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Do Plants Have Feelings? All Sides of the Debate

do plants have feelings
Foto: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash / Jackie DiLorenzo

Do plants have feelings? Can plants feel pain? If you think you know the answer, read on. You won’t believe what modern science says about it.

You won’t believe you never realized this about plants! The debate about whether or not plants have feelings continues, presenting new scientific evidence. It seems that plants use the same senses we do every day and experience the world in a very human-like way. And not only are they sensitive, but they also actively interact with the environment.

Does it mean that plants do have feelings after all? Let’s explore all the arguments.

How Do Feelings Work?

Just like humans, animals are sentient and definitely have feelings.
Just like humans, animals are sentient and definitely have feelings. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / rmoeckel)

What are feelings, and why do we have them? A feeling is generally defined as a physical or emotional experience or awareness. In neurology, feelings are what arise as our brain interprets emotions. While emotions themselves are physical signals of the body reacting to external or internal triggers.

To understand how feelings work, think of a moment when something surprised you. Surprise is one of the basic emotions that represents our body’s reaction to something unexpected. It causes your heart to race and changes your facial expression at that moment. But when the brain interprets this emotion, it can respond with numerous different feelings. It can be happiness, stress or even hatred, depending on what, when and where surprised you.

What we feel in a particular situation is influenced by our personal beliefs, experiences and memories. This is why people who find themselves in the same circumstance and are affected by the same emotion can have very different feelings.

The human capacity to feel and experience the world subjectively is what makes us sentient. Sentience essentially means the capacity to have feelings. It requires a level of self-awareness and cognitive ability. Multiple studies prove that animals are also sentient beings who can experience positive and negative feelings.

What about plant sentience? Do plants have feelings? Here is what research says about it.

Do Plants Have Feelings?

Trees have their own "language" and can talk to each other.
Trees have their own “language” and can talk to each other. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Darkmoon_Art)

Years of botanical research have proven that, unlike animals and humans, plants don’t have brains and nervous systems — in other words, they are unable to have a brain response that we define as a feeling. However, research has also shown that many plants respond to stimulation by sending and receiving electrical signals from and to various areas of their bodies. Some researchers refer to this capability as the “nervous system of plants”, but they emphasize that it works very differently from the human nervous system.

In their 1973 book The Secret Life of Plants, Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird documented experiments that claimed to prove plant sentience and the ability of plants to communicate. The book generated a lot of media attention. But the experiments were deemed controversial, and the whole topic of plant sentience became a joke in the field of plant biology.

Recent studies suggest that this joke might actually have some truth to it. They show that trees do communicate in their own way. And some plants are capable of transmitting ultrasonic sounds. Though it’s not clear yet if they are using these sounds to talk to each other.

Do Plants Feel Pain?

Is this dew or tears of pain?
Is this dew or tears of pain? (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / stevepb)

Anatomically speaking, plants can’t feel pain since they don’t have pain receptors or brains. We use pain as a defense mechanism to help us either “fight” or “flight” when faced with danger. Since plants don’t have this ability, it seems logical that they don’t have a biological need for pain. Can we be sure, though?

No, we can’t. Whether or not plants feel pain or have feelings is still an open question at this point in the research. According to some studies, they might be experiencing the world very similarly to us, using the same basic senses.

Plants can touch

Climbing plants touch things around them to find support and grow. Others get stressed if touched and react immediately. The “touch-me-not” flower, Mimosa pudica, folds its leaves to prevent damage.

Plants can hear

Studies prove that plants can sense sounds and even display certain behaviors when they “hear” something. When some flowers detect bees buzzing, they produce sweeter nectar to increase the chances of cross-pollination.

Plants can taste

Most plants don’t eat like humans or animals, though some come close. Think of Dionaea muscipula, also known as Venus flytrap, a carnivore plant capable of luring and catching prey. Besides, plants can taste” soil with their roots to find nutrients in it and avoid rooting near toxic substances.

Plants can smell

Plants don’t need a nose to smell. They receive information from odor molecules and use it to adapt to environmental challenges. Some studies even claim that they can “sniff” one another’s chemical signals and detect threats.

Plants can see

No, plants don’t have eyes. But that doesn’t mean they can’t see. Plants can detect many different forms of light, from ultraviolet to infrared. Using this ability, sunflowers track the sun from east to west during the day and then reorient during the night to face the dawn.

What Should We Do if Plants Have Feelings?

Nature makes us feel happy. But do plants share our feelings?
Nature makes us feel happy. But do plants share our feelings? (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / 9lnw)

One thing is certain: plants are living, extraordinary beings. They have an incredible ability to sense the surrounding world and react to sunlight, gravity, wind, damage and temperature changes. There is no doubt that plants get stressed in bad environments. What’s even more amazing is that they produce their own anesthetic substances to lessen their injuries when wounded or under attack.

But does it mean that plants have feelings? Modern research that relies on human understanding of emotional reactions certainly concludes that plants don’t feel pain or have any other feelings. Yet the debate is far from over.

Regardless of what the final answer is, it wouldn’t change the fact that a plant-based diet is the most plant-friendly nutritional choice you can make. By going vegan, you can reduce your carbon footprint, which is a great way to help the planet and its flora.

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