Imagine my surprise when weeding around some pots, I touched what I thought was a weed (what is a weed anyway but a plant growing in the wrong place?)
And it recoiled!
Believe me, it actually pulled away from my touch. I looked closer. I touched another of the frond-like tiny branchlets. The same thing happened. I stroked it again and again; the leaves fell off leaving a bare stalk. Oh my gosh! What had I done? Annoyed the poor thing until it committed hara-kiri?
This was just too strange for words. I have kept carnivorous plants from time to time and watched fascinated as they closed over offerings of flies and bugs. But I had not encountered a plant so sensitive to touch that it closed as I watched.
Are plants sensate?
Daniel Chamovitz, biologist and author of What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to The Senses, certainly thinks so. He says ‘not only are plants sensate (able to sense their surroundings and act upon the information), they are able to broadcast their responses to sensation to insects, to other plants and even to people.’ I’m thinking companion planting like planting marigolds near tomatoes to repel garden pests; or how rotten apples emit ethylene, signalling surrounding apples to ripen rapidly thus providing ‘an easily identifiable market for animals who then disperse the seeds.’ (ref).
But back to my little ‘Sensitive plant’ which is one of its common names. Native to tropical America, it’s called Mimosa Pudica and is a classified weed in Queensland, although some people like to keep it as a house plant. Somehow it found its way into the pot plant prompting much curiosity from my grandies.
The Sensitive plant reacts to touch by folding up or shedding its leaves as a self defence mechanism to avoid being eaten, according to Tim Low. He explains how ‘the nutritious leaves recede from view, leaving behind prickly stems. Leaves droop by losing water from the base of the stalk. Potassium ions migrate across cell walls and the water follows. After the disturbance stops the leaves return to position slowly, taking up to an hour.’ Fascinating! It seems that the sensitive plant ‘can also learn to ignore actions that don’t matter, such as drips of water. It can even ‘remember’ to ignore drips it last felt a month ago.’
The wonderment of nature never fails to move me.
Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Edgar Allan Poe
The photos below show the process from open leaves to folded, which occurs in seconds.
Perhaps we, as sensate beings, are not so far removed from the plant world in this respect. We react to what we perceive, very often in response to what we ‘sense’ is a threat, physical or psychological; a self defence mechanism.
Of course the reverse is also true. This is where we use our ‘sense’, not always so common, to tell the difference.
Being called sensitive can sometimes infer weakness. I beg to differ. To be sensitive is to be deeply attuned, truly aware and profoundly connected to the challenge of being human.
“Although some say it is both a blessing and a curse to feel so deeply, I will take sensitivity over indifference every time.”
― Charles F. Glassman