Chloe Griffith's Project

Plant Intelligence and Ethnobotany: A Study of Cultural Beliefs Individually Defined by Sustainable Farmers and Indigenous Peoples of the United States

Just decades’ past, scientists, philosophers, and scholars alike began to approach the climate crisis through a multi-disciplinary lens, acknowledging not only the faults and feats of technology and science and their subsequent solutions in environmental regard, but also those of morality. This perspective, evident in areas of study like environmental ethics, ethnobotany, and the recent emergence of theology and ecology for example, assumes our climate crisis as a moral issue that therefore would benefit from a moral solution. Research on morality apropos to ecology provides insight on the differing levels of consideration, respect, and reverence of a sacred nature in one’s relation to nature, and how this may dictate their treatment of the environment.

There are caveats to which one doing research including any demographic foreign to their own should be considered and addressed. I’d like preempt further explanation with a quote from my professor, Dr. Christiana Zenner, from her book Just Water in which she states, “It can be dangerous when the spur to recognition of pluralistic value systems comes from a centralized patriarchal authority that is historically associated with colonialism and universalism and normatively expounded by predominantly white scholars in the northern hemisphere”. In research involving Indigenous knowledge and methodology so often plagued with the complex of the “white savior” it is necessary to acknowledge the diversities within Indigeneity, reject procedures which reinscribe historical harm, appealing to “inclusion” that doesn’t involve ultimate determinable say by subject. It’s necessary to stand in epistemic solidarity, not speak for anybody by providing answers and stories, but instead provide perspectives.

Discussion with RJ Noble at Sun Spirit Farm

Discussion with RJ Noble at Sun Spirit Farm


Participants are contacted before the study with a description of the objectives and methods. The eligibility screening and consent form is provided to be completed and returned. The eligibility form confirms participants are 18 or older and either Indigenous or working in sustainable agriculture. The consent form marks the participants’ consent to answer the questionnaire form and/or participate in discussion, and their identity being shared for research that may be distributed to journals and presented at the ARS NOVA showcase.

Basic Methodology

  • Prepare and distribute to participants a fact sheet on basic claims of recent plant intelligence science.
  • Distribute an agree/disagree questionnaire to participants asking which of the claims align with their beliefs.
  • Film discussions with selected participants regarding their opinions on plant intelligence, and relationship to plants/their natural environment (based on how they respond to the questionnaire which offers an option to be interviewed). Answers to particular questions will be categorized into main topics in the documentary.

*Additional persons with relevant insight may be included in the final documentary, but are excluded from the quantitative data collection if they are neither Indigenous or working in sustainable agriculture.

Discussion with Scott Goode of Nourishing Systems

Discussion with Scott Goode of Nourishing Systems


Both quantitative and qualitative results support the notions of plant intelligence, and have a deep connection to and concern for the environment. This finding reinforces the argument that the recognition of flora as a conscious life aligns with sustainable action, as all participants either work in sustainable fields, or revere a tradition of deep ecology in which climate regeneration and sustainability for the benefit of life itself is prioritized, regardless of its utility to human needs.

These realities imply that one’s relation to their natural world provides insight on what may dictate their treatment of the environment, as this relation involves differing levels of consideration, respect, and even reverence of a sacred nature. These findings provide evidence of our dependency on the flora of our world through the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits they provide which in turn emphasize the interconnected relationship between all of life, and the importance of protecting and regenerating our environment for all of life.

What presented itself as most rewarding was what I learned from the participants in regards to my role as a researcher. Knowledge, traditional knowledge especially, is a gift that may be shared by those it originates from, and acts as an example of a way to view the space we inhabit; but can never be owned, nor can it be fully understood and experienced by those it does not originate from as it can only be explained to its fullest extent in the native tongue, and is also simply a feeling, passed through generations of the Native heritage. We must pay attention to our own roots, and look into ourselves rather than externally to truly find this Earth-based connection and Divinity that is innate in all beings.

Watch the Documentary: Plant Intelligence and Ethnobotany


Balasuriya T. Isn’t global warming the original sin of the twenty-first century? Theology Cult 2010, VII:126-132

Buhner, Stephen Harrod. Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm: beyond the Doors of Perception into the Dreaming Earth. Bear & Company, 2014.

Cvrcková, F., Lipavská, H., & Zárský, V. (2009). Plant intelligence: why, why not or where?. Plant signaling & behavior, 4 (5), 394-9.

Gagliano, Monica, Ph.D. Thus Spoke the Plant. North Atlantic Books, 2018.

Jenkins, Willis, "Whose Religion? Which Ecology?" , in Routledge Handbook of Religion and Ecology ed. Willis Jenkins, Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim (Abingdon: Routledge, 03 Aug 2016 ), accessed 31 Jan 2020, Routledge Handbooks Online.

Just Water: Theology, Ethics, and Fresh Water Crises, by Christiana Z. Peppard, PhD., Orbis Books, 2018.

Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Milkweed Editions, 2015.