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It appears there are non-reliable sources on the internet claiming broccoli has a nervous system:

forum at funnyjunk.com:

Broccoli have a very primitive nervous system. Technically, they are able to feel pain.

Yahoo! Answers:

Does broccoli really have a nervous system and can it really feel pain? I read/heard this somewhere but now i cannot find any actual scientific article or expert to corroborate this claim by googling it. Anyone have the original article or a reference to it?

(Includes some answers denying it, but none with sources)

Behance.net:

"Broccoli is a vegetable with a nervous system. Primitive though it may be, it can feel pain"

Googling yields plenty more unsourced opinions either way.

Is there any truth in the claim that broccoli has a nervous system (and thus can feel pain)?

  • This looks like an unreferenced and non-notable claim, so unless you can come up with a serious claim to support this then I believe this question should be closed. – Paul Johnson May 17 '16 at 10:44
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    @PaulJohnson The 2001 book "The Cancer Patient's Workbook: Everything You Need to Stay Organized and Informed" is another source of this notable claim. "Broccoli is a vegetable with a nervous system. Primitive though it may be, it CAN feel pain. " books.google.com/… – DavePhD May 17 '16 at 10:56
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    @PaulJohnson What makes you say that? I noted three references to notable claims. Do you need more? – gerrit May 17 '16 at 13:05
  • "... has a nervous system (and thus can feel pain)" That question only makes sense if the presence of a nervous system means that the ability to experience pain is taken for granted. It is not even sure if many animals can feel pain, although they undisputedly have a nervous system. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo May 17 '16 at 16:34
  • @gerrit: See meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/864/…. However the question is moot as DavePhD has now provided a reference to a published book that makes this claim, albeit in a section headed "just for fun". – Paul Johnson May 17 '16 at 16:34
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From Involvement of receptor potentials and action potentials in mechano-perception in plants Australian Journal of Plant Physiology (2001) volume 28, page 567-576:

Plants are always exposed to various external stimuli, such as light, gravity, chemicals, temperature and mechanical stress. The sensitivity of plants to these stimuli is as high as that of animals, or sometimes higher (Shropshire 1979). Compared with animals, plants are quiet and do not show dynamic responses to these stimuli, except for some special plants, such as Mimosa and some carnivorous plants. However, all are capable of perceiving external stimuli and show responses, although these responses may not sometimes be recognised by us.

...

A brief investigation was made into whether the apparatus developed for characean cells could be applied to higher plants. A seedling of broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. bolrytis) was mounted on the apparatus shown in Fig. 6. Upon dropping the glass tubing onto the hypocotyl, a significant change in the electrical potential was induced, the amplitude of which increased with increase in H. (Fig. 10). Thus, this apparatus developed for internodal cells of Characeae is also useful for analysis of electrical responses of higher plants to mechanical stimuli.

Caption of Fig. 10:

Electrical response of hypocotyl of broccoli to mechanical stimulation. A seedling was mounted in the apparatus shown in Fig. 6. The hypocotyl was stimulated at pool B by dropping a piece of glass tubing (1.3 g). Numbers below the records represent the height (cm) from which the glass tubing was dropped.

According to The dignity of plants Plant Signaling & Behavior (2009) Volume 4, pages 78-79:

We do not know if plants are capable of subjective sensation. There is no scientific proof that plants feel pain. But it is also quite clear that we cannot simply rule this out. There is circumstantial evidence for this, although not a complete chain of evidence. However, claims that plants have no subjective sensations are as speculative as the opposite. We simply do not know.

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    Thanks, but I'm not quite sure what that means. Does an electrical response to mechanical stimulation constitute a nervous system / pain / fear? – gerrit May 17 '16 at 14:28
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    @gerrit according to the article "The Nervous System of Plants" Canadian Journal of Medicine, yes it constitutes a nervous system. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1709102/pdf/… – DavePhD May 17 '16 at 14:44
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    I think the problem is the definition of "pain". According to Wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pain_in_invertebrates there is no settled definition, but "nociception" (see article) is a necessary but not sufficient criterion. It is not clear if the reactions of plants count as nociception, as that implies specialist sensing and signalling mechanisms. While some electrical responses were observed, its not clear that they serve a signalling purpose. – Paul Johnson May 17 '16 at 16:44
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    I think this answer fails to address whether broccoli is unique among plants, or if the same claim can be made about any plant. That wasn't directly asked about in the OP, but it's closely related. – Bobson May 17 '16 at 21:56
  • @Bobson it does answer that "plants are quiet and do not show dynamic responses to these stimuli, except for some special plants, such as Mimosa and some carnivorous plants. However, all are capable of perceiving external stimuli and show responses". Broccoli isn't special, Mimosa is special. – DavePhD May 18 '16 at 1:23

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