BREAKTHROUGH: It is more popularly known as the touch-me-not plant or the sensitive plant. Commonly seen around Indian homes and quite popular with children, the plant is so sensitive to touch that a gentle tap with a finger can make the leaves close and tiny branches droop as if someone cast a sleep spell on it for a few minutes. Now researchers from The University of Western Australia’s Centre for Evolutionary Biology have found that the touch-me-not or Mimosa pudica plant is also quite smart. It can learn and remember things just like animals do!

Dr Monica Gagliano from the University of Western Australia and her colleagues experimented on the Mimosa species also called Laajvanti in Hindi, to note that the plant had animal like traits where they could train it to remember certain patterns. They found that they could make the Mimosa learn to keep the leaves open even if someone touched it.

Additionally they also found that the plant can have short term and long term memories like animals and it learnt faster when the environment was unfavourable.

Learn and Remember

The new research is titled “Experience teaches plants to learn faster and forget slower in environments where it matters”. It has been published in the journal Oecologia.

Using the same experimental framework normally applied to test learnt behavioral responses and trade-offs in animals, they designed their experiments as if Mimosa was indeed an animal.

The researchers repeated dropped water on the plant using a custom designed apparatus. On the touch of the water droplet, as is known with the plant, the leaves closed. But when the drops kept falling on the plant, the plant began to understand that the water droplet was not harming it and therefore the leaves stopped closing.

This reaction to a repetitive stimulus was learnt in matter of seconds by the plant like animals, although it does not have an animal-like brain. What the scientists also found was that the learning was quicker when the environment conditions were not that favorable. In low light conditions, the plant learnt faster that it could keep its leaves open without harm.

The most remarkable discovery was that these plants were able to remember what they had learnt of the water droplets, several weeks after the experiment, showing they not only has the ability to learn but also remember things for long-term.

The scientists write,

Plants may lack brains and neural tissues but they do possess a sophisticated calcium-based signally network in their cells similar to animals’ memory processes.

Although they still do not understand the biological process that is involved, the research definitely fades the boundary between plants and animals showing that plants too may have a system as complex as the nervous system to memorise things.

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Image via cc/Flickr by YIM Hafiz

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About Atula Gupta

Atula Gupta is the Founder and Editor of Her work has appeared in a number of international websites, dailies and magazines including The Wire, Deccan Herald, New Indian Express, Down to Earth and Heritage India on issues related to environment and its conservation. She is also the author of Environment Science Essentials, a set of books for school children. She hopes this website provides a platform for people to be aware about species in the verge of extinction and heighten their conservation efforts.

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