Student - March 13, 2008

Plants do not have brains

How plants work is a highly complex matter: they are capable of things previously regarded as impossible. But plant neurobiologists’ claims that plants have intelligence or brains is going too far according to Wageningen professor of Crop Physiology Paul Struik. He published an article on the subject in Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.

New research on how plants communicate among themselves and with other organisms and the way they process information from their surroundings and adapt is sufficient reason for a number of plant scientists to ascribe intelligence to them. The plant neurobiologists have set up their own organisation and publish regularly in prestigious scientific journals.

According to the plant neurobiologists, plants can no longer be regarded as passive beings at the mercy of nature and only capable of reflex reactions. Plants observe their surroundings and even make cost-benefit analyses before they react to changes in conditions. Plant neurobiologists claim that plants learn from previous experiences and can react quickly through electrical pulses – comparable to signals transmitted through the nervous system in animals.

In Struik’s opinion, the plant neurobiologists have made an important contribution to scientific debate, but the crop physiologist is not prepared to use the terms ‘brains’ and ‘intelligence’ for plants: ‘It gives people the wrong idea, suggesting something almost metaphysical.’ Struik thinks scientists should aim to produce the simplest explanation for the phenomena they observe, and ‘intelligence’ does not fulfil that criterion.