Exactly how Smart are Plants?


Having been a Vegan for a while now, I’ve come to see plants in a different light. I think they’re incredible, and my wonder of these amazing forms of life only keeps growing.

When I was a kid, I would hardly notice them, they weren’t even worthy to be on my plate. However, now I’ve come to see them as nutrition, medicine and an integral part of life on earth.

When I reflect on plants now, I start to think that in a weird way they might even be smarter than us.

Plants feel pain?

A relatively recent bad argument against Veganism is that plants feel pain.

When you first hear this, you’re stunned because it’s hard to even imagine someone saying this statement with a serious face.

Now the simple rebuttal to this statement is that plants have no nervous system and hence cannot feel any pain. If you have any doubt about this you can throw a left jab, followed by a left hook, and then a right uppercut at the nearest tree and see what happens. Spoiler alert – nothing happens.

This is because plants feel no pain.

But I do think that plants can react.

If a bug eats a certain tree too much, the tree will unleash pheromones that will call the bugs natural predator. The bug is dealt with, the tree isn’t being eaten anymore and the predator bug gets a meal. I don’t know what you call that, but there some sophistication going on there.

Plant use Animals

I think a more interesting rebuttal to the “plants feel pain” nonsense is the high school biology argument.

Plants produce fruit that have seeds inside them. An animal will come along and eat the fruit, and then walk many kilometers away, and then defecate out the seeds of the fruit. The seeds will then grow into another plant very far away from the plant.

The plant has now been able to propagate it’s species much farther than from where it originally started.

That’s amazing! The plant must allow part of itself to be consumed in order for it’s species to move. That’s why plants feeling pain is ludicrous. They actively compel animals to eat a part of itself. Not only that, it makes the fruit or vegetables enticing and delicious enough for the animal to consume.

Here is the part that blows my mind.

How did the brainless plant figure out that having an animal eat it, will be beneficial for the plants offspring.

I don’t know if that says brains, but that sure is smart on a level we humans have got no clue about.

Memory and Biomimicry

I first became intrigued by Nature’s solutions to simple and complex problems when I heard of Janine Benyus’s work. After reading her book “Biomimicry : Innovation inspired by Nature” I was left profoundly impressed by Natures ability to adapt and figure out amazing solutions.

The structure of a butterfly’s wings will produce color but it’s actually colorless. Flowers petals never get “dirty” because it’s design doesn’t allow dirt to stick to it.

There are many many examples like this in the book, and they all left me thinking how clever nature or evolution is.

I was even more intrigued when I heard of the work of Monica Gagaliano.

She is an incredible scientist who did work into the capability of plants to remember.

She ran a simple experiment where she would drop a specific type of plant a meter to the ground, but stop it before it hit the ground. The initial result was that the plant would close up it leaves. After subsequent drops the plant wouldn’t bother to close up anymore.

It appears that the plant became accustomed to the stimulus and adapted, perhaps even remembered. This is truly astounding.

Clearly plants are more sophisticated than we think.


The largest biomass on the planet are plants.

They were one of the first to evolve on our planet, and they did so well before animals, well before herbivores and certainly well before carnivores.

They’ve had a long time to figure out photosynthesis(which is quantum in nature), capillary action, diffusion gradients and a host of other amazing marvels.

I suppose they were also the first to figure out how to collaborate with animals in a self sustaining cycle.

I don’t think that plants feel. But I do think they collaborate with us in a very symbiotic way. Humanity’s notions of intelligence, life and consciousness are extremely narrow, so I don’t think we have words to express how truly complex and sophisticated planted are.

As a Vegan I now see the abundance that plants have to offer us. They provide us nourishment, they teach us clever engineering, they act as medicines, and in many cases they allow us to transcend our physicality.

I think soon they will allow us to transcend even our outdated notions.

Photo by Teemu Paananen on Unsplash


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: