Plants have senses and can essentially see, hear, smell, feel, react, and even think.

The Secret Life of Plant Perception

Plant senses don’t work the same as human senses, but generally speaking, plants can see, hear, smell, feel, react, and even think. Below we discuss plant senses and plant perception.

Plants have a wide range of senses and can react to phenomena like chemicals, gravity, pressure, light, moisture, infections, temperature, oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations, parasite infestation, disease, physical disruption, sound, and touch.[1]

Plants use their cells the way we use our eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. They pick up electrochemical signals from the environment and then process that information, releasing hormones and electrochemical signals, which causes the plant to react.

Can plants think?

For example, some plants can use one cell to focus light into another cell, and then process that information and use it to react to the environment (for example to grow toward the sunlight).[2] Is that “seeing”? Speaking loosely, we can argue yes, even though photoreceptors don’t work the same way in humans and plants.

We have the same argument for smells, sounds, and touch.

  • For example, some plants can sense insects on their leaves and retract their leaves as a defense mechanism.
  • Likewise, some small flowering plants can “hear” themselves being chewed by sensing vibrations, triggering a chemical defense as a response.[3]
  • Likewise, fruiting plants can “smell” the chemical pheromone ethylene (a small hydrocarbon gas) produced by rotting fruit and react by ripening its fruits faster, so all fruits ripen at the same time.[4]
  • Plants can even communicate with other organisms, like the mushroom. For example, trees communicate with each other across distances by passing messages through their roots and along underground webs of fungal growth. So, not only is a plant reacting to its environment via its senses, some are capable of interspecies communication.

Do trees communicate? Do you know how some mushrooms look like brains? It turns out they can act like brains too.

This behavior and technology serve the same function, to aid in survival. Thus, it is all likely explained as being a product of evolution. Those plants which can react to the sun and grow toward the light survive and thrive; those which can communicate with trees via a mushroom web and sense far-away danger survive, etc.

The better an organism can react, the better it can survive. The better an organism can cooperate, the better it can survive. As we know from toxic plants and people, sometimes the better a thing can defend itself or go on the offense, the better it can survive too.

Are plants conscious?

FACT: Plants can also respond to pain. When grass is cut, it sends out a distress hormone to tell other grass to watch out. Yes, the smell of fresh cut grass is the smell of fear and terror. Why does it smell so good you ask? I think you know the answer. It’s the same reason you like a salad; you are a bad person.

Do Plants Respond to Pain?

BBC How Plants Communicate & Think – Amazing Nature Documentary?


Whether or not we can say that a plant sensing and processing light is seeing, or if reacting to sound waves is hearing, or processing the information at a cellular level is thinking is debatable. However, if we accept that plant senses are valid senses, then plants can sense much of the same electro-chemical signals we do… and even some we can’t!


  1. Plant perception (physiology)
  2. Researcher Argues That Plants Can See
  3. Plants respond to leaf vibrations caused by insect herbivore chewing
  4. Ethylene: The Ripening Hormone

"Plants Can See, Hear, Smell, Feel, React, and Think" is tagged with: Cells, Cooperation, DNA, Evolution, Perception, Senses

Vote Fact or Myth: "Plants Can See, Hear, Smell, Feel, React, and Think"

Your Vote: {{ voteModel || 'no vote' | uppercase }}