Do Your Plants Know What You’re Thinking?

Philodendron Organic

Philodendrons like the one below often have big leaves. That’s probably why Cleve Backster used them in a number of his experiments. Ultimately, he showed that plants can read your mind.

Backster was one of the most well-known lie detector examiners during the 1960s. One day, he was sitting in his office, bumming around on Facebook (okay, this was before computers, so he was probably staring at his typewriter or something). Basically, he was bored.

He attached a lie detector to his Dracaena massangeana and decided to burn a leaf. That’s when something very strange happened.

The second he made that decision, before he even figured out how he would burn the leaf, the lie detector made an unusual pattern on the tracing paper.

He doubled-checked the equipment. He obviously knew how to read the results and there was no way this was a coincidence. The plant was reading his mind.

Let The Experiments Begin

With help from his colleagues over the next several years, he ran hundreds of tests on more than 25 varieties of plants, all confirming that plants are smarter than we think.

  • He showed that plants will often intentionally faint when they sense they are being threatened.
  • He conducted interviews with people, instructing them to lie part of the time, and the plants told him when they were lying.
  • He showed that plants have a memory for different people, and that plants read the minds of their “caretakers” even from thousands of miles away.

Eventually, he designed an experiment that eliminated human involvement. He set up a system where shrimp were automatically killed by boiling water at random times, unknown to him or anyone else.

He had already learned that plants register on a lie detector when living things are killed, and sure enough, they picked this up, too.

He finally wrote up his conclusions in 1968 so other scientists could have an opportunity to try to replicate them. Over 7000 scientists asked for a copy of his results, which were eventually written up in various publications.

Is This All True?

Many scientists have criticized his research, while many others have supported it. Even the mythbusters, a modern TV show, tried to replicate the results without much success (afterwords, Backster criticized their methods).

But it seems Backster’s experiments have helped many people to regain some of the understanding that we used to have, that plants are intelligent beings that have thoughts and feelings.

I don’t know how much of it to believe, but I know that the plants – including those in our vegetable gardens and even in our homes – are smarter than we make them out to be. I’ve read many books that have proven this to me, and I do believe there’s something to all this.

At the very least, it seems very possible that your thoughts, feelings and state of mind all have an impact on your plants. You can choose to love them, or ignore them – or even pee on them, as an old friend used to enjoy doing for some reason (I don’t recommend it – it kills them eventually).

You can also check out a wacky old book that covers Backster’s experiments and many other fascinating (if embellished) stories about plants. It’s called The Secret Life Of Plants.

Or for a much more scientifically-rigorous book, check out the book What A Plant Knows: A Field Guide To The Senses.


  1. JonathanBrown20 says:

    It isn’t humbug, and we should learn more about the sensors and communications of plants and colonies of microbes. Thanks for the article.

    1. Peterle45 says:

      I agree – I did some experiments too (loving some leaves taken from a plant and ignoring others)  and the loved leaves stayed green for days after the the ignored had wilted. Hard to fathom, but there is definitely evidence.

  2. Robert Foster says:

    Hello Phil,    There was a film produced by the same title, “The secret life of plants”.  In it, they demonstrated a plants ability to identify ‘harm doers’ (if you will).   The scientific method and criteria were beyond reproach.  The plants identified the ‘harm doers’ in every test, without exception.  Then, it’s producers strayed into a realm that claimed plants had a “psychic connection” with a distant planet and further claimed that all plants received an inexplicable communication with this planet which facilitated this exceptional intuition.   This is where I fell off the bus…or was pushed out the emergency door (not sure which):).   Scientific method has clearly demonstrated that plants posses an inexplicable ‘conciousness’.   I accept this because I believe in the scientific method.   It is for the same reason I can not pretend to understand ‘how they do it’.   I remain comfortable with “Awe” and do my best to filter out the madness of the many ‘guessors’.     I don’t feel I would be going out on any scientific limb to announce that I am not alone while surrounded by plants.   The presence I sense is entirely peaceful and absent of malice…which is very nourishing.  All the best,   Robert    

  3. Kay Wilson says:

    Interesting, when I was a kid, I always thought that when I stepped on the grass, it had feelings. Interacting with house plants seems more plausible, as we are in proximity, versus the whole garden.  People respond to love, so perhaps it is true that plants feel your love also.

  4. Sujatha Merchant says:

    I often notice, after a particularly bad aphid attack, the rate at which the plant recovers, always matches your eagerness to see him get better. Also, (Mebbe my imagination) they seem to go dreadfully ‘quiet’ on pruning day 🙂

  5. jcfasciano says:

    Well this sounds like bad news for vegetarian.  I have a sister inlaw who will not eat anything with a face…She did find it funny when questioned how she could eat a head of lettuce or an ear of corn.Humor aside…I have a tropical plant that has thick fern like leaves.  I had it for over a year and it looked the same way as when I bought it.  No leaves grew, no leaves died (just a little browning.  Until one day I was showing it to my brother, I told him that it had not changed in over a year and that I didn’t know if it was alive or dead… literally a week later I noticed (2) buds in the center of the plant that grew to 2ft long leaves.  It’s hard to believe, but it does seem that this plant heard my comments and pushed  out the leaves.I’m a believer.

  6. Thanks to everyone for your comments so far on this issue. All very interesting. I’ve never seen that movie ‘The Secrets Life Of Plants’, but I’ve listened to the soundtrack that Stevie Wonder recorded for it.

