Plants are often thought of as inanimate objects, not living beings. In the past, those who have suggested that plants have senses, thoughts, and feelings have been labeled as hippies, tree-huggers, and crazies. But new science is now revealing that plants are very aware and even have ways of communicating.
Plants are actually "complex organisms that live rich, sensual lives" according to Daniel Chamovitz, director of the Manna Center for Plant Biosciences at Tel Aviv University. We've known for years that plants can sense light, because they grow toward the sun and artificial light. They can also smell chemicals released by other plants, triggering specific reactions in the plant. Plants can sense gravity, and can even hear. In an experiment, researchers played the sound of a caterpillar munching on leaves to plants and the plants started releasing defensive chemicals based on the sound alone. Research has shown that plants can form memories, and they can even react to human anesthetics.
Check out this video where Michael Pollan discusses some time-lapse images of bean plants as they navigate the world in search of a pole to cling to.
So it's clear that plants can sense the world around them, process that information and react accordingly, much like animals. But is this consciousness? To scientists, it's yet not clear. But for indigenous cultures, shamans, and those of us who have ever truly felt the energy of a forest, we know there is far more to plants than meets the eye.
Despite the fact that science is finally recognizing plants as sensual beings, the dominant attitude toward plants still assumes a lack of feeling and awareness. Our ethics of plant life has not caught up with this new information. This is evident in the continued deforestation of the world's most biodiverse ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest, and our willingness to play around with plant DNA in the lab.
Hopefully, as our attitudes toward nature and the Earth continue to shift, we will start to live in balance with the plants and animals we share this beautiful, magical planet with, as if everyday were Earth Day.