The “sensational” power of movement in plants: A Darwinian system for studying the evolution of behavior


Darwin's research on botany and plant physiology was a landmark attempt to integrate plant movements into a biological perspective of behavior. Since antiquity, people have sought to explain plant movements via mechanical or physiological forces, and yet they also constructed analogies between plant and animal behavior. During the Renaissance and Enlightenment, thinkers began to see that physiochemical explanations of plant movements could equally apply to animal behavior and even human thought. Darwin saw his research on plant movements as a strategic front against those who argued that his theory of evolution could not account for the acquisition of new behavioral traits. He believed that his research explained how the different forms of plant movement evolved as modified habits of circumnutation, and he presented evidence that plants might have a brain-like organ, which could have acquired various types of plant sensitivity during evolution. Upon publication of The Power of Movement in Plants, his ideas were overwhelmingly rejected by plant physiologists. Subsequently, plant biologists came to view the work as an important contribution to plant physiology and biology, but its intended contribution to the field of evolution and behavior has been largely overlooked.

In American Journal of Botany