Are Plants Actually Alive?

  • Time to read: 5 min.

Plants are everywhere. In your garden, your kitchen, your office, or perhaps, growing somewhere inside your house without your permission. Many people have asked this question (whether plants are alive or not) over and over, and today, I want to give you a brief answer.

Plants are actually alive. They feed, breathe, move, reproduce, excrete, and respond to external stimuli such as the varying sunlight during daytime and changes in temperature. All these characteristics are exhibited by living things, meaning that plants, too, are alive.

This article chops down a few reasons plants are considered living things, the characteristics of living things, and whether plants are conscious about their lives.

What Are the Characteristics of Living and Non-Living Things?

There are over eight billion species of plants and animals identified by scientists to date. Before mankind came to understand more about these species, there were few guidelines on what’s living and what’s not living. Today, we can use a group of processes to find out if something is classified as a living thing or nonliving.

The characteristics of living things include nutrition (feeding/eating), excretion, respiration, reproduction, growth, movement, and response to stimuli. Anything that doesn’t meet these qualities can be considered a nonliving thing.

Living things carry out these basic processes – and more. However, there are some differences that may bring about confusion in the classification. For example, plants can’t move from one place to another. However, plants do move. Put a bottle of water in the far end of your plant nursery and witness the roots growing rapidly in that direction.

Note: Dead things that used to be alive shouldn’t be counted amongst the nonliving things simply because they exhibited the basic functions (growth, reproduction, movement, etc.) during their lifetime.

Why Are Plants Considered Alive?

Plants belong to the plant kingdom. They exhibit different characteristics from animals and one can’t help but think,“Hey! If plants can’t move from one garden to another or eat and digest food like us, why are they considered alive?” Here’s a simple explanation:

Plants are considered alive because they fulfil most of the core functions needed by living things to stay alive. For example; plants grow. Every living thing grows. They die like all living things, reproduce and give rise to younger plants, and do so much more that living things do.

In this section, we’ll highlight the grounds on which scientists base their conclusion that plants are alive.

Plants Grow

Animals grow from younger, often smaller bodies to larger organisms. Take an example when a puppy grows. When young, it has a smaller body, eats a lot, gets cuter, and also gets very active.

Similarly, plants grow. A small shrub in the woods grows into a tall tree over the years. Although some plants don’t grow and mature as fast as animals, they do grow eventually.

Plants Feed on Nutrients

Unlike animals, plants feed on water and nutrients from the soil. The roots grow and spread out in all directions in search of water and nutrients from the soil. Carnivorous plants like the Venus flytrap take it a step further and feed on insects for protein. This is the equivalent of an animal or human hunting for food and looking for water. 

Plants Reproduce

Plants “give birth” to other plants no less than humans and animals do. But rather than laying eggs or giving live birth to smaller plants, older plants produce fruits with hundreds of seeds in them. When these seeds are planted, new plants sprout from the soil and the cycle begins again.

Plants Respire

Respiration refers to a collection of complex processes that enable an organism to obtain energy. Plants, like other living organisms, need energy to carry out basic functions like growth and reproduction. They first manufacture their own food through photosynthesis and break it down to energy.

If you wish to know more about the respiration process in detail, check out this article from the BBC about photosynthesis. 

Plants Can Sense and Respond To Touch Changes in the Environment

If you’ve ever walked around the Mimosa pudica (also called Shame Plant), you’ll see how it gets “shy” and folds its leaves the moment you touch it. This proves that plants, too, feel touch. But that’s not the end of it.

Plants have an ability to detect changes in the intensity of sunlight and detect whether it’s day or night. Since light is crucial for the plant’s growth, a slight change could encourage or inhibit the hormones responsible for food photosynthesis and other functions.

Plants Excrete

Plants remove waste material produced during photosynthesis through stomata on the leaves. In this case, they excrete the following things: 

  • Excess carbon dioxide
  • Excess water
  • Oxygen

Thankfully, this in turn helps us because that oxygen sustains most animal life.

Plants Die

All living things die at some point. Plants are no different, although some huge plants like hardwood tree species have a knack for outliving other creatures. In those instances, these giant trees often have lifetimes that span hundreds of years.

Do Plants Know They Are Alive?

One thing that distinguishes plants and animals is that animals know that they’re alive. Animals will do anything to stay alive. Plants on the other hand, seem unaware of the environment and its dangers, but how true is that?

Plants don’t know they’re alive. A report published in November 2020 came to the conclusion that the claims that plants are conscious lack sufficient scientific proof, and that they’re speculative in nature. 

Although many people are intrigued by the idea that plants might actually have a little bit of consciousness, more studies are required to satisfy the belief. All we can prove now is that plants can respond to “painful” stimuli but can’t interpret it the same way we do.

Check out this popular experiment by Cleve Backster, showing what happens when you hook up a plant on a lie detector and set its leaf on fire on this YouTube video:

Final Thoughts

Plants are very much alive and will continue living provided that the conditions are just right. So, take good care of your indoor potted plants and those in your garden because they, too, are alive. Their wellbeing will depend on how you treat them.

Sources

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