A number of scientists (Jagadish Chandra Bose, Daniel Chamovitz, Steve Sillett, Monica Gagliano, inter alia) have advanced persuasive arguments that, so far from being at Aristotle’s bottom of the ladder of life, plants actually lead rich and varied existences, fairly wallowing in an unsuspected paradise of sensuality. They can smell, they can communicate, they demonstrate short term, immune and transgenerational memory; they also demonstrate emotions. They just don’t show these things the way we do, primarily, of course, because we didn’t think to look. Or maybe we just didn’t listen: Luther Burbank and George Washington Carver both reputedly talked, and listened to, the plants with which they did their work.
“Darwin, one of the great plant researchers, proposed what has become known as the “root-brain” hypothesis. Darwin proposed that the tip of the root, the part that we call the meristem, acts like the brain does in lower animals, receiving sensory input and directing movement. Several modern-day research groups are following up on this line of research.” —Daniel Chamovitz, Scientific American June 5, 2012
The distinction between plant and animal is blurred with theVenus Flytrap, which not only reacts to living prey as would an animal, but can actually count. It doesn’t wander about seeking prey, but rather lays doggo, waiting for the prey to come to it. Plants (for the most part) stay in one spot; animals (for the most part) roam around. That may be the only relevant distinction, aside from the fact that plants outnumber animals by about a zillion to one, can regenerate their bodies nearly from scratch, and have some fifteen to twenty additional senses (Stefano Mancuso, International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology, University of Florence).
Oysters are, according to the Buddha, “the vegetables of the sea,” and when you come to think of it, really are vegetable-like: they cast out seeds that wander around until they find a hospitable spot to hunker down, then take root and stay in one spot for the rest of their lives and wait for food to come to them, very like a plant.
Experiments by Monica Gagliano, an animal ecologist at the University of Western Australia, with Mimosa pudica,”touch-me-not” demonstrated that the plants learned to disregard a repeated but non-threatening stimulus (being dropped repeatedly from a height of a fifteen centimeters) and made a distinction between that and other stimuli, and furthermore remembered for as long as 28 days.
Perhaps there is no sharp line between what constitutes an “animal” and a “plant,”just as we’re gradually realizing that there is no hard-and-fast line between humans and other animals. It’s taken us a long time to accept that we’re not the center of the universe, and that, if we are created in the image of God, so is everything else.