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CAN PLANTS PROBLEM SOLVE AND COMMUNICATE?

A cottonwood tree

If you've spent time among trees, you may have enjoyed their individual shapes and colors. You might even have felt more peaceful, more connected to nature.

 

Trees, flowers, bushes, all kinds of plants can help us to feel more consciously aware of our connection to nature. It's easy to rush through an experience because we're so busy, but if we give ourselves time to spend with trees, we might feel calmer and more relaxed. The fiction and non-fiction books I've written about trees or with trees as a character all developed as the result of calming, healing experiences I've had around trees. Those experiences told me there's a great deal more to trees and their abilities than many of us realize.

 

Though some people perceive plants as incommunicative, insensitive and in a vegetative state, more scientists and biologists are coming to recognize they are much more than that. One of the most recent books about this growing awareness, The Incredible Journey of Plants, was written by plant neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso, who studies the intelligence and behavior of plants. He is the director of the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology (LINV) in Florence, Italy.

 

An article about his book appeared April 5, 2020 in a United Kingdom publication, The Guardian. To see it, go to https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/05/smarty-plants-are-our-vegetable-cousins-more-intelligent-than-we-realise.

 

He has studied how plants are able to problem solve, memorize, communicate, and how they have social lives. Unlike humans, plants do not have a brain. Instead, Mancuso said, they convey that brain-type function throughout their entire structure. They are, in a sense, one huge brain. In addition, they are aware of themselves and of what is around them. In The Guardian article, Mancuso is quoted as saying, "My personal opinion is that there is no life that is not aware of itself. For me, it's impossible to imagine any form of life that is not able to be intelligent, to solve problems."

 

Plants are more sensitive than animals, he says. "That is not an opinion," he told The Guardian. "This is based on thousands of pieces of evidence. We know that a single root apex is able to detect at least 20 different chemical and physical parameters, many of which we are blind to."

 

In his book, Mancuso explains that plants are social and communicative both in their structures above ground and through their roots. Other life forms have subtle electromagnetic fields, and plants are able to detect them. They warn of danger, try to scare off predators, and attract pollinating insects by using chemicals and scents. When caterpillars chew on corn, for example, the corn sends out a chemical distress signal that is responded to by parasitic wasps who follow that signal and attack the caterpillars.

 

Plants detect sound and vibration too. That's how they find running water, which they need to survive. Because they have such a slow pace of life, it's easy for people to overlook the intelligence of plants. They have learned how to survive for centuries in sometimes stark environments.

 

The idea that humans have reached the highest form of life on Earth is a very dangerous idea, Mancuso believes. "When you feel yourself better than all the other humans or other living organisms, you start to use them," he told The Guardian. "That is exactly what we've been doing."

 

Though Mancuso has his detractors, more and more botanists are embracing the study of plant neurobiology. People are becoming more open to the idea of plants as intelligent species that have their own ways of behaving.

 

The next time you walk among trees or other plants, consider that you may be sharing space with some amazing aspects of nature. If you take time to meditate among trees or other plants, you might discover that it's easier to maintain the quiet peacefulness of a meditative state.

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