Plant perception is the bizarre idea that plants experience emotion such as fear and that they can respond and communicate. This idea is considered to fit into the field of plant neurobiology.  Since plants technically don’t have a nervous system or sensory organs, this idea is rarely accepted in science and is categorized as pseudoscience. There is no evidence of plants having neurons or a structure similar to a brain, which is why many scientists avoid this whole idea.

The idea of plant perception or sentience was first mentioned by Cleve Backster, an interrogation specialist working for the Central Intelligence Agency. Out of nowhere, he decided to attach a polygraph (also known as a lie-detector), to a nearby plant in order to measure changes in its physiology. Backster wanted to trigger an intense reaction in the plant, and thought about burning one of its leaves. He claims that before he could even reach for a match the polygraph registered an intense reaction to his thought. Apparently it not only showed fear, but it ‘read his mind.’ This gave him the idea of plant sentience – later coined into the term “The Backster Effect.”

Recently researchers have furthermore explored plant reactions. Plants are able to sense the world around them. For example, plants can perceive color. They have a variety of photoreceptors that allow them to react to sunlight, which isn’t a surprise judging by the fact they need light to survive. Some plants can also react to insect scents in order to produce defensive mechanisms. But one of the weirdest incidences observed in plants was when bean plants were placed in close proximity to each other an insect attacked one of them. The other plants all picked up the system of warnings and reacted by producing a defense to repel the insect. All the plants seemed to be communicating in a way, which is pretty strange.

Although some strange observations in plants such as the Backster Effect may not be completely valid, they may open people’s eyes in order for them to stop seeing plants as such unresponsive objects and more as thoroughly constructed creatures that are built in a way that allows them to respond to the world. After all, plants occupy almost every environment on earth. Maybe Backster’s experiment was valid and plants can actually do more than just react to sunlight and insects?


By Shahd El Naggar