A Plant that Learns

Despite not having a brain


Researchers from the University of Western Australia found that Mimosa pudica plants can remember just as well as some animals. The plants displayed survival tactics that require learned behavior—and they did it without brains, the Daily Mail reports.

These plants, native to South and Central America exhibit traits that aren’t far off from human behaviors. They:

  • Curl up in response to seismonastic movements (when they are touched, warmed, blown upon, or shaken)
  • Curl up in response to rain, presumably to remain dry. Once they realize that rain isn’t fatal, they uncurl
  • Close their leaves at night and open them in the morning

According to the study, which was originally published in the journal Oecologia, the response of the leaves to external events is not a reflex. “Most remarkably, these plants were able to remember what had been learned for several weeks, even after environmental conditions had changed,” the researchers said.

But how can something without a brain remember? “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,” researchers explained.

Learning is not just for organisms with nervous systems, the research suggests. And if you think that’s a lot to wrap your mind around, Monica Gagliano, the Australian Research Council research fellow who led the study, just published a paper arguing that trees can think and talk.