Can Plants Feel Too?

How Do Plants Feel and Perceive the World?

Table of Contents

As humans, we feel the world and our every day lives on a level much higher than other beings around us. Or so we believe.

We go around the world and its obstacles, sense danger, feel emotions, and perceive things based on our 5 major senses - touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight. Animals, too, make use of these senses to navigate their way around life, feel things and overall survive by running from predators or sensing other dangers. 

But since plants can't run away, what do they do? How do they feel? 


• Evolution Has Bridged the Gap Between Plants and Feelings 

Evolution of Plants and Feelings with Each Other

Animals and humans haven't been the only ones to evolve over the years. Naturally, mutation and evolution led to a survival of the fittest among plants as well. Even today, they are constantly changing to adapt to their immediate surroundings. 

One thing to keep in mind is that their 'feelings' and 'emotions' are not tangible things that we can see or observe with the naked eye. Subtle, slow, and easy to miss, plants' "feelings" are things of sheer beauty when actually studied and understood. 

Before anything, let's first understand how plants feel and perceive things with their common senses. 


• The Way They Feel and Perceive Touch

When we feel touch, we have two potential ways of reacting to it - either it is positive and we lean into it or it is negative and we turn away from it. With animals, reactions are similar. However, plants cannot usually lean in or away from touch, whether they like it or not. 

Generally, live plants perceive touch in varied manners. Different types of plants sense touch differently and react in different ways. Plants can feel things like obstacles (rocks, boulders or other growth) and external stimulants such as wind. To the touch of rocks, plants often react by finding a way to grow around them and thrive regardless of the obstacles. This evolution allows them to adapt in grow in rocky terrains. 

Tree Adapting to the Wind Around It

When it comes to wind, plants feel it and adapt in astonishing ways. They develop patterns and ways of growth that allow them to better deal with and survive despite the strong, harsh winds that regularly blow near them. They bend perfectly according to the flow of the wind, allowing it to blow past them with minimal damage. 

Dr Kim Johnson, a research fellow at Melbourne University, talks about how plants are constantly and consistently under environmental stress. She lays emphasis on the fact that plants have two layers - the inner layers and their 'skin'. The skin is the part of them that feels and bears the stress. This stress actually causes the plant to change shape and mould itself into something that will suit the environment better and cause lesser stress on it in the future.

Mimosa Pudica Reacting to Touch

Additionally, there are some live plants that are exempt from the perception that plants do not "openly" feel touch. The Mimosa pudica plant shies away from and closes up when touched, earning it the name of the "Shameplant." The Venus Flytrap has also evolved in ways that allow it to feel the touch of insects. Moreover, it has a two-time touch mechanism which allows it to ignore debris that falls in it and focus on just the insects that move around more than once. 


• Plant Can Feel Sounds

Initially, there wasn't much known about how or even if plants' feelings include feeling and understanding sounds. However, in 2014, two individuals from the University of Missouri conducted and published a noteworthy study about plants' ability to listen and perceive sounds. 

They established three control groups - 

 Control Group 1

Listened to sounds of non-predatory insects

Control Group 2

Listened to sounds of the wind

Control Group 3

Listened to nothing


The plants that were exposed to the sounds of caterpillars chewing on leaves had the most astonishing reactions that eventually acted as proof that plants do 'hear' and feel things. 

Caterpillar on Plant

These plants released the same chemicals that they usually do when they were actually facing caterpillars that were chewing on them. Regardless of the presence of the caterpillars, the reaction and defense mechanism of the plant was the same.

Additionally, plants have also been studied to have reactions to the sound of incoming pollinators. It has been observed that when they hear pollinators coming, they make their nectar more 'sugary', making them more alluring to pollinators. 


• They Also Taste and Smell

No, it's not the way you're expecting it to be because plants do not possess taste buds or olfactory receptors like us. Plants can feel taste and smell differently by sniffing out their neighbors and even identifying their relatives. It's astonishing what they can do with their 'smell' receptors as they also regularly identify where there are nutrients and avoiding substances that could be toxic to the plant. Additionally, they are also known to 'communicate' with each other.

Parasitic Dodder Vine

Here are a few examples of how this works for plants:

 1. Tomato Plants

Tomato plants or creepers are often attacked by a parasitic dodder vine. This vine feeds off of their nutrient supply and depletes them of everything they need. Tomato plants have adapted to "feeling" the dangerous chemicals of this vine in the soil, thus find a way around it instead of growing closer to it. 


2. Tree Networks

Tree networks of big tree that grow in close proximity with one another are often known to 'communicate' below ground. They send out signals from their roots that tell other tree the site of nutrients that they may not have previously found. It is now known that almost every tree in a forest is connected. These trees often use this 'communication' to send each other alarm signals. 



• Plants Can 'Feel' Some Things But Can They Also See?

Sunflowers Facing the Sun

Some plants react very well to "sight" but how do they do that when they can't see? Makes you wonder. There are various types of plants that often react to light and different types of it. For instance, Sunflowers are known to respond to the light and yearn for it, in the sense that they always turn to face the direction of the sun. 

Another plant that seems to have very good "sight" is the Boquila trifoliolata. This plant quite literally mimics the plants that it grows on. At first, people assumed that maybe the plant 'communicated' as they do, leading to the Boquila figuring out the exact structure of the other plant. However, it turns out that this fascinating plant can also mimic paper and plastic plants exactly. Its almost like sorcery and the question about how it does this still remains!


• But Do Plants Feel Pain?

Harvesting Plants: Do These Plants Feel Pain?

Long story short, no. Plants do not have a brain or pain receptors that can tell them when to feel pain. However, what they do feel is stress. When they experience something that hampers with their existence as it is every day, they can get stress.

Essentially, they process things that we believe could "hurt" them in ways different from "pain". So, an injured plant is not a plant in pain. They have incredible and absolutely fascinating ways of dealing with external stimuli as you have seen above, and their responses or reactions to certain things have been things of amazement for years now. 

In the end, we can conclude that plants do "see", plants can "feel", and they do "smell" but all of this happens in ways vastly different than ours. Accepting differences starts at the most basic levels and understanding that plants' emotions and feelings exist on a whole different spectrum is one of them!


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