Towards acceptance of plant sentience

This article was written for the Theosophical Society newsletter in March 2016

This article is about some of the remarkable things that plants do and how they communicate – in a word, their sentience.

It is important to keep some essential features of plants in mind: they are immobile, slower to react to sudden changes than animals and have roots, stems and leaves. They can be much longer-lived than we mortals. They do not have the organs (brains, hearts and blood vessels, etc) that characterise higher animals. In fact, it would be nonsensical for plants to have these as all an attacker would have to do to kill the plant is to destroy one of the vital organs; as it is a plant can lose up to 90% of its “body” and still survive.

Like all living creatures, plants strive to propagate their species, but while animals and humans consume food to do this, plants make food. Indeed, making food is one of plants’ major activities in which carbohydrates (organic sugars) are made by photosynthesis, which is the role of chloroplasts that are usually found in leaves. It is the chloroplasts that are green, rather than the leaves themselves. Plants seek to do this efficiently by capturing as much light as possible, eg, growing towards sunlight and having “closed canopies”.

The process of photosynthesis itself is intriguing – the temperature inside leaves is carefully controlled and is always close to the optimum for the photosynthesis process (1.4o+2.2oC). It has been shown in a range of plant species that this temperature did not vary over a variety of climates and over 50o of latitude. Also a moment’s thought tells us that we all depend on plants at some stage in our diets and that our very existence depends on the chloroplasts and the process of photosynthesis. In fact, we are heavily dependent on plants while plants would get on very nicely if humans vanished overnight!

Communication within the plant is required to ensure that there is a “goldilocks environment” (one that is “just right”) that is controlled by the opening or closing of the stomata (pores) which are mostly on the underside of the leaves.

The question of plant behaviour and intelligence has been receiving more attention in scientific circles of late, after being relatively stagnant since the publication of Power of Movement in Plants by Charles Darwin in 1880. Reasons for this stagnation included the view that plants were some form of still life, a concept that seems to have been widely accepted from Aristotelian times. Whereas plants have now been shown to be active in many more ways than simply moving in response to stimuli such as light and gravity. For these activities plants use processes like ours to see, touch, smell, hear and even taste. (See Chamovitz[i] for a useful short account). This is particularly evident when plants are studied in their natural environments, not the laboratory as used always to be the case. Fairly recent advances in botanical science confirm the view that plants are indeed sentient although this is not accepted by mainstream science.

Turning now to communication in plants, here are three recent examples that demonstrate ways in which we can communicate with plants and plants with us.

  1. “The Great Banyan Tree at Adyar is a very distinct and majestic tree and is so close to the historic Blavatsky Bungalow that some of its extensive branches were touching the building. While meditating with a small group at the foot of the tree, the Tree Angel gave us the solution. She put her robe over the entire tree, but didn’t cover those branches that were threatening the bungalow. In this way, the Angel showed that it was permitted to trim some of the branches.”[1]
  1. Joy Mills (1920 – 2015) was a former international vice president and president of the US and Australian Sections of the Theosophical Society; her experience was re-told by Cynthia Overweg[2] as follows.

“One day she hiked into the Ozarks (USA) woods that are known for their white oaks and dogwood trees along with loblolly pines, which can reach over a hundred feet in height. After a while, she found herself in front of a towering tree. ‘I became aware of the power and life in that tree. Then I became one with the tree and could have slid right into it.’ In that instant, she knew that the life in the tree and the life within her were the same. ‘At some level, it changed me’.”

  1. In her latest book Atala Dorothy Toy reports her widespread experiences with nature spirits and tree energies and the occurrence of orbs and other energy bodies on photographs taken by digital cameras which were not visible to the photographer[3].

No doubt there are many other examples in the social media, but mainstream science still does not accept the premise that plants have senses (are sentient) and communicate and display intelligence.

Are we waiting for an eminent and well regarded scientist to put his or her reputation on the line by speaking out in the same way that Ervin Laszlo considered paranormal experiences reported by various people (near death experiences, after death communications, messages transmitted by mediums instrumental transcommunications, past life recollections and reincarnation) and postulated that human consciousness persists beyond the body?[4] After all, plants have been evolving for much much longer than humans and it would seem logical that they behave in an intelligent way.

Tony Fearnside

[i] Chamovitz, Daniel (Tel Aviv University) Plants Exhibit the Same Senses as Humans and See, Touch, Smell, Hear and Even Taste, at
http://themindunleashed.org/2013/11/plants-exhibit-same-senses-as-humans.html

[1] http://adyar-renovation.org

[2] Cynthia Overweg JoyMills: an Evolutionary Journey Quest Magazine, Spring 2012

[3] Atala Dorothy Toy Nature Spirits, Spirit Guides and Ghosts – how to talk to and photograph beings of other realms Quest Books 2012,
and You tube sessions eg, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DuOYjZxq0I

[4] Laszlo, Ervin and Peake, Anthony The Immortal MindScience and the Continuity of Consciousness Beyond the Brain Inner Traditions, 2014.

Also see:

Mancuso, Stefano and Viola, Alessandra Brilliant Green – the surprising history and science of plant intelligence. (English edition) Island Press 2015 (175 pp), and You tube sessions with Professor Stefano Mancuso, eg, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIfwFLDXFyQ

Information about the plantoid robot project, eg, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqKRNKCmzhE

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