  7. Planetwill says:

    Masaru Emoto experiments showed that a persons intention can be projected into water, for example if water was placed near happy people and frozen, the crystals looked different than those from water placed near angry folks.So its not so much plants having the “knowledge” but just being able to pick up on “bad vibes”.Animals can pick up on this also, I had a German Shepard , and she could tell if a person was “good” or not,  someone would come to the door, and most of the time, she just laid there or went wagging her tail ( stranger or known person ) but once in a while, she would flip her lid and just get really aggressive against some people, for no apparent reason,  later we would find out those people were violent, criminals, or just plane bad people.How many of us have felt we are being stared at from behind? or when you look at someone while they sleep how often do they wake up sensing this or at least turn over.then you may know someone that is an emotional vampire, one that when your around you just feel weak, or defensive and uncomfortable around for no reason.I can see how plants could pick up on these things, and after all, we all know of people with “green” thumbs, my mother believes she has a black thumb, because everything she plants dies. she likes plants but I believe that self image she has of herself has a lot to do with it.

  8. Cokeguy_standing says:

    even water have their own life, they change depends on words, thoughts and surround neighbourhood.

  9. Susanhenkel says:

    Interesting article … and I have enjoyed reading all the comments!!  Thanks, Phil.

  10. I’m told by people who are psychic that plants glow after I work with (water or touch them.)  And I found that odd, but I really like plants and do feel a presence with plants and trees–they are so aware and are “watching” us.  I once had a really intense experience with a cherry blossom? tree. While at a retreat center doing spiritual practice every day, I went and leaned on and mentally talked with this little tree, it was just tall enough that branches spread out just over my head and up several feet.  After 10 min or so, it suddenly began to drop tons pink petals  (like rain) and it truly felt as if the tree was laughing with me.  I could feel it’s spirit, it was wild and many years ago but still vivid.

    1. That’s a great story, Viv. Thanks for sharing.

  11. What shouldn’t be overlooked is the role that plants and trees played as examples in the bible (John 15: 1-8).

  12. julialoha says:

    I was recently standing near some young palm trees and admiring their beautiful near fur like leaf bases drinking my water because it was a hot day. Before long, I began to feel that the trees were thirsty and “wanted” a drink of my water. I was embarrassed that what was in my little jug was way too little for them and felt foolish for feeling that the trees were in any way aware of me or what I was doing anyhow. But the feeling did persist and as foolish as it sounds, I know that thosetrees were in some way communicating with me.

    1. I was just reading about this the other day, how the best gardeners are the ones who know what their plants need through intuition. Of course, a skeptic could easily say that if we are thirsty, it’s easy to deduce that our plants our probably thirsty, too, which is true. But there is often more to the story than that, in my view.

  13. Since my brother (a definite Hufflepuff) loved learning about plants, this article really lit up his day! I also loved reading this and have always believed plants could at least feel. I think it’s so cute that they could have this much potential! Thanks, Phil!!

  14. Brandon Johnson says:

    I stumbled upon this article while doing research for my high school science project. I’m going to try and prove whether or not plants respond to positive words and emotions or negative words and emotions. So far, the most recent and credible research suggests that yes plants do have several awesome abilities that allow them to sense gravity, light, temperature, chemicals in the air (basically smell) and respond to ultrasonic vibrations, but nobody has found any proven evidence of plants reacting to thoughts. Cleve Backster published plenty of astonishing results to his experiments, but nobody has successfully re-created them. So as of right now, I’m going to say that plants don’t think or sense people’s thoughts because that’s a whole lot different from the scientifically-backed research that suggests plants can process information and adapt to their environment.

    1. That’s a good conclusion. A more recent and much better book is What A Plant Knows: A Field Guide To The Senses by Daniel Chamovitz.

  15. ron daguerre says:

    About fifty years ago as an enquiring hippy I ran atest with my wife to see if plant groth could be affected by love and hate . Four pots of garden soil had the same number of seeds sown in them and were placed together in a window and watered the same amount. The pots had either
    1) no treatment
    2) SM 3 seaweed liquid feed
    3) Projection of love or positive feelings every time we passed
    4) Projection of hate or bad mental feeligs every time we passed
    Now this sounds quite unscientific and already plenty of room for doubters and skeptics to burst out laughing.

    The results ?
    No treatment -several seeds germinated plus a few garden weeds.
    Seaweed treatment – as above but more seeds germinated and more garden weeds.
    Projection of ‘love’- a veritable jungle of germination.
    Projection of ‘hate’ – NOTHING germinated

    Obviously no prejudiced person could even consider these results as indicative of anything but I always found them very interesting . May even try it again in different format fifty years later.

  16. Over the past few months I have been wishing I didn’t have so many house plants. I am just tired of caring for them, and with my new back problem, it is harder for me to move them around, repot them, etc. Well guess what? As strange as it sounds, several of the plants have all suddenly come down with different diseases over the past couple weeks. All of the diseases are different, some fungal, some pests, some no one knows what. But it made me think, jeez, have I killed them all with my thoughts? I feel kind of guilty now. Maybe it’s just a cioncidence, but some of these plants I’ve had for years. It’s a little strange. I am going to try projecting loving, healing thoughts on them now and see what happens.

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