The Untapped Intelligence of Native Plants

The Untapped Intelligence of Native Plants

The Untapped Intelligence of Native Plants 

Back it up: How are plants intelligent?

Intelligence is the ability to acquire and strategically apply information. Plants read changes in their communities and respond to suit their needs. They adapt, migrate, and rely on long-term relationships to pull through hard times.

You can see plant intelligence in action next time you go for a walk: note the shape of tree trunks, they bend in correction towards the sun. Pay attention to what month flowers return to your garden, was it a warm or cold winter? These details open the door to the world of adaptive plant behaviors.

Some expressions of plant intelligence are easy to see, but others are not (like with humans!). Plant populations migrate to better habitat very slowly, over many generations. Accelerated climate change is making fit habitat increasingly unreachable and unstable, contributing to the period of mass extinction that we are in. Scientists map plant migrations and are trying to plan ahead for a warmer future, though they predict that “the rate of future climate change is likely to exceed the migration rates of most plant species”. Even with plants moving as fast as they can, you may notice diversity loss over your lifetime.

In their home habitats, native plants communicate with fellow plants, microbes, and fungi using coded messages sent through underground passageways. These are also not easy to see, but scientists have proven their communication, and even more amazingly, the transfer of resources between collaborating neighbors and offspring. Collaboration creates thriving and synergistic communities.

What makes native plants more intelligent than other plants?

Native plants are different from other “naturally occurring” or naturalized plants because they evolved with the area. Naturalized plants were introduced, therefore are not part of the synergistic community and cannot fulfill the same roles as native plants. Naturalized plants are wicked smart, but they are lacking the brilliant advantage of native plants: a built-in social network. The ability to maintain deeply rooted relationships is the unique untapped intelligence of native plants.


The Untapped Intelligence of Native Plants

Dig Deeper & Learn More

Neilson, R., Pitelka, L., Solomon, A., Nathan, R., Midgley, G., Fragoso, J., . . . Thompson, K. 2005. Forecasting regional to global plant migration in response to climate change. TreeSearch.

Free PDF provided by the United States Forest Service:

Simard, S. 2016. How trees talk to each other. TEDSummit.

Free TED Talk available at

Samantha Elie Botanist