Are Plants Alive?

​By Luciana Wong

There is no doubt that plants are living organisms which eat, grow, move around and reproduce. Even though they lack the same complex sensory organs and nervous systems as animals and human beings, they are equipped with equally important organ systems and nerve cells. 

The debate around whether plants feel emotions and sensations like pain, has been contested as far back as Charles Darwin’s time. As of the present day, the general consensus which remains is that while plants definitely feel themselves being picked out and eaten, they lack the capacity and appropriate features to feel strong emotions like anger or pain. 

Humans are able to recognise the subjective feeling of pain thanks to us having a brain, a central nervous system and in particular, something called nociceptors. A nociceptor is a sensory neuron that responds to potentially or already existing and damaging stimuli, by sending signals to the spinal cord and brain.
Without this receptor, plants are not able to register the feeling of being eaten alive. However, they do have mechanoreceptors which let them know when they are being pressured, touched or moved. 

For example, the Mimosa Pudica, otherwise known as the ‘Sensitive Plant’ has leaves which will close up when touched. Likewise, when aphids attack plant leaves, electrical signals will be transmitted from leaf to leaf, as a warning to the plant to start protecting itself. 

All in all, a plant reacting with defences to damage and other changes in its environment is a clear indication that plants are in fact alive and capable of responding to variations in its awareness.

Another popular debate around plants has been whether they grow more when we talk to them. Evidence has more often than not pointed towards “yes”, with many researchers agreeing that plant growth is influenced by vibrations, including sound. South Korean researchers found similarities between plant genes that regulate reactions to sunlight and music. Their results indicate that music stimulates plant growth. 

Experts on the popular TV show, MythBusters, also conducted an experiment involving pea plants grown in 3 different controlled greenhouses; one with ‘sweet talk’ and classical music, another with yelling and heavy metal music, and finally, a completely silent one. 

The plants in the silent greenhouse performed the worse, while the pea plants in the louder greenhouses resulted in almost equal growth.
In conclusion, it seems that plant growth is influenced by sounds at specific levels, including the typical human conversational tone that averages out at 70 decibels. 

So really, there’s no harm in talking to your plants once in a while; it’s proven to be a good stress reliever and it helps your plants to grow too, so why not try and give it a go?

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