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Plants are smart

Updated on August 16, 2015

The mimosa

The mimosa is a plant whose leaves curl up when the plant is dropped, shook, or landed on by a bug. This kind of plant is useful for research because plants do not generally move quickly enough in "human-time" for us to quickly observe.

It's a fascinating plant.

The video next to here shows the mimosa in action.

Why research plants?

It's very important to research plants for a number of reasons.

The better we able to understand plants and how they handle information could allow us to come up with different methods of growing them bigger and healthier.

The more we understand about how plants transmit data and react to their environment can show us different methods of living in a complex way like we do. Understanding how life could possibly live can help us know unique ways life could exist on other planets in the universe.

Knowing how they can react to stimuli can be beneficial to humans in making medicine better and more effective. It can be of used to us to genetically modify plants to make them produce certains chemical reactions more or less. And understanding how and when plants do theses reactions can be the way to which we find it all out.

Research with the mimosa and learning

The mimosa has been used to see if plants have some sort of ability to remember and learn.

This plant has been shown to be able to do amazing things. It appears to learn when it is dropped multiple times by choosing to not react when it seemingly decides that being dropped is no longer a danger. And it remembers this for months after it "learns" this.

Should we call this learning or memory? Or is the plant simply reacting to stimuli?

It can be argued that it is simply reacting to stimuli because it doesn't have a brain to process data. Or maybe it can be that they have a unique process to take in and remember data. A previously unknown way of processing data.

They seem to be able to live quite well without the typical animals parts like organs and blood. They also have the ability to send electrical signals despite the fact they don't have nerves. I find this an intriguing reason, for me, to think they have the ability to think as well even without a brain.

Bean plants Time Laspe

/Video Do bean plants show intelligence?

The video and article, linked above, talks about bean plants and how a time lapse video can help us to understand the movement and behavior of plants like them. Our notion of time is very different than a plant's understanding it. They move much, much slower than us, but they do move. Unless we use time lapse video it's impossible to perceive in "real" time that plants are moving as much as they do.

Plants have to ability to send electric signals to different parts of themselves to create defense chemicals when they are being threatened. When I think of electricity, I think of the movement being very fast. I think of how I react to something that burns or shocks me and how I, or anyone, reacts extremely quickly.

But it's interesting to note that plants can react in a similar, but much slower way. They sense the danger of being eaten, for example, but their reactions time compared to humans would be like if I stubbed my toe and didn't react for a half hour.

This may seem like a terribly inefficient method of reacting to pain and threats, but for plants, it seems to be efficient enough for them to be plentiful and diverse.

The video, if you choose to watch it, is very interesting, not just the fact that it shows beans plants moving in a more human like movement than we could normally see, but also how the plants seem to be competing for the same pole. When one of them gets to it first, the other one seems to "give up."

But it's controversial to call what appears to be human like reactions and emotions to be true thought and emotion.

Plants can respond to human anaesthetic

The video to the right shows a mimosa plant that seems to be affected by human anaesthetic. In the video, they use ether to "knock" the plant "out." The plant starts of by reacting normally, but once put under the doom and forced to breath in the gas, it stops reacting.

It is being forced to not react to stimuli just like how a human would if they would "put under." I find it kind of weird how plants can react to this kind of thing in a very similar way to how people react to it.


Should we call this all intelligence? Is that an accurate definition?


  1. The ability to learn or understand things or to deal with new or difficult situations
  2. The ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations : reason; also : the skilled use of reason(2) : the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one's environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (as tests)

I think a case can be made that plants have some form of intelligence, but I don't think there is a strong case for plants ability to think abstractly. But maybe one day in the future, there will a stronger case for it.

Plants seeing and hearing

The ability of the bean plant to reach for a specific spot over and over again would imply that it has the ability to see and use that for that ability for its benefit. Even if we don't call what their version of "vision" eyesight like our's, it's easily apparent that plants like the beans plants have the ability to move to within their environment in a non-random way towards a specific spot. Plants have also been shown to somehow have the ability to hear and throw up defenses based on the noises.

How can plants perform these human-like tasks without the type of body parts we associate with those thing? I think the continuing research that will go into this kind of thing will be fascinating and will show that plants are indeed thinking, feel pain, and are more human-like than we could ever imagine.

Maybe I'm wrong for thinking that, or maybe they just do things differently. Maybe they hear, see, and think in similar ways, but with different methods than what we know is possible today.

It will be fascinating to see what all this research about plants will teach us in the future.

Ted Talk

If you are a big fan of Ted Talks like I am, I highly recommend watching this one where Stefano Mancuso, a botanist, talks about all the things i have talked about in a different way. He has personally done research with plants, so his view is a more accurate one since he is the expert.

I'm no plant expert. I turn to experts like him for the facts like the ones I presented in this article.

Implications for vegans

For me personally, if it was shown that plants have that the ability to think and to experience pain, it would undermine the vegan and vegetarian movement.

If people, after learning this new "fact," still claimed that not eating animals or not eating animals or their products was the best route, I would completely disagree. I could not in good conscious decided which living thing's pain was more important or worth preserving than another's.

I still think the vegan's argument against animal products is something I can never be for, simply because if animals are treated well, there's no reason that we shouldn't use their products. But that's a story for another day. It's like us eating bananas from a banana tree.


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    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      4 years ago from Norfolk

      Interesting Hub about a plant which I am very familiar with, as I grew up in Africa where they grew wild in the environment. I have seen them grown less frequently in the UK, where it is often brought indoors during the winter.


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