Bad news, vegetarians.  The world of science is gradually coming to the conclusion that plants are intelligent.  Mancuso and Viola, in a book published just last year, summarise the evidence behind the move to increasingly regard plants as thinking beings.

Plants do many things that we psychologists associate with intelligence.

For instance, they:

  • Make decisions. If you watch time lapse photography of a plant, they clearly explore options with tendrils and root tips and decide which option is best.
  • Remember things. Plants learn from positive and negative experiences and change their future behaviour based on these learnings.
  • When a plant is attacked it sends messages to other members of its community, letting them know exactly what it is being attacked by and warning them to defend themselves.  Plants also respond differently to “kin” – plants from a similar family line – than plants which are from the same species but not kin.
  • Anticipate problems. When a root tip is approaching an obstacle it will often turn away from the obstacle well before it encounters it (we are not sure exactly how yet).
  • Defend themselves. Plants have a range of defence systems which they use to defend themselves from specific attacks.  They don’t use the wrong defence on the wrong attacker very often.
  • Fool animals such as mammals and insects into doing what they want. For instance plants fake the smells and looks of what some animals crave to tempt them to do their bidding.

In fact, Mancuso and Viola believe that there is also strong evidence for emotional states in plants and that some plants undertake activities that they believe have no survival purpose and can be regarded as play.

So, why are plants regarded as inanimate?  Maybe it’s just because they move too slowly for us to consider them intelligent.  They don’t have a brain, but a number of scientists have come to the conclusion that the root tips and outer tendrils can be regarded as the thinking parts, and they do have a kind of “nerve system”.

I think it is too cruel to eat cabbage.  I’m going back to chops.

If you would like to find out how intelligent the next person you hire is, click here to discover how.

Andrew Marty
Managing Director

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Mancuso, S, and Viola, A, (2015) Brilliant Green : The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence, Island Press.

Andrew Marty