Feb 18, 2019

Drop a pot of makahiya on a cushion and watch its leaves instantly curl—frightened of the sudden movement. Drop it consequently for 60 times, though, and the plant won’t mind it anymore.

This was how Monica Gagliano, a researcher and professor of bilogy at the University of Western Australia, discovered that the Mimosa pudica (dubbed in the country as makahiya) remembers, even if they don’t have brains. With her research associates, Gagliano gathered a bunch of makahiya plants in a pot and dropped it on a cushion using a sliding steel rail. Highly sensitive, the plants closed. But as the scientists repeated the act and gave the plants 60 rides on what seemed like the Enchanted Kingdom’s EKstreme Tower to them, they didn’t react anymore. They weren’t devitalized, though, since when the scientists tried tapping them again, their leaves still shut.

A makahiya reacting to touch

They just learned that the fall won’t do them any harm, so there’s no need to curl up. “Plants may lack brains and neural tissues but they do possess a sophisticated calcium-based signaling network in their cells similar to animals’ memory processes,” the researchers explained.

A month later, Gagliano dropped the pot again, expecting that they would curl up. Their leaves stayed open, proving that they are also capable of remembering for the long-term.

In a separate experiment in 2016, another team of researchers from the University of Wuerzburg in Germany found out plants can also plan and count. They observed that the carnivorous Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) prepares carefully when to catch its prey by counting the steps an insect makes on its surface.

A Venus flytrap capturing an insect

Each step is recorded by the sensory hairs of the plant. It helps them make sure that the prey is inside their capture organ, the research says. A science website adds that without this ability count and plan, the Venus flytrap “would frequently snap shut on raindrops.”

These discoveries are only a fraction of many unexpected behaviors of plants. A closer look on these will be portrayed in Green Planet, an upcoming series by the BBC Studios which shows “planet Earth from the perspective of plants.”

According to the teaser, the series will show how plants fight, communicate, care, and reproduce. It will give us a view of how plants take full control of the natural world.


Header image courtesy of Unsplash

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TAGS: Action BBC environment green Green Planet Grow Makahiya plant Venus flytrap