Plants are fascinating organisms that have much more complex lives than we often give them credit for. Many plant owners claim that their plants seem happier, perkier, and even grow better when they are around. This leads to an interesting question – can plants really miss their owners when separated?
Do plants have feelings?
While plants do not have complex brains and nervous systems like humans and animals, research has shown they are far more dynamic than previously thought. Plants can sense and respond to stimuli in their environment, including light, gravity, touch, temperature, nutrients, toxins, and more. They also communicate chemically within and between plants. So while they may not experience emotions in the same way animals do, plants are aware of their surroundings and respond accordingly.
How plants react to interactions with humans
There are a few ways plants may react to regular interaction with human owners:
- Plants can detect being touched – gentle stroking has been shown to induce measurable molecular changes, indicating the plant is aware and responding.
- Talking to plants helps them grow – numerous studies confirm plants grow faster and larger when exposed to human voices.
- Plants read human facial expressions – some research indicates plants can recognize positive emotions like smiles versus negative ones like frowns.
So while plants may not feel affection, they can react to the stimulation of a attentive human presence.
Do plants get stressed by separation from owners?
Plants can experience different types of stress, including:
- Lack of water
- Extreme temperatures
- Over/under exposure to light
- Physical damage or trauma
- Lack of nutrition
Abrupt separation from a doting owner could potentially stress a plant due to sudden changes in its care routine. For example, the owner may have had specific watering, feeding, or lighting habits that the plant became accustomed to.
However, most evidence indicates plants don’t have an emotional response to missing a specific individual. As long as their basic needs for water, light, and nutrition are met, plants can adapt to changes in caretakers. Any stress is temporary during the adjustment phase.
Do plants remember their owners?
Plants do not have complex memory or recognition abilities. There is no scientific evidence they can remember specific people. However, repeated interactions like regular feeding, watering, or touch from an owner can condition plants to grow towards that stimulus. For example, a plant may grow towards the area its owner usually stands to water it. But this is an unconscious response, not an indication the plant remembers that individual.
Signs your plant might miss you
When you return after a long absence, watch for these signs your plant may have declined without its regular care routine:
- Wilting or drooping leaves
- Loss of leaves or leaf yellowing
- Slow growth
- Dry, cracked soil
- Signs of disease, pests, or root damage
These issues indicate the plant experienced some stress while you were away, but don’t mean it was pining for your return. With some TLC the plant should perk back up and resume healthy growth.
Caring for plants left unattended
To minimize plant stress when leaving town:
- Water thoroughly before departure
- Use self-watering pots or trays set to automatic timers
- Have a plant sitter come regularly to care for them
- Put them in a sunny spot and remove any dead foliage or flowers
- Group plants together to raise humidity
- Move plants away from drafty windows or doors
With proper preparations, most houseplants can manage just fine without their owners for weeks.
Do some plants need more attention?
While all plants need the basics – water, light, nutrients – some species require more hands-on care:
|Consistent humidity, weekly watering, pruned at right time
|Frequent pruning and shaping, vigilant watering
|Very specific watering needs, pruned for shape
|Picky water and light requirements
|Deadheading spent blooms, staking up stems
These plants may show more obvious decline without their owner’s meticulous care. But it’s still simply a response to changing conditions, not emotional attachment.
Alternatives to traditional plants
For low maintenance options, consider:
- Cacti and succulents – only need water every 2-3 weeks
- Bamboo – resilient and good air purifiers
- Snake plant – tolerant of various conditions
- Pothos ivy – hard to kill and grows in low light
- ZZ plant – survives long periods without water
These hardy plants can thrive with minimal care and are unlikely to show signs of decline in an owner’s absence.
While the idea of plants missing their caretakers is appealing, science indicates plants do not have the cognitive or emotional capacity to feel that sort of attachment. Any observed changes in plants post-separation are likely just responses to changes in their care routines. Providing good maintenance before departures and choosing resilient species can prevent plants from declining without their owners present. With attentive caregiving, most plants can survive just fine without their people for extended periods. Just don’t expect them to get excited when you walk in the door.