Rose, Heartsease, Sweet Pea, Lax-flowered Orchid
Jacques le Moyne de Morgues (c. 1533–1588)
From an article by Stefany Anne Golberg for “The Smart Set” from Drexel University:
Around 1900, Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose began his investigations into the secret world of plants. He found that all plants, and all parts of plants, have a sensitive nervous system not unlike that of animals, and that their responses to external stimuli could be measured and recorded. Some plant reactions can be seen easily in sensitive plants like the Mimosa, which, when irritated, will react with the sudden shedding or shrinking of its leaves. But when Bose attached his magnifying device to plants from which it was more difficult to witness a response, such as vegetables, he was astounded to discover that they, too, became excited when vexed. All around us, Bose realized, the plants are communicating. We just don’t notice it.
Bose–physicist, biologist, botanist, archaeologist–is considered one of the fathers of radio science, alongside Tesla, Marconi, and Popov. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1920 in the field of science. Perhaps it was his work in radio waves and electricity that inspired Bose’s investigations. The more responses Bose got from his plants, the more encouraged he became, and the more detailed his efforts became.
Over years of research, Bose found that plants were visibly reactive to all manner of stimuli: flashes of light, changes in temperature, plucking, pricking, screaming. Plants became numbed by drugs and drunk from alcohol. They became depressed when exposed to polluted air — even by the passing of a darkening cloud — and were more sensitive to electricity than either Hindus or Europeans. In short, what his work showed was that plants could feel pleasure and they could feel pain.
Bose discovered that an electric death spasm occurs in plants when they die, and that the actual moment of death in a plant could be accurately recorded.
It’s not surprising to learn that Bose — whose scientific inventions and work in radio waves were highly esteemed — struggled to gain proper respect in Western scientific circles for his work in plant biophysics.
But plant physiology has become a well-respected scientific pursuit. There are now plenty of scientists who, over the decades, have given further weight to Bose’s theories that plants may not be as different from animals as previously thought. Elizabeth Haswell, assistant professor of biology at Washington University in Saint Louis, along with colleagues at the California Institute of Technology, recently wrote a review article about mechanosensitive channels in plants for the journal Structure called “Mechanosensitive Channels: What Can They Do and How Do They Do It?” In it, Haswell writes about how she has been experimenting on Arabidopsis plants to understand plants’ responses to gravity, and touch, and us.
Studying matter as a physicist allowed Bose to make big claims about the fundamentals of life itself by adhering to simple demonstrations of action and reaction.
If something looks like suffering, it’s suffering.