When a leaf is plucked from a tree, does it hurt the tree?

The word “hurt” can mean injure, or it may also mean pain. The plucking of a leaf does not cause pain to the tree, because it does not feel anything close to what we humans feel as pain. The reason for them being numb to pain is because trees don’t have a nervous system, which is the part of our body that sends signals of hurt or suffering to our brain. It is also widely researched that plants do not have brains, an organ considered to be the central part of the nervous system. However, when a green leaf is plucked from the tree, the living cells located in the area where the break occurred can feel something, although it is only a very faint feeling. But we must not think that the reaction of the plant is similar to human’s reaction to pain, and we must also not consider it possible to be cruel to a tree by plucking a leaf from it, as it cannot be compared to being cruel to animals since they can feel pain. When a leaf falls from a tree, the tree is not hurt from it, although it can sense that a leaf has fallen from it. When the leaf is taken out of the tree, it is no longer an “organ” in the tree but only an object.

Research suggests that whenever a tree gets cut, or some of its leaves are pluck, they would often produce gases that are similar to how we feel pain, although “pain” is not really what trees feel since the gases are just a response to it being damaged.  The gases would also release sound waves that serve as the “hidden voices” for trees. An experiment suggested that the sound waves are like a cry of pain, and trees would produce it when they are sick or if their leaves are plucked. Despite substantial evidence proving that plants are able to respond to being damaged, several scientists claim that plants really cannot feel pain since they don’t have a brain, which means that they won’t be able to develop intelligent behavior like animals.

What plants do have, however, is a complex system of organs that allows it to live, to grow, and to survive in its environment. It is proven that plants are capable of changing the direction or where they can grow so that they get sunlight better, which is quite fascinating since they don’t have the intelligence to actually “change their mind” about their living conditions.

Several plants have also developed defense mechanisms to prevent animals from eating them, and some of these mechanisms involve producing poison or developing spikes on their stems and branches so that no animal can climb them or even touch them. Aside from defense mechanisms, they have also developed ways to form symbiotic relationships with animals. A good example of the symbiosis between plants and animals is the relationship between bees and flowers, as bees can get food for their colonies through the flower’s nectar, while the bees would distribute the pollen of the flower to another flower as they collect food, thus allowing the plants to reproduce. Without bees, reproduction may be impossible for the flowers since they have no way of transferring their pollen to other flowers. However, bees actually have no idea that they are helping the plants to reproduce, so from their perspective, they might actually be parasites.

Surprisingly, plants also know when some parts of their “body” are eaten by herbivores or omnivores like caterpillars or koalas. They could somehow hear if an animal is eating a leaf or even if someone is hanging on its branches. If that study is true, then it must mean that flowers also know that bees are the ones that help them reproduce in their habitat.

If hurting the tree by plucking its leaf means to injure or harm its process of living, then that is really another dilemma that should be tackled. The leaf mainly exists to give life to the tree, as it serves to feed the tree with nutrients from the sunlight, water, and other sources. In addition, it breathes for the tree and helps remove excess water that the roots have sucked up underground. Of course, a tree has many leaves, and so to pluck just one of them cannot hurt the life cycle of the tree that much. On the other hand, if we are to take out all the leaves off a tree from its sprigs and branches, it may not be able to live for a long time. Although during the autumn, when winds blow the leaves off the tree, it is not harmed, for its leaves have already finished performing its tasks and are no longer needed, which means it has no use for leaves until the next year when spring arrives.

Additional reading

Tree (Wikipedia)

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