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A Trippy Book About Plant Inteligence

Thus Spoke the Plant by Monica Gagliano reviewed by Alexis Williams

Here’s a book written by a research biologist that begins by describing the visions and dreams she had while taking shamanic plant medicine in the Amazon. Monica Gagliano works with cutting edge and controversial research biologists in labs that test plant neurobiology. She engages with artists and philosophers in critical plant studies.

Although I groaned through the first few chapters; It seemed like a dream diary and that her thesis was going to be ‘why do scientific experimentation when we can get all the answers by getting high?’ (and the doodles that introduce the chapters are embarrassing, I wish she had asked a visionary artist or a botanical illustrator to make them.) But then she took what she learned in the jungle ceremonies back to the lab and designed experiments to test plant communication. She immediately found that plants are aware of which other plants are growing near them even if there is no path for light, touch or chemical communication, which were the only ways science had previously observed plants communicate with each other.

The book oscillates comfortably between visionary spiritual experiences, botanical research experiments and insight on what it all means. Each experiment is a famous one that I’ve heard described by cool scientists, but I never knew that they were all by the same botanist, like the one with the falling sensitive plants that learn not to flinch or the one where roots reach towards the sound of running water. Her accounts of very different kinds of experiences are strung together by tangential rants about how human culture views plants and our relationships to nature which I found validating.

There’s all sorts of stuff in this book that I disagree with, but in ways that are fun to disagree with. Most of it I do agree with and I enjoyed reading throughout. After finishing this book I felt happy and warm. A lot of it was abstract prose about being one with the universe but she did it without using cheesy clichés.

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