We know that plants can communicate with one another and that they are aware of their environment. A plant knows very well when it is damaged. However do plants really feel pain?
Humans and animals undeniably feel pain because of sensory receptors, known as nociceptives. However you can easily wonder if the same can be said about plants. Interviewed by Science & Vie, Catherine Lenne a biologist from the University of Clermont Auvergne said that “plants don’t have nociceptives or nerves…nor a central nervous system.”
Plants can feel lots of things like sunlight, the shade of other plants or even simply their presence. They are also capable of adapting their stem growth in relation with the steepness of slope or even adapt their growth to discourage hungry herbivores. Plants do this by secreting chemical substances which give off a bad taste or even worse. For example climbing sumac and poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) release a toxin that makes skin allergies appear on our skin if we touch it.
“When we cut down a plant, step on it or eat it, the plant certainly is a aware. Does that mean that it suffers…I wouldn’t go as far as saying that. In my mind it lacks the essential element which is a central nervous system”, explains Catherine Lenne.
This french biologist might believe that the lack of a central nervous system is the missing link for a a plant to feel pain, however other specialists are not so sure. Some believe in a “diffused central nervous system” while others go as far as talking about “plant neurobiology” as discussed in a 2013 study publish in the Nature journal. Unsurprisingly, this type of thinking has become a subject of heated debate in the scientific community.