Olivier Van Aken, a plant biologist at the University of Western Australia, is often quoted (like here) as saying:

While plants don’t appear to complain when we pinch a flower, step on them, or just brush by them while going for a walk, they are fully aware of this contact and are rapidly responding to our treatment of them,

The use of the term "fully aware" implies the presence of consciousness in plants, and though the quote doesn't say that plants feel pain, articles often use the quote to imply that they do.

  1. Is there a rebuttal to Van Aken's insistence of plants being "fully aware" of being crushed?
  2. Has Van Aken stated publicly somewhere that plants don't feel pain?

1 Answer 1


It is important to consider the context of this quote from Dr. Van Aken. It was presented in a university press release, and press releases tend to use language that is non-scientific or even sensationalist.

The actual scientific study being featured was Mitochondrial and Chloroplast Stress Responses Are Modulated in Distinct Touch and Chemical Inhibition Phases by Dr. Van Aken et. al, published July 2016.

The published text of the study does not use words like "aware" or "pain" because that's not what was being studied at all. Here's what Dr. Van Aken actually wrote:

Together, our results show that several regulatory systems can independently affect energy organelle function in response to stress, providing different means to exert operational control.

Notice that there are

  • no claims about awareness
  • no claims about consciousness
  • no claims about feeling pain

An air conditioning unit also has a regulatory system as a means to exert operational control over the air temperature of an enclosed space. The presence of a regulatory system does not imply consciousness or the ability to feel pain.

Don't get fooled by sensationalist press releases. Dr. Van Aken has not claimed that plants feel pain.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.