Is Baby Groot his own tree? Botanist examines re-sprouted identity

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May 8, 2018, 9:35 PM EDT

If a tree falls in Xandar, does his "I am Groot" offspring really make the same sound? More specifically, if adult Groot sacrifces himself for his friends and ends up getting blasted into smoky little twigs, then how much of his heart, memory, and soul is really carried over into the adorable potted plant that starts the new life of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’s Baby Groot?

In any of his leafy permutations, what Groot must really mean when he says “I am Groot” remains one of life’s great mysteries. So it’s about time someone other than Rocket Raccoon — especially after getting emotionally wrecked by that tear-jerking “I am Groot” at the end of Avengers: Infinity War — started deciphering it.

That’s where botanist (and evident Marvel fan) James Wong comes in. Embarking on a Twitter conversation that was destined to engage fields of thought much broader than pure science, Wong started a sort of serious, sort of tongue-in-cheek Twitter thread that promised to apply the principles of botany to the unique question of Baby Groot’s identity and selfhood.

It germinated innocently enough, with Wong heroically announcing science could settle such matters:

Wong then branched out, explaining what genetic material is preserved, as well as what’s uniquely created, every time a plant is propagated, settling on the idea that Baby Groot is adult Groot's perfect genetic clone. He even speculated that there are scientific reasons why Baby Groot could have his own distinct identity, while still sharing a memory with his Guardians 1 progenitor.

In one of those rare Twitter threads that somehow manages to be silly, fascinating, baffling, intelligent, and hilarious all at once, fans started throwing some serious verbiage around, invoking everything from philosophy (John Locke) to developmental psychology (Jean Piaget) to auteur theory (Guardians director James Gunn).

Considering Infinity War’s handling of Groot’s fate, it’s safe to say he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Watch the movie (in theaters everywhere) with all these burning Twitter questions in mind, and then decide for yourself — Who, really, is Groot?