Does Plant Communication Imply Intelligence?

I believe that animals possess greater intelligence than most people give them credit for. But plants? I’ve never considered the possibility of plant intelligence. The idea seems absurd.

Yet I’ve had friends argue that plant intelligence might exist. “What are the differences between plants and animals?” they ask, and then argue about certain species (none of which I can remember) that seem to share traits of both.

New research suggests that plants communicate via “networks”. Plant communication is not a new idea, and not indicative of intelligence, but interesting nonetheless:

Recent research from Vidi researcher Josef Stuefer at the Radboud University Nijmegen reveals that plants have their own chat systems that they can use to warn each other. Therefore plants are not boring and passive organisms that just stand there waiting to be cut off or eaten up. Many plants form internal communications networks and are able to exchange information efficiently.

Many herbal plants such as strawberry, clover, reed and ground elder naturally form networks. Individual plants remain connected with each other for a certain period of time by means of runners. These connections enable the plants to share information with each other via internal channels. They are therefore very similar to computer networks. But what do plants want to chat to each other about?

Recently Stuefer and his colleagues were the first to demonstrate that clover plants warn each other via the network links if enemies are nearby. If one of the plants is attacked by caterpillars, the other members of the network are warned via an internal signal. Once warned, the intact plants strengthen their chemical and mechanical resistance so that they are less attractive for advancing caterpillars. Thanks to this early warning system, the plants can stay one step ahead of their attackers. Experimental research has revealed that this significantly limits the damage to the plants.

Again, I don’t believe this reflects intelligence, but it is certainly fascinating.

[Physorg: Clever plants chat over their own network]


  1. Eduart said,

    January 7, 2008 @ 7:26 pm


    How would you define intelligece? Not human, not animal, not plant intelligence – just intelligence.



  2. Aizat said,

    December 17, 2010 @ 8:23 am

    In my opinion, Intelligence would define as the inherent ability to distinguish between right and wrong to be carried on to any further or subsequent actions by any capacity it posseses in any conditions or state.

    I think by this definition it could explain several terms regarding animal, plant or even human inteligence corresponding to their accurate latter actions which would then, only be plausible to be regarded as inteligent organism.

  3. Geoff Davis said,

    June 28, 2008 @ 10:48 am

    I have pondered this question many times. Certainly plants are alive-they have a life cycle then die-there is some “force” within. Some plants live incredibly long and others -seconds?
    Think of plant life in “fast-action”. If one were to have a time lapse movie of world plant life, we would see great movement, growth, change, apparent reaction to stimuli, aggression perhaps even anger. Plants compete just as animals for space, light and food and even sex (reproduction).
    Is plant “activity” intelligence in slow motion or just adaptation or evolution?
    Plants have evolved just as amazingly as have animals.
    Who knows? And this is not a rhetorical question, that way back in Phylogoney when and what differentiates a plant from animal?
    I am curious. Can someone answer?

    Geoff Davis

  4. David said,

    June 28, 2008 @ 11:15 am

    If plants don’t have intelligence how do some Orchid species have the ability to mimic female insects so precisely so as to fool the male. Without sight how do they know what they look like?

  5. Erin said,

    September 23, 2008 @ 4:46 pm

    David- that is the beauty of evolution by natural selection. Organisms can evolve to resemble things because those forms do better than alternatives. Likewise a whole bunch of non-animals, invertebrates and vertebrates behave in a logical manner even though they are not sitting there doing the calculus to figure out the optimal behavior for the set of conditions they face. We tend to be biased in favor of animals having intelligence because we think of much of our own behavior as being based in our intelligence and therefor project onto organisms we view as similar to us.

    Anyone interested in an interesting argument for plant intelligence should look up the work of Trewavas. He wrote a review article several years back that is fun to read:

  6. Zarina Shelest said,

    January 9, 2009 @ 7:12 am

    I think that plants are living beings as all ( birds, animals, men ). Merely their organism has less developed system of perception and interaction with the environment.
    But all plants have own consciousness which excists in form of very delicate intangible feelings (similar to human emotions), because of this reason we cannot grasp the information of their inner live. Only for people with very keen nerve’s system is possble to perceive and understand these feelings ( as a rule – sacred and geniuses).

  7. taylor said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 10:10 am

    plants can talk.

  8. monk said,

    February 9, 2009 @ 8:45 pm

    I have seen evidence of plant communication in a blueberry patch in Maine. Part of it was destroyed by gypsy moths, while the plants down hill, even some that were touching blighted limbs, remained in tact. My theory then was the suffering plants sent out some sort of signal via the soil moisture. I have heard that plants under attack will heat up, no one knew why this was, I think it could be some sort of thermal communication.

  9. Charles Peden said,

    October 15, 2009 @ 5:20 pm

    Communication with plants is not only possible, it is being done. I myself have had several conversations with several species of plants and I believe that they are as smart as animals and can communicate telepathically among each other and with those who have developed their psychic abilities to the point that they are extremely sensitive to all life. I am willing to be tested by a university regarding this matter.

  10. Edwin B Lanctot said,

    May 24, 2010 @ 9:33 pm

    This is a subject that has interested me for many years. Back in the 1960s, I saw a demonstration on television that showed how plants can react to human thought. Some time later, while I was working in a bioengineering lab, I had access to an EEG machine, which I converted into a polygraph machine. I modified this input circuitry to act as a differential amplifier, which I then attached to a plant, trying to emulate what I had seen on television. To my utter surprise, I was able to exactly replicate that experiment. Further, I discovered that this plant loved music. While working at my desk one day the “polygraph” machine was connected and operating, there was some Shostakovich playing over the music system. I didn’t much care for something so esoteric, so I turned it off and the polygraph machine went wild. I wondered what had happened to cause this and could not figure out why that had happened. I eventually turned the music back on and the polygraph settled down to it’s normal quiet rhythm. With the same hook up, I discovered that the plant was sensitive to human emotions. A friend of mine who was an accomplished musician and very high strung, walked into the room one day and the polygraph went wild again and didn’t settle down until he approached slowly and calmly. Go figure. If I had the resources, I would like to replicate these experiments because I now believe from my experiences that there is communication of some type between all living things. It was a while after my experiments before I was able to mow my lawn without thinking about these esperiments.

  11. joe romaguera said,

    July 24, 2010 @ 12:33 am

    I believe plants have intelligence and feelings, or what would the point be to live and strive and produce off spring if it had no meaning. Idon’t think humans would.

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