That question may get a chuckle from a lot of folks, but when you stop and really think about it, it’s a legitimate inquiry. Science and data have already proven that plants of the capability to “learn” from their surroundings and adapt to the environment they’re in, much like any other species, including animals. However, Tubingen University in Germany has recently conducted a study that might prove plants can do more than just adapt to their surroundings. They may actually be able to make complex, logical decisions.
As it turns out, plants are fighters, and very competitive. Plants are found naturally in environments that are incredibly complex, where change is almost constant. Competition to thrive in these dynamic environments has resulted in plants seemingly making logical decisions to improvise and adapt in order to survive.
Take the need for sunlight, for instance. In environments where sunlight is limited, and competition is high, plants have a few options in which they can access the much-needed light. Some plants may choose to accelerate their growth and simply reach higher than their competitors. Other species will change the direction in which they grow to get the light exposure. Others still may elect to go into an almost dormant stage until the low-light situation improves.
The German study was conducted to see if plants were able to logically “weigh” out those kinds of options and choose one based on their competitor’s size and behavior. The results of the experiment were quite interesting. It was found that when the test plants were surrounded by tall competitors, they would shrink and go into a dormant mode, what the researchers call “shade-tolerance.” In this state, the plants would thin their leaves out and make them wider so as to collect as much light as they could. On the flip side, when smaller plants were placed next to the test subjects, the test plants would grow more vertical than the competitors.
The results suggest that plants can essentially use logic to pick a course of action based on the preferred outcome, and that decision is highly influenced by the other plants in a given environment.
Plants lack a nervous system, so more studies are needed to determine exactly what goes on during the decision-making process, but one thing is for sure, the results coming down the road are sure to be fascinating!