The secret intelligence of plants: So I think I am?

Plants are endowed with intelligence. And in this we are like. This is claimed by Daniel Chamovitz, a geneticist from the University of Tel Aviv for whom the border between plant and animal kingdoms is tenuous. So tenuous that in the light of recent discoveries in plant biology, we can consider that plants, without brain or neurons, are able to interact with the environment with the same meaning as ours and to keep the memory of events which brings them into the category of conscious beings. You do not believe in it ? Wait to read more, that Chamovitz scrupulously records in “The Plant and its senses”.

Current knowledge does not allow us to believe that plants are endowed with consciousness. But are they smart? This is the question we debated at the third annual ParlonsNature evening at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Unlike the book The Secret Life of Plants published in the 1970s (where there was a lot of talk about the lived experience of plants, their aura and even linking them to a lie detector), modern research on the intelligence of plants plants is based on observable and quantifiable facts like any other scientific discipline. But that does not prevent this subject from being very controversial.

This sensitive plant, Mimosa pudica, is one of the rare plant species to react immediately to the touch: it closes its leaves to scare herbivores. According to recent studies, this plant is also able to learn not to react to certain stimuli and to remember them. Image: Hrushikesh © Public Domain (shared under license CC0 1.0 Universal)

The secret intelligence of plants: So I think I am?

Before trying to discover the intelligence of our friends plants, we must be able to define this notion. We consider that our own intelligence rests on our ability to discern, to introspect, to choose and to reflect: I think so I am. The intelligence of animals (of which we are a part) can be considered as a tool that has appeared during evolution to give the one who has it a selective advantage: the one who can reason has greater chances to survive and to reproduce.

Certainly, plants are unable to meditate on their fate. But if we leave aside consciousness to define intelligence (as plant scientists often do) as the ability to process information and environmental stimuli, to adapt and change according to these stimuli, and even remembering a decision and taking it into account later, so yes, it seems that some plants behave in a surprisingly intelligent way.

Early studies on inter-plant communication have confirmed that this species of California mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana, communicates with its peers through chemical substances in the air. She warns them, for example, that an herbivore is eating its leaves, giving neighbors time to produce their chemical defenses. Here we see a Canadian Arctic sagebrush of the species Artemisia hyperborea, which seems quite silent in the Tundra. But who knows, maybe she’s in a big chemical conversation with her neighbors? Image: Roger Bull © Canadian Museum of Nature

For example, they can communicate with other plants (and even insects) through airborne chemicals, or pass messages through their root systems to other shoots or even to fungi. associates. Plants can perceive mold, light, temperature, touch and even gravity and respond to it. Data even shows that they can learn, remember and make decisions.

But are these behaviors driven by an intelligent force of the body? Or are they preprogrammed and intelligent in appearance? Would they be the simple result of a survival mechanism (much like the computer adaptation programs). And how important are neurons? We think with our brain that concentrates the neurological nodes. If the plants do not have gray matter, they still have electrical, physiological and chemical systems.

I could go on, but you understand that research on plant intelligence is both philosophy and science. What does intelligence mean? Can the definition be extended to apply to plants? This is a question of semantics that I can not answer. What I do know, however, is that this very controversial subject, on which research is developing rapidly, will be debated for a long time to come. And it is certain that the more research on plants, the more their complexity will continue to amaze us.

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