Chloe Griffith '20

Chloe Griffith

Major: Environmental Studies and Visual Arts
Bio: After moving to New York from Southeast Asia, where I grew up from childhood in a more communal society, I was confronted with a way of life consumed with virtual, monetary, and individualistic distraction. I was also blessed with personal relationships and experiences revolving around the natural world, and plant medicine. The accumulation of these first developed some years of confusion, and finally, a moment of clarity in which I found, or, was rather found by, the natural will to not only participate in, but also devote my life to the reciprocal relationship of healing and security the Earth graciously presents. This reverence, in addition to exposure to contrasting cultures, led to an interest in sustainable agriculture, herbal medicine, and differing perspectives and customs varied by historical and geographic context. 

Title of Research: Plant Intelligence and Ethnobotany: A Study of Cultural Beliefs Individually Defined by Sustainable Farmers and Indigenous Peoples of the United States
Mentor: Dr. John van Buren
Abstract:  With increasing awareness of biodiversity loss in wild and domesticated plants, and the disruption of ecological communities, humankind's treatment of and beliefs about plants have become a major topic in environmental disciplines, especially environmental ethics and ethnobotany. Ethnobotany, the study of a region’s plants and their uses through traditional function and knowledge defined by the local people, provides a context for culturally varied relations with the natural world. Plant Intelligence, which should be distinguished from the intelligence of human life, expresses and understands their own intelligence, details flora’s ability to learn, record, and evaluate in their own nature, and not through evolution in a species’ DNA over generations, but in behavior covering months, weeks, even days. Apropo to ethnobotany, plant intelligence and one’s beliefs regarding such provides insight on the interdependency of life, and may broaden the perception of what defines consciousness and intelligence by dissuading one from solely attributing both to cerebral cognitive function. 

In this documentary, I present my study exploring which elements of plant intelligence science are prevalent in the worldview beliefs as they’re individually defined by Indigenous peoples and sustainable farmers. As sustainable agriculture is often the reworking of traditional systems native to varied Indigenous groups, I wondered if these similarities or differences in perspectives of those renowned for earth-based traditions, worldviews, and environmentally sustainable action would speak for the significance, or lack thereof, of a blurring line between humanity and nature in ecological salvation.

This research raises many questions. Should we emphasize life’s interdependency in environmental education? Should we regard plants as having their own intrinsic right to legal protection, as opposed to solely regarding such for their economic and resource value? Should Indigenous people have legal rights to protection, possession, and use of traditionally used plants? And most significantly, would these applications enable society to live more sustainably as a result of personal worldviews? 

Through questionnaire and in-person discussion regarding one’s relationship to their natural environment, it was found the majority support the notions of plant intelligence, and have a deep connection to and concern for the environment, suggesting the recognition of flora as a conscious life aligns with sustainable action.