’The inner life of plants arouses the passions of even the mildest-mannered naturalists. A debate over plant consciousness and intelligence has raged in scientific circles for well over a century—at least since Charles Darwin observed in 1880 that stressed-out flora can’t rest.
There’s no doubt that plants are extremely complex. Biologists believe that plants communicate with one another, fungi, and animals by releasing chemicals via their roots, branches, and leaves. Plants also send seeds that supply information, working as data packets. They even sustain weak members of their own species by providing nutrients to their peers, which indicates a sense of kinship.
Plants have preferences—their roots move toward water, sensing its acoustic vibes—and defense mechanisms. They also have memories, and can learn from experience. One 2014 experiment, for example, involved dropping potted plants called Mimosa pudicas a short distance. At first, when the plants were dropped, they curled up their leaves defensively. But soon the plants learned that no harm would come to them, and they stopped protecting themselves.
But does any of this qualify as consciousness? The answer to that question seems to depend largely on linguistics, rather than science—how humans choose to define our conceptions of the self and intelligence.…’