Is there a science behind plant wisdom?

Updated: Oct 13, 2021

Linked above is a national geographic article titled "There is such a thing as plant intelligence: plants are capable of problem solving and learning from past experiences". It is an incredibly insightful and poignant article, brilliantly displaying a point I endeavor to explore...

Plant wisdom is not magical. Although steeped in a sense of mystical, spiritual and esoteric wonder: plant wisdom is something very real and very underappreciated.

But what do we mean when we talk about plant wisdom?

The phrase 'plant wisdom' is an indication to an expansive paradigm of knowledge beyond basic ecology; plants grow, plants feed the ecosystem, plants reproduce, and then plants die. This perspective, this idea that plants are simple, insentient, unintelligent organisms is on the forefront of deconstruction. Time and time again the studies are revealing a secret life of plants; unveiling an inherent intelligence in their rythms.

The phrase 'plant wisdom' would refer to the knowledge the plant retains from the ecosystem it grew in; its ability to evolve and the way it has come to survive in this world, its ability to learn, adapt and amend and understand the world around it.

In short? Plants are super intelligent beings, escaping our limited perception of what consciousness and intelligence might be.


In the article above, two famous experiments into the intelligence of plants are mentioned:

1) Gaglianos experiments on mimosa pudica (a plant that curls up in response to a threat), In which it was proven that these plants learn and retain the memory of a perceived threat versus an actual threat and act accordingly.

2) The discovery of the "wood wide web", a system of fungi spread beneath the ground that interacts with all the trees in the woods like a telephone. The fungi feeds nutrients from healthy trees to trees who need it more and it passes the indication of a threat through the forest, if one tree is attacked, the rest will find out and act accordingly.

What does this mean? This means that plants have memory, sensitivity to external stimuli, changeable response to and recognition of fellow organisms and to some extent; sentience. All factors associated with human consciousness.

Consider that we do not even know what intelligence is, let alone whether another species may have it. It would, in the face of abundant research, be naïve and narrow-minded to dictate that humans and humans alone have "intelligence" or consciousness.

It is known that "The properties biologists recognise as exemplifying intelligent behavior are: information sensing, processing and integration; decision making and control of behavior; learning; memory; choice; self recognition; foresight by predictive modeling and computation to optimise resource acquisition with economy of effort" (A.Trewavas) and many, if not all plants possess these abilities.

The relatively new field of "Plant neurobiology" may be something of interest for the plant wisdom sceptics, a field that actively explores the way plants are intelligent to their surroundings., this link is to an article interviewing a plant neurobiologist on the topic;

"They have analagous structures," Pollan explains. "They have ways of taking all the sensory data they gather in their everyday lives ... integrate it and then behave in an appropriate way in response. And they do this without brains, which, in a way, is what's incredible about it, because we automatically assume you need a brain to process information."

Further, on the fascinating understanding of how an unassuming plant is perceiving the world ,"Pollan says plants have all the same senses as humans, and then some. In addition to hearing, taste, for example, they can sense gravity, the presence of water, or even feel that an obstruction is in the way of its roots, before coming into contact with it. Plant roots will shift direction, he says, to avoid obstacles."

What is your perspective on plant intelligence now ?


There are obvious lessons we can gage from time spent purposely being with a plant; the way of its roots, the way of its certainty of self, the way of its quiet and undemanding humility, its vibrancy and openness, its cyclical nature and its mutual relationship with its environment.

There are less obvious lessons the plants can teach us, ones that are uniquely resonate with a specific plant and that often present to us at times of our life when we are needing them. For example: I am working with nettle a lot at the moment and I have come to think it is of no coincidence. When we look at the actions of the nettle we see that it is deeply and penetratingly nutritive, carrying an abundance of iron, zinc, vitamin C, calcium, selenium and phosphorous. In line with its foundation building properties nettle, physically, asks us to slow down. We know not to approach the electric stinging edges of the plant with ignorance and speed, may we also then know not to approach life with the same attitude. A personal lesson I took from nettle, in alignment with my current life events: The hardest lessons are the ones most worthwhile. Nettle is hard to get at, she makes you work for her and she hurts you if you approach her with less than a solid plan, but certainly her nurturing powers far exceed all the other plants in the garden.

So, you can begin to see how plants can far exceed a measurable intelligence.

What is really interesting to think about in the subject of plant wisdom, is the way that indigenous humans "talk" to plants. Anthropologists say "but HOW do you retain such an incredibly diverse knowledge of the massive amount of plants in this rainforest?" and the native man would say "the plants, they tell me". To some extent we can understand this in a western viewpoint; I'm sure we can all accept the notion that plants grow happier and healthier when we talk to them, and that when they die we do feel a little bit emotional. It may also be understood that this indigenous individual has been surrounded by generational wisdom and spoken knowledge of these plants for all of his life and therefore have unconsciously picked up on the facts.

Another very interesting point is on a topic called "zoopharmacology", the study of humans watching animals to see what plants they eat when they are sick. There is an interesting story from a tribe that tells of how a village is faced with a new western disease from outside contact and the medicine man is struggling to cure it with the current array of cures. The medicine man leaves the village asking spirit for an answer to this dialemma, in the jungle he stumbles across an animal with the same symptoms his people are presenting with, he follows this animal, watching the plants it is choosing to eat and noticing they are different from normal. Eventually he observes this animal is cured. He takes the plant back to his people and uses it as a medicine. They are cured and it still is used to this day. True story.

I think, even if there is no evidence as of yet for the language of plants, it would be too simple and too reductionist to decide that it is not possible. One day, I am certain that there will be solid scientific evidence for an electromagnetic field given off by plants that interacts with our own. (this is already being studied, although, with no success yet.)

Ultimately, I would suggest that the take away from this post would be that plants are intelligent and potentially conscious despite the weirdly narrow human perception of what that entails. I would hope that this inspires you to think twice about snapping the heads of flowers as you walk past them or perhaps to sit in your garden with nothing but yourself and a plant and just listen.

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