Coming To Our Senses — Humans and Plants

by Linda Wiggen Kraft

The garden is where humans can experience life more fully. We do this through full engagement of our senses when we are outside surrounded by nature. We sense through our nervous system, plants have other ways of being aware. We share more of the experience of life with plants than often imagined though.

For humans the sight of landscapes and gardens engages us with beauty. The blossoms of flowers that take our breath away bathe us in the energy of living colors, shapes and textures. We feel those textures as we touch the softness of lamb’s ear or the stab of a rose thorn. The sun on our skin let us feel with our whole body. The fragrance of roses, lily of the valley, rosemary, basil, pine go directly from our nose to our brain. The sounds of birds and bees along with the wind through the trees are the symphony of a garden. And of course the garden’s foods that we taste sustain our life. All these sensual experiences allow us to be fully human.

Plants engage and are aware through their own sensory experiences. These unique ways of sensing the world and responding accordingly are featured in a fascinating book called “What a Plant Knows, A Field Guide to the Senses” by Daniel Chamovitz. The book explains the science that shows plants see, smell, feel, know where they are and remember.

Plants “see” light by absorbing it, responding to different color wave lengths and knowing the times of daylight. This allows them to grow and bloom in certain ways and times of year. Plants share the same chemical that is responsible for circadian rhythms. A plant flown half way around the world experiences jet lag and take days to adjust, just as we do.

Plants “smell” the chemical molecules given off by other plants to start ripening. Plants attacked by insects send a chemical warning to other parts of the same plant and those nearby. The leaves that receive the warnings respond by creating toxic or unappealing chemicals to ward off the insects.

Plants “feel” their environment. Some don’t respond well to human touch, leaves are stunted and sometimes die when handled. A vine growing on the ground will grow straight and then begin to twine around a vertical support when it touches it. Strong winds cause trees to grow shorter stronger trunks. Seeds know where they are by sensing gravity, roots always grow down and stems grow toward the light.

Plants also remember. They store memory of an experience that determines a later response. For example certain plants need a cold period in order to flower. The same temperature and daylight length are present in spring and fall, but a spring blooming plant like an apple tree will only bloom after the cold. It remembers the cold. Changes in DNA in plants take place under certain stresses. The next generations of seeds also carry these changes, a way of remembering and adapting.

The science that shows how aware plants are is ever growing. There is even a new field of research called “plant neurobiology” that studies the information networks of plants. The science of how similar and connected to plants we are is ever growing.

The best way to experience the connection with plants is to spend time in the garden and know how aware and alive the entire garden is. Let yourself be one with the amazing plants and all the life of a garden.

Linda Wiggen Kraft is a landscape designer who creates holistic and sustainable gardens. She is also a mandala artist and workshop leader. Visit her blog: www.CreativityForTheSoul.com/blog or website: www.CreativityForTheSoul.com. Contact her at 314 504-4266.