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 generally use their cells like we use our eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. In words, they pick up electro-chemical signals from the environment and then process that information, releasing hormones and electro-chemical 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 exactly the same in humans and plants.

It is generally 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 can communicate with each other across distances by passing messages through their roots via mushrooms). So not only is a plant reacting to its environment via its senses, some are capable of interspecies communication.

Do trees communicate? You know how mushrooms look like brains. Turns out they can sort of act like brains too.

All this behavior and technology all generally serves the same function, to aid in survival. Thus, it is all likely explained as being a product of evolution. Those plants who can react to the sun and grow toward the light survive and thrive, those who can communicate with other trees via a mushroom 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, and sometimes (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, same reason you like salad, because 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

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