Should Plants Have Rights? A New Book Makes the Case

Photograph courtesy of Tambako The Jaguar/Flickr

Plant neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso and journalist Alessandra Viola are setting out to change the way we think about plants. In their new book, Brilliant Green, they assert that not only are plants intelligent beings, but also that they deserve rights—wait for it—similar to that of humans and animals.

Their case for plant rights stems from two factors: plants are sentient, and we depend on them. Mancuso asserts that plants have acquired a certain and necessary intelligence in order to reproduce, find energy, and protect themselves. Likewise, they have developed ways to attract pollinators with colors, smells, and food incentives in order to further their species. For energy, their roots grow to avoid obstacles and deter competition for water with other plants, and many release chemicals when harmed, often times only in the specific area under attack. Thus, Mancuso and Viola try to argue that plants' intelligence, and our dependence on plants for food, raw materials, and oxygen, should merit a movement toward plant rights. "Providing rights to plants is a way to prevent our extinction," Mancuso told The Guardian.

The book also delves into research that shows the advanced ways plants utilize their senses—at least 20 of them—to thrive in the environment. They gauge humidity and even communicate by releasing chemicals to warn neighboring plants of danger or to entice pollinators with sweet scents.

Mancuso believes we can no longer afford to ignore plant rights. “I know that the first reaction, even of the more open-minded people, will be ‘Jeez! He’s exaggerating now. Plant’s right is nonsense,’” Mancuso said. “But should we not care? After all the reaction of the Romans’ father to the proposal of rights for women and children, was no different. The road [to] rights is always difficult, but it is necessary.”