Can Plants Feel Pain? Know Before You Snip

We all know plants are smart living things. They communicate with insects and grow in the most unlikely places to survive. But can plants feel pain? The next time you grab the pruners, know exactly what’s going on behind the silent snip!

Fiskars Flower Pruner with Peonies

In this post, you will learn…

Can Plants Feel Pain?

It’s clear that plants are very much aware of their surroundings. They grow in places with desired light, following the sun. Plant roots grow and reach toward the water. Seeds utilize gravity and wind to spread.

However, while they may know how to survive, they’re not conscious and aware the same way we are.

Without a brain or nerves, they have no pain receptors. They don’t feel the same way we do, but they do have an inert instinct to survive.

In fact, they may produce certain chemicals to stop predators or heal themselves. A study recorded the sounds of caterpillars eating Arabidopsis plants. When the sound of the caterpillars eating was played to plants not currently under attack, they produced the same defense chemicals as those actually eaten.

demonstration of the question 'do plants feel pain?'

Do Plants Feel Stress?

Plants can sense a lot about their environment. They’ll wilt when they’re not getting enough water. With too much sun, their leaves will crisp and burn. When moved out of their favourite spot in the house, they will drop leaves in protest!

Since they can’t run or hide, they do other things to reinforce and defend against the elements and predators.  

I see plants under stress in the wake of all the forest fires. After a summer with heavy smoke and wildfires, the following spring and summer had some of the most pollen I’ve seen. When under stress, the plants produce excessive pollen the following season.

Stress can seriously affect how a plant grows!

dying pilea leaf

Can Plants Feel Emotions?

It’s tough to use words like pain or stress when describing the reactions of plants because they don’t have emotions like us.

Stress and pain may exist for the plant in the same way that healthy and good conditions do, but it is not the same way we experience them.

Think of how a plant responds as reactions, not feelings.

echinacea purple coneflower from seed
Purple Coneflower

Do Plants Hurt When They Are Cut?

Plants are known to “scream” when cut. While they aren’t audible to the human ear, it’s less of a sign of pain than it is as a way of communication.

For instance, a study showed that when a hornworm eats sagebrush, the wounded plant sends distress signals to warn surrounding plants. The plants then make a chemical defense to get the worms to go away.

However, don’t let that thought keep you away from your clippers!

In most cases, trimming a plant can help to stimulate growth and get rid of diseased and broken materials. The plants will self-heal. Adjacent cells to the cut will either multiply or grow to cover over the cut.

hedge pruning tips and tricks

Do Plants Feel Touch?

Definitely! Plants need to be aware of their surroundings to survive. Sweet peas or beans will latch onto things to climb. Plants also use their roots to spread through the soil, going around rocks and other debris when it touches them.

Some plants also have instant reactions. A Venus fly trap, for example, is covered in micro hairs that set off a chemical reaction to close the plant when it’s touched.

Another famous example is the Mimosa pudica. Known as the sensitive plant, the Mimosa pudica will instantly fold its leaves when touched to prevent them from being damaged.

A bean tent growing in the garden

So, while plants may not feel pain in the traditional sense, they certainly are amazing living things that want to grow and thrive, just as they have for thousands of years.

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