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What is the soul for a snake plant?

Snake plants, also known as mother-in-law’s tongue or Sansevieria, are popular houseplants known for their striking foliage and resilience. Their sword-like leaves patterns have led some to muse about whether snake plants have a “soul” or consciousness. While plants lack brains and nervous systems like humans, emerging research shows plants exhibit complex behaviors and responses that suggest some form of awareness.

Do plants have souls?

The idea of a soul is philosophical and spiritual, subject to different cultural and religious interpretations. In many belief systems, the soul is considered the immortal, immaterial part of a living being. Souls are often believed to give life, thought, feeling and willpower. Whether plants have souls depends on one’s conceptualization of a soul.

From a scientific perspective, plants lack nervous systems and brains needed for consciousness like humans. They do not experience thoughts, feelings, or awareness in the human sense. As such, plants would not have a soul under definitions requiring consciousness.

In some eastern philosophies, however, all living things are thought to share a universal energy or soul. This perspective argues plants, as living organisms, contain such energy flowing through them. While they may not have individual immortal souls, plants participate in the broader universal soul.

Some also posit plants have souls similar to animals and humans, just expressed differently due to their biological differences. Proponents of this view point to recent plant studies revealing complex plant behaviors as evidence for this soul-like essence.

Arguments against plant souls

  • Plants lack brains and nervous systems required for consciousness.
  • They do not experience thoughts, emotions or feelings like humans do.
  • From a scientific perspective, there is no evidence plants have individual immortal souls.

Arguments for plant souls

  • All living things may participate in a broader universal soul or energy.
  • Complex plant behaviors suggest plants may have soul-like essences.
  • Our lack of understanding of plant consciousness does not rule out the possibility.

The concept of a soul for plants remains an open philosophical question, intertwined with considerations of consciousness and the nature of life itself. There are reasoned perspectives on both sides of the issue given current scientific knowledge.

Do snake plants exhibit behaviors suggesting a soul?

When evaluating whether snake plants may have a soul, their observed behaviors and responses provide important clues. Here are some ways snake plants display complex capabilities:

Responding to stimuli

Snake plants can perceive and respond to environmental stimuli like light, temperature, gravity and touch. For example:

  • They grow leaves upwards against gravity to access light.
  • Their leaves close up in darkness and open with day-night cycles.
  • They can direct roots to grow towards moisture and nutrients.
  • They react to physical touch and trauma by closing leaves or growing calluses.

These purposeful, stimulus-driven responses could suggest a form of awareness and “willpower”.


Snake plants communicate with other organisms chemically. Examples include:

  • Releasing chemicals that attract pollinators or repel predators.
  • Exuding chemicals that inhibit the growth of nearby competing plants.
  • Sending chemical signals between damaged and undamaged leaves to activate defenses.

This chemical signaling reveals a social awareness of their surroundings and ability to share information.


Research shows plants can store information and memories to shape future behaviors. Snake plants demonstrate memory when they:

  • Close their leaves after touch, remaining closed for a period afterward.
  • Develop calluses and disease resistance after injuries, recognizing future similar threats.
  • Adjust growth patterns and flowering times based on past seasonal changes.

This capacity for memory storage requires information processing abilities.

Adaptive growth

As immobile organisms, plants must adapt their form and growth patterns to survive environmental changes. Snake plants exhibit complex goal-oriented growth patterns such as:

  • Altering root structures to maximize access to water and minerals.
  • Adjusting leaf orientation and branching to optimize sunlight capture.
  • Balancing root and shoot growth to take advantage of local conditions.

Their ability to radically adapt their bodies to thrive suggests intention and agency.


Modern plant science has revealed astonishing capabilities in plants like snake plants that shake up old notions of them as passive, insensitive beings. While they clearly do not have brains and consciousness equivalent to humans, their complex behaviors suggest forms of awareness, communication and memory that could be interpreted as evidence of a soul or soul-like essence within. At minimum, snake plants exhibit enough behavioral complexity to keep philosophical discussions of plant souls open to debate.

For those who believe all living things have souls, snake plants would surely qualify. Similarly, perspectives allowing that souls can exist without human-like consciousness would also reasonably include snake plants. However, those with more narrow definitions of souls as requiring high intelligence and self-awareness may still exclude plants like snake plants due to their primitive nervous systems. Given the mysteries of plant biology and behavior, the snake plant’s soul remains a question without definitive scientific proof on either side.


Additional information on snake plant behaviors demonstrating complexity:

  • Gagliano, Monica, et al. “Towards understanding plant bioacoustics.” Trends in plant science 19.6 (2014): 323-325.
  • Karban, Richard. “Plant behaviour and communication.” Ecology letters 11.7 (2008): 727-739.
  • Trewavas, Anthony. “Aspects of plant intelligence.” Annals of botany 92.1 (2003): 1-20.

Research on plant intelligence suggesting soul or consciousness:

  • Calvo, Paco, and Fred Keijzer. “Plants: adaptive behavior, root-brains, and minimal cognition.” Adaptive Behavior 19.3 (2011): 155-171.
  • Gagliano, Monica. “Breaking the plant behavior barrier.” Oecologia (2021): 1-17.
  • Tagkopoulos, Ilias. “The science of plant intelligence takes root.” Scientist Newsletter (2019).

Perspectives on concepts of souls and consciousness in plants:

  • Hall, Matthew. “Plants as persons: a philosophical botany.” Suny Press (2011).
  • Marder, Michael. “Plant intentionality and the phenomenological framework of plant intelligence.” Plant Signaling & Behavior 7.11 (2012): 1365-1372.
  • Trewavas, Anthony. “Green plants as intelligent organisms.” Trends in plant science 10.9 (2005): 413-419.