October 25, 2021

Can Plants Feel Pain?

“Do plants feel pain?” is a fair question, but the answer is a bit complicated. Dr. Elizabeth Van Volkenburgh, professor of biology at the University of Washington, says it might come down to linguistics.

Technically, she says, plants—like any living organism—perceive and respond to touch, including painful touch. Here’s how it works: Both animals and plants have mechanoreceptors in their membranes. When that system is mechanically perturbed—say, if an animal chomps off some leaves from a plant, or you uproot some flowers from your garden—those receptors send messages to the plant’s cells. In that sense, the plant “knows” it’s being eaten or pulled from the ground.Plants can also respond defensively to physical disturbances like being cut open or wounded. But that doesn’t mean they perceive painful stimuli the same way a human or animal would, with all the emotional connotations that come with it.

“Plants definitely perceive and respond to touch and temperature changes, but I am disinclined to say they ‘feel,’” she says. “The whole business of feeling relies on a brain, and plants don’t have brains.” Plants experience other senses in the same way: They can perceive and respond to light and soundwaves, but they don’t see or hear—those senses rely on nerves and brains, which plants don’t possess.

So, overall plants may not cry when they feel pain but just be kind and care for your plant children well.

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