormone as it has a major function of making a plant to bend towards the light and grow better and faster.

Courtesy of National Geographic:

Forsythia

Do plants have memory? In an experiment in 1977, a scientist, Mark Jaffe, wanted to prove that plants have procedural memory, that is they are capable of sensing and reacting to external stimulation. He cut a tendril of a pea plant, known to coil around anything that would support it, and kept it in a well-lit environment. To get it to coil he rubbed the tendril with his finger. When he put the tendril in a dark place, it would not curl as it needed light to perform. But when he placed the pea tendril in the light, two hours later, it would spontaneously curl without the stimulation of the scientist’s finger. The tendril stored the information of being touched and coiled as soon as it was put in the light. This is a type of procedural memory.

6927883-green-wheat-field-sunset

The research into genetics in the Soviet Union was led by the scientist, Lysenko, who was one of the first to establish that some plants need very cold weather to flower. When the winter was mild and various crops would fail, he found a solution. The seeds were put into a freezer, and then planted in the spring, and not as it had been done previously in autumn, and the plants flowered, ensuring good crops. It was clear that the seeds remembered that they had the cold period they needed and flowered as it was April, the time they usually have done so in the spring. Lysenko proved that this most important process could be artificially manipulated, and he was venerated for saving masses from starvation. Later, scientists discovered that the cold treatment triggers a change in plant DNA structure, which is then passed on to the next generation of female cells. It is truly astonishing that plants not only have the memory from season to season, but can also pass it from generation to generation. Recent studies in Switzerland established that plants under stress make a new combination of DNA, that is also passed to a new generation.

The press reported recently that pollinating experts, honeybees, are also adept in maths. The bees were taught to recognise the colours as plus or minus symbols. After achieving this, scientists then taught honeybees to solve basic mathematical problems. It involved addition and subtraction, and the success rate was 75%. Prof. Adrian Dyer from RMIT University in Melbourne wrote: “Our findings suggest that advanced numerical cognition may be found much more widely in nature among non-human animals than previously suspected. If maths doesn’t require a massive brain, there might also be new ways  for us to incorporate interaction of both long-term rules and working memory into designs to improve rapid learning of new problems.”

Courtesy of Miranda V.:

The discovery that bees can understand the concept of zero, lead to further research. Fourteen bees were trained to enter a Y-shaped maze consisting of a tunnel with two opposite exits. When they got into a tunnel the bees saw different shapes, coloured either yellow or blue as ‘numbers’ arranged in sums.  The bees were trained to follow correct sums to their reward of sugary water. Those that followed a path marked by an incorrect sum only got a bitter solution. After 100 trials the bees learned to get the right solution. The scientists pointed out that to be able to solve even basic maths problems requires the ability to understand abstract rules. Prof. Dyer said “You need to be able to hold the rules around adding and subtracting in your long-term memory, while mentally manipulating a set of given numbers in your short-term memory.”

Honeybees learn how to do simple arithmetic (courtesy of News Direct):

The intelligence of bees (courtesy of National Geographic):

These are true wonders of the natural world; how many more astounding discoveries are we going to find in the future?

Hidden miracles of the natural world by Louie Schwartzberg (courtesy of TED):

 

“Just For You” by Giovanni Marradi (courtesy of Andreea Petcu):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

55 thoughts on “Do Plants Have Intelligence?

  1. This is a very very informative and fascinating article. We’d learnt about phototropic movements and plant hormones in school, but the way you present it makes one truly appreciate what goes on in a plant and that they are, by all means, quite similar to us. Living in India, I didn’t know about the rubber root bridges. Very interesting fact!
    The fact that plants can communicate, care for each other and have a memory make us empathise with their “humaneness” all the more.
    Very very interesting write-up! The music videos added the “documentary vibes” to it. 😊

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Thank you, SamSahana, for your wonderful comments! You are right, plants are, like us, part of Nature. I am very happy that you liked the music and all the additions. Your praise make my work worthwhile!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you again. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  4. This is another masterpiece from you, Joanna. Like others, I also know that plants are living beings like animals and display almost all characteristics of living ones, but the concept of memory and plant neurobiology is new to me and how they can differentiate and respond to colours. Statoliths and auxin hormone and growing of roots in every direction in a spacecraft are also interesting to note.

    The most interesting fact was however of root or suspension bridges, as I have seen myself in an area called Nongriat during my stay in Shillong. I had once written about Shillong and its Khasi tribe, known for their matriarch society and matrilineal system of descent and inheritance. My old days came alive today, courtesy you.

    Teaching maths to honeybess is really interesting. Thank you so much, Joanna for one more enlightening piece.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you, Kaushal, for finding time to read and wonderfully review my today’s post. I am so happy that you could find so many
    things interesting!! I will try to add a few more facts in my next post, it is easy as I am writing about Nature,

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thank you again. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Fascinating, Joanna. I love the root bridges! And here we are again – writing on the same topic for our Friday post! Enjoy your weekend! 🌞

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you, Lisa, for your generous comment! It is good to be in the company of like minded people!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you again. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It’s my pleasure. Ok, I’ll look forward to your next post.

