#16 FloraissancePortrait

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Do you
speak

   Plant?

Did you know that plants communicate with one another? Dr Monica Gagliano wrote a compelling and thought-provoking book on the topic. What if plants and people are more alike then we ever imagined_______?

Contemporary scientists are discussing a new way of understanding flora. Radical botany movements are making thrilling claims about the intelligence and sensitivity capacities of plants. One of the scientists involved is Dr Monica Gagliano, 43, originally from Italy and now living in Western Australia. In her controversial, compelling and thought-provoking book ‘Thus spoke the plant’ she writes about how she discovered that plants communicate with one another, and how the discovery changed her life.

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Contemporary scientists are discussing a new way of understanding flora. Radical botany movements are making thrilling claims about the intelligence and sensitivity capacities of plants. One of the scientists involved is Dr Monica Gagliano, 43, originally from Italy and now living in Western Australia. In her controversial, compelling and thought-provoking book ‘Thus spoke the plant’ she writes about how she discovered that plants communicate with one another, and how the discovery changed her life.

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Thus Spoke the Plant

A story of a scientist’s discovery of plant communication: how it influenced her research and changed her life.

Intelligent plants

In her book, she writes about plants and our relationship with them, claiming that plants have learning ability. “Plants have collectively gone through many more climate catastrophes than Homo sapiens, which means that they are, perhaps, even better learners than we are,” she said to Philosoplant. Transcending the common view of plants as mere objects of scientific study, Dr Gagliano encourages us to think of them as people-like beings with subjectivity, consciousness, will, and the capacity for their own perspectives and voices. The book draws on her up-close-and-personal encounters with plants, shamans, indigenous elders and mystics from around the world, describing her remarkable research journey and the scientific discoveries that emerged from it.

Shh, the plants are listening

At the University of Western Australia, Dr Gagliano gathered evidence that some plants may even emit and detect sounds. She's particularly interested in a crackling noise in the roots, made at a frequency of 220Hz, inaudible to humans. Experiencing these discoveries does not make her feel like '"Oh you’re a weirdo, this is happening just to you and only you,’” Dr Gagliano says. “Learning from plants”, she claims, “is a long-documented ceremonial practice.”

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Thus Spoke the Plant

A story of a scientist’s discovery of plant communication: how it influenced her research and changed her life.

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Daring leaves

The following scientific study is likely her most widely known. In it, she sought to discover whether plants, like animals, could demonstrate a basic type of learning called ‘habituation.’ Her participant in this study was a plant named the Mimosa pudica, otherwise known as the ‘sensitive plant’, as it contracts its leaves when touched. In this experiment, potted mimosas were dropped a few harmless inches onto foam. At first, the leaves closed up immediately. Over time, however, they stopped reacting. Conventional botanists who saw the experiment all agreed the plants were merely tired. But Dr Gagliano repeated the experiment with the same plants a week, and then a month later. Each time, the plants responded in the same way: they stopped reacting to the fall by folding up their leaves. When they were stimulated in the conventional way, however, such as a hand grasping its leaves, or the pots being shaken, they all immediately closed up. It wasn’t that they were fatigued, Dr Gagliano argued. The plants had ‘learned’ that the drop wasn’t a threat. Maybe they had remembered... amazing if it were true!

PLANTS HAVE GONE THROUGH MANY MORE CLIMATE CATASTROPHES THAN HOMO SAPIENS, THEY ARE PERHAPS EVEN BETTER LEARNERS THAN WE ARE______.
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About Lilian Martinez @BFGF

Illustrator Lilian Martinez from LA created the stunning illustrations in this feauture. We’ve selected her beautiful work because of the wonderful connection they communicate between humans and plants, added up with her inspiring use of floraissance colours.

Survival of the smartest

If plants can learn, remember, evaluate choices and make decisions, a situation Dr Gagliano claims is confirmed “by what we observe inside the controlled settings of a scientific laboratory, as well as outdoors in places like Kew Gardens” — then what does that mean for the way we look at plants and our natural environment? “These results are breaking down our old ideas of what it means to be a plant and more generally, to live. And it does make sense in a way. Learning after all is a survival strategy, without which life would not have endured. Because our environment is constantly changing, it is important for all organisms to act in new and creative ways in order to survive. Plants included.”

