Researchers Discover That Plants Know They Are Being Eaten

With plants playing a major role in any healthy diet, most of us assume that by eating greens we are helping the environment, helping our bodies and can enjoy the food knowing there’s no cruelty involved.

But what if it turns out that plants knew they were being eaten, and that they showed signs of being aware of the situation. Would that change your perspective on what it means to eat plants?

A recent study has shown that plants not only realize they are being eaten, but they also try to defend themselves.

Thale Cress, or Arabidopsis, was used in this experiment. It’s part of the Brassica family, closely related to Kale, Broccolli and Mustard Greens.

To determine if the plant was cognizant of being eaten the researchers made audio recordings of the sounds that is made when caterpillars chew on cress leaves. They also made recordings of similar vibrations that are also found in nature such as wind.

Amazingly, when the recording of “eating vibrations” was played the plant reacted by producing mustard oils, which are toxic when digested. It sent the toxins throughout all of its leaves to ensure that the supposed attacker ingested them.

However, when similar vibrations were played, such as the vibration of wind, the plant did not respond with this defense mechanism at all.

Heidi Appel, head research scientist at the Division of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the Bond Life Sciences Center at MU, was fascinated by this and explains how these new findings further advance the understanding gained from previous studies:

“Previous research has investigated how plants respond to acoustic energy, including music. . . . However, our work is the first example of how plants respond to an ecologically relevant vibration. We found that feeding vibrations signal changes in the plant cells’ metabolism, creating more defensive chemicals that can repel attacks from caterpillars.”

So while this is certainly not evidence of consciousness in plants, it definitely shows that they may be aware that they are being eaten, and that they don’t want to eaten!