Basic ScienceEarth & Geography

Can plants think like us?

Can plants think like us?

Plants perform so many activities by themselves like preparing their own food through photosynthesis; they use water for their growth brilliantly.  Plants can’t live without water and sunlight like we can’t without food. There are so many activities that questions that can plants think like us human beings? Plants bends towards sunlight and people say don’t pluck the fruits or flowers from trees they also get hurt. How? Can they think or feel? Actually, Charles Darwin is the first person who gave the idea that the roots of plants act like the brain of some animals. Plant’s ability to think is based on mainly plant’s reaction or response to stimuli.

Look around you; look around a garden or a park. What can you see?  Can you see various kinds of plants there? Now watch them carefully. Can you see grass, bushes, flowering plants or big trees?

These are all plants, but of different kinds.

Small plants, like grass, are called herbs. Plants like mint, coriander or spinach are also herbs. You may have eaten some of these with your meals.

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Others, like the flower plants, are bigger than the herbs, and are called shrubs. They have many branches and they look like bush. They have thin woody stems. You have seen rose plant, China rose plant.

Image Source: china-plants.com
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Have you ever seen neem tree, peepal tree, mango tree? They are so tall and big. These are big plants, known as trees. They have strong and fat stems called trunk.

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There is another kind of plant is one that cannot stand on their own, like a baby, they need support to climb up. You may see people keep money plant in home. They fix a stick in tub so that money plant can climb up. Usually they have a rope-like stem.

But a pumpkin or watermelon plant cannot climb up. They spread or creep along the ground. They are called creepers.

You need food to live and grow. When you feel hungry what do you do? You ask your mother for food. Like you, plants also need food to live and grow. But plants don’t have a mother. Then how do they prepare their food? Your mother has a kitchen and there she makes food in an oven with oil, salt, spices, vegetables etc. A plant’s kitchen is its leaves. Leaves contain a kind of green pigment, called chlorophyll. That’s why leaves look green. Plants make food in their leaves with the help of chlorophyll, sunlight and air. This process has a name – photosynthesis.

Now it is clear that air and sunlight is essential for plants. Do you think you can live in a place where there is no air and no sunlight? In fact there would have been no life on the earth if there is no sunlight. And also an insect inside an air tight bottle will die soon. Why does this happen? Because one cannot live without air.

You will see that if we cover a plant with a box for a few days, the plant will be in a bad condition that a plant in open. Can you guess the cause behind this phenomenon? Because plant covered with box does not get sufficient air and light.

Another important thing for life is water. Have you ever thought what will happen if you have to spend a day without water? It is quite impossible. You can’t survive without water. The same thing will happen with plants. Watering the plants is very important. In summer you can see the poor condition of plants as they get less water.

Do you have any siblings? You may have noticed that, in the beginning, they are so small that they have to be carried around by their parents or grandparents. After a few months they start to crawl. After a few more days they start to walk; then they start to go to school. Gradually they become taller than before. This means that they are growing up. Likewise plants also grow. From a seed, a seedling, or baby plant, comes out.  Slowly, day by day, it grows and turns into a big plant.

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What does this picture show? In this picture we can see that a seedling is growing. We can do this simple experiment at home. Sow a gram seed in soil. Water it and keep it in day light. You will see that gradually a baby plant has come out from that seed and it is growing bigger day by day.

Do you experience the same feeling on a rainy day as that in a sunny day? The answer is no. You may feel irritated or lazy on a rainy day. Normally a sunny day makes us joyful.

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We feel pain when someone pinches us or hurts us. So we can say our surroundings or external activity influence us and we respond to them. Do you think that plants also respond to external stimuli? But what are stimuli? Stimuli are something that influences us, we respond to them. Have you ever seen what happens to a touch- me-not plant when you touch its leaves? It folds its leaves and the leaves droop..Sunlight is also a stimulus. If you keep a plant inside the house, near a window, after sometime you will see the plant starting bending towards the sunlight. In the same way, a Sunflower always faces towards the sun.

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Now the question arises: can plants think like us? Have you ever thought about this? In fact Charles Darwin is the first person who gave the idea that the roots of plants act like brain of some animals, even though plants don’t have brain like animals.

Let’s see what scientists have tried to explain.

There are many amazing features of plants you may like to know. Some of these are:

  1. Plants have highly developed senses. According to scientists they can taste and smell.
  2. A ripe fruit releases a gas named ethylene. Other unripe fruits senses it and ripe faster. Isn’t this amazing?
  3. Carrion flowers have tiny hair and spread a smell like rotting flesh that attracts the flies and insects. This helps in pollination.
  4. Another interesting fact is that plants, when grazed on by insects, they release a chemical called tannin. This makes their leaves unappetising and indigestible. Some even produce enough toxins that they can kill the insects.
  5. You will be surprised by the fact that corn and acorn, when eaten by the caterpillar, they release a chemical that attracts wasps which ultimately kill the caterpillars. It is also proven that plants act the same way to the recorded sound of caterpillar chewing leaves. Don’t you think this is fascinating?
  6. Underground webs of fungi connect the roots of trees in forests, so that roots can exchange their nutrients and information.
  7. Tall trees which remain green throughout the year share nutrients with trees which lose their leaves in winter.
  8. Another surprising fact is that mimosa which closes their leaves when they are touched, do so to scare away the insects. The same thing happens when they drop on the ground. It has been seen that after dropping 4-5 times from height of 15cm, they stopped closing their leaves. What do you think? Why did they stop closing their leaves? Scientists say after dropping 4-5 times they realize that it is not harmful. This proves plants have memory.
  9. Mallow plants with broad and flat leaves turn their leaves towards the anticipated direction of the sun at dawn, hours before sunrise. According to scientists this shows that plants are able to remember information and can react to it.

Now think about the above mentioned examples. Can we say plants can taste, smell, feel, can remember?

These examples show that sometimes plants react like us, though they don’t have a brain. The idea of a plant’s ability to think is based on mainly plant’s reaction or response to stimuli. However research is ongoing on the question of whether plants can think. Scientists are conducting many experiments on this topic.

Susmita Dasgupta

Susmita is a trained, veteran primary school teacher. She loves to teach and to make learning exciting for children. One of her great passions in life is to create in her students a curiosity about life and all its accompanying mysteries.

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