I’ve got some sad news for vegetarians and vegans alike. New research on plant intelligence shows that vegetables know when they’re being eaten. And they don’t like it.
A study from the University of Missouri delivers the bad news. Scientists studied thale cress (or Arabidopsis, as it’s known scientifically), which is a close relative of veggies like broccoli, kale, and mustard greens.
Researchers investigated the specific question of whether a plant knows it’s being eaten.
They started their inquiry by taking a precise audio recording of the vibrations a caterpillar made as it ate thale cress leaves. Underlying the study was the theory that plants are able to feel or hear the vibrations made as something (or someone) munches away.
The results? Well known to plant scientists is the fact that thale cress produces mildly toxic mustard oils and sends them throughout its leaves to try to keep predators away. What the research revealed was that when the plants felt or heard vibrations from the hungry caterpillar, they sent out extra mustard oils.
Scientists controlled the experiment by using other vibrations that simulated natural vibrations like wind noise that the plant might encounter. When these other vibrations were present, the plants didn’t react this way.
So, plants can sense when they are being eaten. And they send out defense mechanisms to try to stop it from happening.
This research puts a new spin on old knowledge. We all know that plants possess some level of intelligence; this point has been proven before. Maybe folks living a vegetable-only lifestyle got that memo. But these folks will want to see the updated version – the one that says that plants can feel when they’re being eaten.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we should shy away from leafy greens. Just like with everything in life, this information just adds a little perspective. And hopefully, a little more appreciation for the food we eat.