“I WANT PEOPLE TO REALISE THAT THE WORLD IS FULL OF MAGIC_______”

Green conversations

Currently at the University of Sydney, Dr Monica Gagliano has published a number of studies supporting her view that plants are, to some extent, intelligent. Her experiments all suggest that they can learn behaviours and remember them. Her work also claims that plants can ‘hear’ running water, and that they even produce faint clicking noises, perhaps used to communicate. “I want people to realise that the world is full of magic, not as something only some people can experience, or like something from beyond this world,” she said. “No, it’s all here, for all of us.” We just need to look a little bit closer.

Plant recognition

Dr Monica Gagliano’s scientific research, which has broken boundaries in the field of plant behaviour and signalling, has as many critics as fans. The former declare her book to be too New Age and not scientific enough. Some refer to it as a drug-induced vision, guided by shamans, others, more simply, as rubbish: critics say the word ‘learning’ implies the existence of a brain and should be reserved for animals only. Colleague professor Lincoln Tiaz says the words ‘habituation’ or ‘desensitisation’ could be more appropriate. That might be the crucial difference. Dr Gagliano's mimosa paper was rejected by ten journals, although “none of the reviewers had problems with the data.” Instead, they all baulked at the language she used to describe the findings. Nowadays the scientist asks herself this crucial question: “How do you open people's eyes to things they believe they already know?” One thing's for certain: her work shows us the deep affection and respect that she holds for plants. Dr Gagliano is determined to win plants the recognition they deserve, and for that we admire her efforts and perseverance. Like many scientists and environmentalists, she believes that to save the planet we have to understand and accept ourselves as part of this amazing, thinking, feeling, natural world_______.

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Green conversations

Currently at the University of Sydney, Dr Monica Gagliano has published a number of studies supporting her view that plants are, to some extent, intelligent. Her experiments all suggest that they can learn behaviours and remember them. Her work also claims that plants can ‘hear’ running water, and that they even produce faint clicking noises, perhaps used to communicate. “I want people to realise that the world is full of magic, not as something only some people can experience, or like something from beyond this world,” she said. “No, it’s all here, for all of us.” We just need to look a little bit closer.

Plant recognition

Dr Monica Gagliano’s scientific research, which has broken boundaries in the field of plant behaviour and signalling, has as many critics as fans. The former declare her book to be too New Age and not scientific enough. Some refer to it as a drug-induced vision, guided by shamans, others, more simply, as rubbish: critics say the word ‘learning’ implies the existence of a brain and should be reserved for animals only. Colleague professor Lincoln Tiaz says the words ‘habituation’ or ‘desensitisation’ could be more appropriate. That might be the crucial difference. Dr Gagliano's mimosa paper was rejected by ten journals, although “none of the reviewers had problems with the data.” Instead, they all baulked at the language she used to describe the findings. Nowadays the scientist asks herself this crucial question: “How do you open people's eyes to things they believe they already know?” One thing's for certain: her work shows us the deep affection and respect that she holds for plants. Dr Gagliano is determined to win plants the recognition they deserve, and for that we admire her efforts and perseverance. Like many scientists and environmentalists, she believes that to save the planet we have to understand and accept ourselves as part of this amazing, thinking, feeling, natural world_______.

About Lilian Martinez @BFGF

Illustrator Lilian Martinez from LA created the stunning illustrations in this feauture. We’ve selected her beautiful work because of the wonderful connection they communicate between humans and plants, added up with her inspiring use of floraissance colours.

Text
Rosanne Loffeld

Illustrations
Lilian Martinez @BFGF

Sources
The New York Times: Do plants have something to say? By Ellie Shechet. Published Aug. 26, 2019, National Geographic, Smithsonianmag, Philosoplant, Forbes, Ecos.org.uk, The Paris Review, WAtoday.au, The New Yorker, Penguinrandomhouse.