We embrace a sustainable lifestyle at Gingerhill. Living sustainably is not as simple as recycling and composting. It is a comprehensive and challenging practice that often requires sacrificing life’s material comforts for the sake of the planet. Using a compost toilet, taking short showers, and minimizing energy usage? That’s not always fun, and we aren’t perfect when it comes to sustainability.

But one of the things that inspire our sustainable lifestyle is respect for and understanding of plant and animal life. Most humans maintain a conscious subject-inanimate object relationship with plants. But in both our practice and our research, we have come to understand that plant life is far more complex than we previously understood. Read on to learn more about how plants and humans form interactive, mutually beneficial relationships.

How Plants Impact the Human Body and Brain

Plants impact our psychology and physiology more powerfully than many of us realize, which is why a sustainable lifestyle is so beneficial to human health.  Scientific studies have established a correlation between the presence of plants in living or workspaces and improved physical and mental health. Among the many benefits scientists observed were: lowered blood pressure and stress response; heightened attentiveness and focus; reduced anxiety; increased productivity; and lessened feelings of anger and aggression.

Plants can even impact our ability to heal. Studies have found that patients surrounded by plants or beautiful natural views healed more quickly and experienced less pain post-surgery than patients who were not. Indeed, the emerging field of horticultural therapy has demonstrated that engaging with plants demonstrably improves markers of mental health in psychiatric patients.

Of course, it is possible that these physical and psychological benefits are merely the byproducts of plants’ other beneficial functions. Plants filter dust, cool neighborhoods, produce oxygen, consume carbon dioxide, and more. But the magnitude of plants’ positive effect on health suggests causation unrelated to oxygen or dust levels.

How Humans and Other Life Impact Plants

Perhaps even more shocking than the effects that plants can yield on humans are the effects humans and other life forms can yield upon plants. Of course, eating, picking, or stepping on plants will affect them in predictable and unsurprising ways.  Leading a sustainable lifestyle can have a positive impact on plant growth by improving soil conditions. But recent studies have revealed that smells and sounds emitted by life forms nearby can trigger powerful responses in plants. The shocking implication is that plants are far more conscious and perceptive than we long believed them to be.

For example: ultrasound waves, which are emitted at a frequency inaudible to the human ear, can actually increase seed germination. Generally speaking, different frequencies impact gene expression and root growth in plants in different ways.

A plant’s response to an insect comprises an impressive example of sound waves affecting plant behavior. When played the sound of an insect munching on a leaf, plants will emit protective chemical secretions. The reaction even occurs in absence of an actual, living insect.

Scientists have thoroughly disproved that plants predictably respond to classical music. But the Myth Busters team proved that plants do, indeed, respond to sound. They may not respond more favorably to Beethoven than to KISS. However, the presence of sound—be it verbal compliments or insults—produces healthier plants than the complete absence of sound. Apparently, plants are happy to have chattering people around them! And they don’t just respond to human speech. Research in Plant Physiology suggests that affectionate touch can alter a plant’s resistance to pests and diseases.

Other forms of contact can have a powerful impact on plants as well by altering their gene expression. Just spraying water on a plant will alter the expression of thousands of plant genes.

Plants Can Affect our Emotions…But is the Opposite True?

Scientists have demonstrated that plants indeed respond to waves of certain frequencies. But sounds are not the only things that travel in waves. Many popular metaphysical theories hold that different emotions actually possess different vibrations—some positive, others negative. Indeed, all particles are really just snapshots of a wave vibrating within a field. Our universe is an agglomeration of overlapping, interactive, energetic fields. It is inferable then that our thoughts, feelings, and actions cam impact gene expression in plants in ways that we do not yet understand.

For example: the body will emit infrasonic waves of varying frequencies based on the physiological and psychological processes one is experiencing. When you are anxious or angry, for example, your blood pressure increases, causing the body to emit Traube-Hering waves, according to National Research Nuclear University. Knowing that plants respond to certain frequencies, it is possible that plants are indeed capable of responding to or interacting with human emotion. However, scientists note that plants respond to their environment in ways that make evolutionary sense—hence, they respond to munching insects but not Beethoven.

Further research is necessary to determine whether human emotion has a definitive effect on plant behavior. But many believe that it does, and that meditation and mindfulness are therefore critical elements of a sustainable lifestyle.

Are Plants Conscious?

Scientists have long argued that plants do not qualify as conscious beings because they do not have a central nervous system. But plants’ incredible responsiveness to external stimuli suggest otherwise. Though plants don’t have brains, they are indeed incredibly aware.  And understanding that awareness is a critical element of living a truly sustainable lifestyle.

Plants also possess structures that are essentially analogues to those present in the human Central Nervous System. They hear without ears, suggesting they possess some mechanism for detecting sound vibrations. They have 11 types of photoreceptors—7 more than our meager 4. Observed electrical activity in plants suggests that they possess communicative networks that function similarly to the human nervous system. Though we do not yet have a complete picture of a plant’s central nervous system, or how it works, we now know that it incontestably exists.

It makes logical sense that a plant’s nervous system and seat of consciousness would differ markedly from a human’s or an animal’s. When animals detect a threat, the brain triggers a cascade of neuro-physical and biochemical events that enable fight or flight. Plants, however, lack the ambulatory capacity of other life forms and therefore cannot flee prey. Thus, their survival necessitates a very different method of sensing and responding. Instead of seeing a threat and running away, plants sense a threat and secrete protective chemicals or alter their genetic expression. Such behavior suggests that plants are indeed conscious, just not in a human sense.

Are Plants Intelligent

To say that plant life is not intelligent would be to egotistically and narrow-mindedly valorize human consciousness as superior simply due to the presence of a brain and mobile capabilities.  Respecting the intelligence of plant life requires that we relinquish the arrogant, anachronistic idea that humans are superior life forms. A different type of consciousness is no less evolved than our own simply because it operates differently. And perhaps the enigmatic nature of plant intelligence renders it even more complex and, by extension, superior to human intelligence. Understanding and respecting the intelligence of plants is critical for living a genuinely sustainable lifestyle, one of inter-life reciprocity.

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