One of the most heated debates that have been going on for years is whether or not plants are alive and this article aims to address exactly that, without wasting any more time let’s dive in!
Most of us consider plants to be pretty passive and docile, but research suggests otherwise.
According to research, plants are like very slow animals. While they lack locomotion, they respond to external stimuli in the ways that we would expect from any other organism.
In response to threats or injury, for example, they change their chemistry and release specific odors – all without moving a single muscle. Plants can also exhibit sophisticated behavior patterns – like when parasitic plants emit chemicals that attract insects bringing them into a range of their sticky tentacles – long before they actually touch the insect on which the plant feeds.
In short, Plants are alive – just as much as animals are. And like animals, plants exhibit the behavior. What’s more, research thinks that scientists should start looking at plant behavior as a means to understanding “more complex animal and human behaviors”.
Plants have the amazing ability to detect a wide range of environmental cues (e.g. light, temperature, humidity) and respond to them in ways that promote their survival. In fact, what is often perceived by humans as plant behaviors are merely passive responses triggered by their need to survive.
One of the reasons we tend to see plants as passive is their seeming lack of locomotion. Plants don’t walkabout to find food or shelter, but they do move.
Their movements tend to be on a very slow time scale (think in terms of more than 24 hours). One example is the trichome: hair-like structures that grow on leaves, stems, and flowers. They are not correlated with water or nutrients; they just extend because it’s advantageous for them to do so rather than remain at a fixed length.
Are plants living things?
Plants are living things. For some, that might seem like stating the obvious. But for more than a century, biologists have debated whether plants are living organisms to the same extent that human beings and other animals are.
For example, in 1859 Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. In it he argued that species are not fixed but rather change through time based on external forces (such as selective pressures).
His theory was recognized as revolutionary – one with profound implications for plant biology, which had previously been considered a static field of study. But Darwin’s theory also posed a huge challenge for plant biologists because it seemed to demand that plants be considered not just as living organisms but as highly evolved organisms.
This “biological revolution” continues to shape how we view plants today. The debate over the status of plants as living things can be explained by the fact that scientists cannot directly observe any piece of a plant’s physical structure and they are unable to perform cutting/sectioning experiments on live plants.
Characteristics of plants as living things
Plants have much in common with animals. For example, plants and animals are both eukaryotic organisms – meaning each of their cells contains a nucleus (in plants the nucleus is large and spherical, while in animals it is usually smaller and elongated).
Both plants and animals also have complex biochemicals that give them life – DNA, RNA, proteins, etc. But unlike most animal cells, plant cells maintain their shape and structural integrity due to rigid cell walls.
Some plant cells also have complex structures composed of internal membranes that enclose fluids known as vacuoles, which contain some of these same biochemicals.
Plants also have the ability to reproduce and grow, both externally (through seeds) and internally (by elongating and dividing) in response to environmental stimuli. There are many other similarities between plants and animals. For example, like animals, plants have a nervous system that keeps them alive.
Can plants feel emotions?
Many people believe that plants are “just green stuff” and don’t have any emotions. While a plant has no brain or nervous system, its the ability to respond to stimuli may require some kind of emotional response.
For example, when a plant senses danger (e.g. damage or infection), it reacts by releasing chemicals that affect the behavior of other plants nearby – almost as if it were having an emotional reaction.
Dr. Sinnott believes that plants possess this “emotional intelligence” to respond to growing stresses in their environment in ways that promote their survival.
Do plants feel pain?
Schultz is not the only one to think that plants are alive. Dr. Felker thinks they are living organisms, but he doesn’t believe that plants feel pain.
Dr. Felker is not alone in his opinion. Dr. Robert Sinnott, Director of the School of Systems Biology at Queen’s University, agrees that plants are alive and possess various biological processes. However, like Dr. Felker, Dr. Sinnott believes that plants do not have a nervous system and therefore cannot feel pain.
Dr. Sinnott’s theory is based on the fact that plants don’t need pain receptors, nerves, or a brain to feel pain-like sensations when they are damaged or otherwise harmed.
In response to physical stress, they emit odors (e.g. the scent emitted by basil plants when they are harmed) – a behavior that we’d associate with pain in animals.
Of course, we still haven’t proven whether a plant really feels pain or not. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that plants are a lot like us: they feel things but don’t have words to describe the sensations, and their reaction may be neural impulses (or odors) instead of physical screams. Either way, Schultz believes that scientists should study plant behavior as an avenue to understanding more about the human/animal mind.
Can plants hear you?
Plants can hear you, and they do respond to the sound of your voice. In a study conducted by the Royal Horticultural Society, researchers demonstrated that plants did respond to human voices.
For the experiment, students were assigned poems to read aloud, some of which were stories and others were love poems. The students then planted seeds in small pots in a greenhouse.
Some heard their own words, while others heard words spoken by strangers. The seeds that germinated near the student who was reading their own work grew to be bigger than those planted near strangers, indicating that sound affects plant growth.
Amelia is a plant and nature lover! Ever since she was little, she loved spending time in her family’s garden and learning about how to care for each plant individually. As an adult, she has dedicated herself to sharing what she has learned and continuing to expand her knowledge on the plant kingdom.