Plants are intelligent. Plants deserve rights. Plants are like the Internet – or more accurately the Internet is like plants. To most of us these statements may sound, at best, insupportable or, at worst, crazy. But a new book, Brilliant Green: the Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence, by plant neurobiologist (yes, plant neurobiologist), Stefano Mancuso and journalist, Alessandra Viola, makes a compelling and fascinating case not only for plant sentience and smarts, but also plant rights.
For centuries Western philosophy and science largely viewed animals as unthinking automatons, simple slaves to instinct. But research in recent decades has shattered that view. We now know that not only are chimpanzees, dolphins and elephants thinking, feeling and personality-driven beings, but many others are as well. Octopuses can use tools, whales sing, bees can count, crows demonstrate complex reasoning, paper wasps can recognise faces and fish can differentiate types of music. All these examples have one thing in common: they are animals with brains. But plants don’t have a brain. How can they solve problems, act intelligently or respond to stimuli without a brain?
Beech Tree, on the North Downs near Dorking, Surrey, UK.
Photograph: Derek Croucher