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Silent Watchers
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Do Plants Think? Scientists Believe It


By James Donahue


It was in 1966 that Cleve Baxter, an expert in lie detection examinations, discovered that using his polygraph electrodes on plants exposed the revelation that plants respond to human actions around them and with them.


In the book The Secret Life of Plants, Christopher Bird and Peter Tompkins wrote that Baxter decided on impulse to attach his equipment to a dracaena growing in his office. When he watered the plant the machine recorded a response. In further experiments Baxter discovered that the plants not only reacted to what humans did to them, but to mere thought.


Baxter had the thought of lighting a match under one of the leaves and the plant registered a strong response. In further experiments, Bird and Tompkins said Baxter “discovered that plants were aware of each other, mourned the death of anything (even the bacteria killed when boiling water is poured down the drain), strongly disliked people who killed plants, and fondly remembered and extended their energy out to the people who had grown and tended them.”


It was at about that time that a team of Russian researchers conducted a similar experiment with a row of cabbage plants, also attached to polygraph electrodes.


During the experiment a particular person entered the room each day at a certain time. While there this person watered and added nourishment to the soil in each of the pots in which the cabbages were growing. The signals were recorded. There was a reaction to this activity each day.


One day a new person entered the room carrying an ax. This man walked up to one of the cabbage plants and chopped it to pieces. The response on the recorders was immediate. There was a wild increase in electronic activity. It was clear that the other cabbage plants not only were aware of this terrible event, they expressed a strong response to what just happened.


From that time on, the mere entrance of the room by the man who had wielded the ax caused the same kind of electronic reaction among the surviving cabbage plants.


The conclusion among the scientists conducting the study is that the cabbage plants not only are aware of their surroundings, they communicate with one another, and respond to events going on around them.


We once read an article in the Christian Science Monitor about research by scientists in “the evolving paradigm of plant intelligence.”


The story by Patrik Jonsson noted that some scientists believe plants are capable of carefully considering their environment, speculating on the future, conquering territory and enemies, “and are often capable of forethought – revelations that could affect everyone from gardeners to philosophers.”


Jonsson added that the research has opened “a sprouting debate over the nature of intelligence itself.”


Examples of findings by the research included the discovery that the parasitic plant strangleweed “can sense the presence of friends, foes and food, and make adroit decisions on how to approach them.”


Also the ground-hugging mayapple “plans its growth two years into the future, based on computations of weather patterns.”


Plant geneticists are finding that plants can communicate with each other as well as with insects by coded gas exhalations. “They can perform Euclidean geometry calculations through cellular computations and, like a peeved boss, remember the tiniest transgression for months.”


These findings support the belief by many that the Earth is a living sentient being and that everything on the planet is not only alive, but part of a vast universal information system.


It seems that even the grass, the flowers and the trees are sending information not only within their own ranks, but to the living Mother Earth and to the Universe.


Bird and Tompkins suggest in their book that “everything in creation – are conscious, intelligent and aware of human beings and each other.”


I had my first realization of how plants respond to human involvement in their environment a few years back, when I was cutting firewood to heat our home. My father and I used to drive back into the wooded area of the family farm every Saturday to cut down a few trees, saw them into sections, and load them on the back of a pickup for delivery to the back yard.


Thinking of conservation even in those years, we used to seek out the fallen or diseased trees in the forest, or take older trees that were crowding out the smaller ones. I never dreamed that what we were doing was exciting the forest, however.


One day after reading about the experiment by the Russian biologists with the cabbage plants I became acutely aware of the possibility that the trees on my father’s farm were not pleased with what we were doing to them.


After this, I found it difficult to enter the forest and cut down trees. I realized that the trees were not only communicating, but they may have feared my approach. Eventually we sold that home and moved into a smaller house that had a gas fired furnace.