Jun. 30, 2020

Plant awareness

Yesterday I watched a video of a Druid telling the story of the preservation of a sacred grove from a greedy landowner. This morning, I had a brief discussion with a friend about plants and then found an article about plant intelligence that my mother shared on Facebook, so I thought I ought to blog on plants this week.

Botanist Stephano Mancuso is exploring the neurobiology of the plant kingdom and has some interesting ideas, based on research, about plant’s abilities. Plants communicate with each other, fungi, and animals (especially their pollinators). Plants communicate through a chemical language such as scent and nectar, the attractive color of the blooms, pheromones. Plants are adept at detecting subtle electromagnetic fields generated by other life forms. They use chemicals and scents to warn each other of danger, deter predators and attract pollinating insects. When corn is nibbled by caterpillars, for example, the plant emits a chemical distress signal that lures parasitic wasps to exterminate the caterpillars. And plants also transmit information in the molecules they create, making sunlight, water, earth and air into food and the very oxygen we breathe.

Plants are also highly responsive to their environment above and below ground. Plants do not have a brain, but they have tissues in a section of their root mats that appear to behave similar to our neural tissues. The highest concentration of oxygen is used in this area, just as our own brains require a large percentage of the oxygen in the body to function. A plant’s neural functions are diffused throughout the plant rather than concentrated into organs as in animals. Mancuso has actually been able to train plants and found some plants memory capability is longer than many insects, up to two months.

Mancuso says plants are far more sensitive than animals. “And this is not an opinion. This is based on thousands of pieces of evidence. We know that a single root apex is able to detect at least 20 different chemical and physical parameters, many of which we are blind to.” There could be a ton of cobalt or nickel under our feet, and we would have no idea, whereas “plants can sense a few milligrams in a huge amount of soil”, he says.

Manscuso’s work has been controversial, but we humans tend to have a hierarchal view of things including nature, which is more of a web than a hierarchy. We have viewed plants as a lower form of life since Aristotle. But plants are the forerunners of life after all. Before animal life could emerge from the sea, plants produced the oxygen needed for the ozone layer (radiation protection) and for breathing (cellular respiration). Before endothermic (warm-blooded) organisms could evolve, a powerful food source needed to provide them with the fuel to maintain that body heat. Angiosperms did just that. The largest and oldest organisms on the planet are plants, sequoia and fir tree respectively. So, we have underestimated the impact and abilities of plants. Their intelligence is different than ours, their movements and responses slower, their language an alphabet of molecules, but they have perceptual and energetic awareness and respond more sensitively than we do to their environment. Perhaps our green cohabitates deserve more respect and protection from exploitation.