by Adam Clark Estes
New research from a team of scientists at the University of Western Australia will change the way you think about the difference between plants and animals. Mimosa pundica plants, they found, can learn and remember, despite not having a brain. Those active little fern-like things always did seem sort of smart, though, didn’t they?
With a name that literally means “shy,” the Mimosa pundica is a particularly unique piece of flora, as it responds to touch by folding inward to protect itself from predators. Wondering if this was just a straightforward reflex, the Australian researchers rigged up an apparatus that would drop water on the plant in both high- and low-light environments. Much to their surprise, they found that the plant stopped opening and closing once it learned that the drops weren’t harmful. More impressively, the plants remembered that lesson several weeks after the initial training.
The scientists are unclear on the exact biology of what makes Mimosa pundica plants learn and remember, but they suspect it has something to do with the plants’ calcium-based signally network in their cells. This sophisticated system works not unlike animals’ memory processes, giving the researchers cause to reconsider the difference between plants and animals. It just makes you wonder: Just how smart can plants get? Maybe Lord of the Rings isn’t such a fantasy after all.
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