    Like

  11. You’re welcome, Joanna!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I find the bees learning basic math interesting! Never knew that! Good piece, Joanna!

    Like

  13. Thank you for your generous comment based on KK comment!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Plants are our extended limbs. And can produce sound waves at relatively low frequencies of 50 hertz to 120 hertz. My friend Neel who spent years experimenting with sound therapy on plant surroundings and patients had results that made him believe the unbelievable and see the changes within weeks once he started playing Indian classical instruments surrounded by them.

    Plants have a higher understanding of nature being rooted and static at the same time. The finest meditators observing silently. They are responsive to frequencies and understand the sounds as they came out of silence.

    This is again an essay by nature herself who is becoming adept in this world of five elements, it is only our fortune to be amongst a writer who has chosen to enlighten us with these gifts. Bringing nature to our cells. I thank you Joanna.

    Narayan x

    Like

  15. Thank you, Narayan, for your as always wonderfully interesting comments, adding more to my knowledge!!
    I can only thank you, Narayan, for being my reader! What would I do without people like you?

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thank you again, Dear Narayan. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  17. Great post! I am sure they do.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Thank you, susurrus, for your kind comment!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Thank you again. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  20. love the picture of the head and yes they so do hav e intelligence and you shared that beautifully Joanna! 💖 I’m talking to mine a lot more and they seem to be responding. 💖👏👏👏

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Thank you, Cindy, for your lovely additional comments!! Yes, talking to plant works!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  22. You’re soooo welcome! fingers crossed!💖💖

    Like

  23. Thank you again. Greatly appreciated. I should have put the above in plural, as in plants, as is so many.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  24. oh it was terrific and you’re so welcome my friend!💖

    Like

  25. How well you put these complex ideas into a very readable article! You are a special person 🤗😊 and you have added some great videos and glorious music! It always amazes me that we have been aware of many of these things for so long and still the earth is abused! 💖💝🌹💐🙋‍♂️

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Thank you, Ashley, for your wonderful comments! It is you who is a special person as your comments make me always happy. I am glad that you like all the additions and music too, thank you!

    Joanna

    Like

  27. Thank you again. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  28. Thank you Joanna for a very informative post, such a great post. I especially loved the images of the roots of the rubber fig trees that form natural suspension bridges, amazing! I was also wowed by the intelligence of the bees and as always I enjoyed the therapeutical sounds and music in your post. Thank you so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Thank you, Henrietta, for your wonderful comments! I usually find the facts that would fascinate me!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Thank you again. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Music is important!!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  32. A very thought-provoking post, Joanna. It should seem obvious there’s a tremendous amount of intelligence and communication happening with plants. I don’t quite understand why we aren’t studying nature exponentially more.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Thank you for sharing this article..very inspiring.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Thank you for your kind comment. I find inspiration in Nature, and write about it!

    Joanna

    Like

  35. Thank you again. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  36. Thank you, Rose, I don’t understand either, that is why I will keep on writing!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  37. What an interesting post! I believe when we are gone plants will take over the world and remedy the effects of climate change. All of nature’s creatures, it seems, are intelligent and seem to have their ways of communicating!

    Liked by 1 person

  38. Thank you, for your kind comment, Dwight! You are right, plants and insects will rule the world one day. As I can see in my wildlife garden, all the tiny beings are intelligent!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Thank you again. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Seems that way! :>)

    Like

  41. What a captivating and interesting post Joanna I learned quite a few things from you today.

    Happy Friday, enjoy your weekend
    Much love and abundance
    ❤❤

    Liked by 1 person

  42. Thank you for your kind comment. Happy to be of service!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  43. Thank you again. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  44. This is so fascinating! Bees can do simple maths and even understand the concept of zero and plants have the memory and intelligence. I knew about the bridges in India but not the science behind it. Thank you for sharing this interesting and insightful post. Love it.

    Liked by 1 person

  45. Thank you, joycemaryj, for your generous comments. I wrote once that it will be the insects that will rule the world one day.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  46. After reading this post, I don’t think that I will be surprised when that happens..

    Like

  47. Joanna, a gorgeous and fascinating post! The time lapse photography and music are beautiful. I especially liked the video about the living bridges in India. The scientific information about how plants communicate and care for each other was interesting and touching.

    I remember reading about roses in your garden climbing the trees. Was that lovely photo of the white roses from your garden?

    Today I pruned our little palm tree and came inside tired, sweaty, and with hands full of punctures from the palm’s thorns. I decide to relax and watch this video. As I watched, I wondered if the palm had known that it was being cared for with the best of intentions as I removed the aging lower fronds.

    Thank you, Joanna for this lovely and educational post that enhances our appreciation of plants. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  48. Thank you, Cheryl, for your wonderful comments. This is what I love to hear, yes, the plants know that you are doing things
    for their wellbeing. Yes, roses are mine.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

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