Do plant interactions with their surrounding environment reach the threshold of what could be called intelligence and learning? What’s in a name? More important, more useful “actionable information” comes with understanding specific facts used to support one side or the other in the argument related to the definition of intelligence.


>…we’re talking with scientists about how to compare plants to animals—and whether or not we can use words we associate with animals, like learning or sex, in reference to plants.

So, calling this field plant neurobiology made a certain amount of sense—but the name was also intended to make a statement. That, although plants may not have brains, they are sophisticated, and modern science should treat them that way. Some biologists even argued that plants deserved to be called. . .intelligent.

Lincoln Taiz is a retired professor of biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and he’s been a vocal skeptic of plant neurobiologists. He’s also an expert on an older semantic dispute, one that arose in the late 17th century when botanists had just discovered that plants reproduce sexually. To call plant reproduction sex at the time though, or to make any comparison between the way plants reproduce and the way humans do, was extremely controversial.

Monica Gagliano, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Western Australia, generated evidence that plants can learn.

Gagliano and some colleagues recreated Pavlov’s famous experiment in associative learning—that’s the one where a dog learns to associate a treat with a bell—but they did it using plants. If you want to get into the details of this experiment, I wrote about it for The Scientist, and we’ll put a link to that story in the episode description.

Gagliano, for her part, is fine with swimming against the current. After all, scientists live in the world of unconfirmed hypotheses—that’s their job.

“Humans are the ones we know the best—it’s ourselves, right? And we are still struggling to talk about intelligence, consciousness, memories, learning with us. Let alone when we move to animals, and let alone when we move even further away from our own kingdom.

“But we, you know, we are here to explore, so why not?”bloodroot-3-sanguinaria-canadensis–Episode-1–Smarty-Plants/