Learning Plants: Semiosis Between the Parts and the Whole

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In this article, I explore plant semiosis with a focus on plant learning. I distinguish between the scales and levels of learning conceivable in phytosemiosis, and identify organism-scale learning as the distinguishing question for plant semiosis. Since organism-scale learning depends on organism-scale semiosis, I critically review the arguments regarding whole-plant functional cycles. I conclude that they have largely relied on Uexküllian biases that have prevented an adequate interpretation of modern plant neurobiology. Through an examination of trophic growth in plant roots, I expose some conceptual difficulties in attributing functional cycles to whole-plants. I conclude that the mapping of resource areas in the root system is a learning activity requiring higher-scale sign activity than is possible at the cellular scale, strongly suggesting the presence of organism-scale functional cycles. I do, however, question whether all perception-action cycles in organisms are accompanied with organism-scale semiosis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)547-559
Number of pages13
Issue number3
Early online date15 Feb 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2013


  • Phytosemiotics
  • levels of learning
  • bateson
  • functional cycles
  • plant learning
  • plant tropism


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