I maintain a “Garden Professors blog” group on Facebook, where people can pose questions and make suggestions. Ellyn Shea asked about the trend towards calling plants sentient, especially given the new book by Daniel Chamovitz – What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses
Dr. Chamovitz is a respected scientist, and there is no doubt that plants sense and respond to their environment in ways we are still learning to understand. But couching plant responses in language associated with human sentience is a slippery slope. Yes, it makes plant physiology more understandable to nonscientists, but it also leads to increased belief in pseudoscientific ideas. For example, here’s a response to an on-air interview with the author (the link is my own insertion):
“Over a hundred years ago Rudolf Steiner wrote about biodynamics and plant growth. Their sensitivities to the seasons, their environments, and humans…”
“I have been talking to plants for years…our experimental garden overflows, the cellular intelligence, the capacity to communicate is deeply satisfying when you learn how to listen and feel what the plant is saying…they give us much information at a spiritual level as well as physical, i thank my flowers verbally, i sing to them,they respond in healing ways…water has the same living intelligence…talk to a glass of water with love before you drink it and it actually improves the feelings of health and flavor ….”
“One who understands this far more thoroughly than Chamovitch is Stephen Harrod Buhner, author of The Lost Language of Plants and the Secret Teachings of Plants, in which he details the most cutting edge cardio-neurological science which demonstrates that the heart (more neurons than muscle cells) is the body’s primary resonator and capable of direct energetic communication with the rest of the living community. All indigenous and ancient peoples knew this.”
Plant physiology is drastically different from animal physiology, and what we’ve learned about how plants work comes from centuries of careful scientific study – not from folklore and superstition. For those of us Garden Professor types who spend time educating the public about plant sciences, anthropomorphizing plants or using imprecise language just makes our jobs more difficult.