Perceptive Plants?
Derbyshire Life|August 2020
In a new series, botanical enthusiast Martyn Baguley takes a deep dive into the intelligence of plants
Martyn Baguley

I was pleased when Nathan Fearn, Derbyshire Life’s Editor, recently invited me to build on the ‘Plants that have changed our lives’ series that has appeared in the magazine since August 2017 with a new plant-related series. For me, this generous offer provided me with an opportunity to indulge myself in exploring a subject that has intrigued me for years, tentatively called ‘plant intelligence’.

Intelligent Plants? Take away the question mark and most people would say that it’s an oxymoron. But let’s go back to basics and resort to the highly respectable Concise Oxford Dictionary for some definitions.

‘Intelligence: the intellect, understanding’ – not very helpful.

‘Intellect: the faculty of reasoning, knowing and thinking’ – a bit more helpful.

‘Reasoning’ - no, I’m going to stop there.

The problem is that the wise people (notice I said ‘people’)who assembled dictionaries never entertained the idea that intelligence could possibly have anything to do with plant life.

The biologist Lyall Watson, in his 1973 book Supernature, tells the following intriguing story. On a February morning in 1966 Cleve Backster, a polygraph (lie detector) specialist with the American CIA, connected his machine up on a whim to the leaves of a dragon tree plant (Dracaena marginata) in his office to see if the polygraph would register a reading when he subjected the plant to stress.

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