Fact or Fiction: Do Plants Feel Pain?

Alive and thriving, yes. But do plants feel pain? Pictured: the  Monstera Deliciosa .

Alive and thriving, yes. But do plants feel pain? Pictured: the Monstera Deliciosa.

We get a lot of questions from our plant-loving community, from specific care inquiries to which plant will thrive in a certain space. But we’ve been surprised to find how often one particular question seems to come up:

Do plants feel pain?

You’re walking through your living room when you stub your toe on the coffee table and stumble— hard — right into the foliage of the potted plant sitting in the corner. You’re reeling in pain of course, but as it quickly wears off you realize that you’ve ripped a frond from your innocent plant, and the severed piece is lying helplessly on the floor. To make matters worse, there’s a bit of ooze coming out of the branch.

But is your plant in pain? Is it distressed, much like you were when you stubbed your toe?

Plants are sentient

While many recent studies have proven that plants are indeed very sentient beings constantly responding to the stimuli around them, that does not necessarily mean they can feel pain.

Take the “sensitive plant” (mimosa pudica), which shies away to the touch. Other plants pick up on the sound of pests, say caterpillars munching, and release chemicals as a defense mechanism to ward off attackers. The simple act of a sunflower turning towards the light or a carnivorous plant closing its trap are yet other examples of how plants very much respond to environmental stimuli around them.

So plants respond, but do they feel pain?

The answer to this question comes down to comes down to one simple fact: plants do not have a nervous system or brain, and thus they cannot feel pain.

All the same, given plants do respond to different stimuli, and this response requires a fair amount of energy, a plant that is frequently say bumped into or brushed against may not look as healthy as a plant left alone. Alternatively, while some plants dislike temperature fluctuations or cold environments, they may very well show it, but that doesn’t mean they are actually feeling cold. And of course, a “sad” under-watered (or over-watered!) plant may indeed look very sad, but in no way is it literally suffering.

Given our innate connection to nature, it is no surprise that we often attribute human characteristics to the plants in our lives. And while your plant might not be feeling pain the next time you accidentally snap a branch off, we find that sympathizing with our greenery is very much therapeutic and good for us — and our plants!


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