10 April 2012

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To all intents and purposes the Touch-Me-Not looks like your average kind of plant. Yet it is so named for a very good reason. A single touch and the leaves of the plant fold inward and droop. No wonder the last word of its scientific name, Mimosa Pudica is derived from the Latin for shy. Take a look at its reaction to a single touch of a finger.

The plant originated in South and Central America but is now found worldwide (at least anywhere the conditions for its growth are right) and has become something of a pantropical weed. The leaves close at night, but also under other stimuli, which is what makes the plant both fascinating and unusual.

When force (a simple touch in this case) is applied to the leaves of the plant the cells around this region lose turgor pressure (the force applied by water against the cell wall). This is due to a release of chemicals, including potassium, which drives the water out of the cells. Once the cell is without water it collapses. What we see is the leaves collapsing downwards.

No one knows for sure why the Touch-Me-Not (and other related plants) evolved this particular trait. Some scientists think that it has evolved to surprise animals. A leaf eater might think the plant was an insect after seeing the leaves bend so quickly away from its mouth and look for food elsewere.

Whatever causes the collapse, the Touch-Me-Not remains a captivating example of nature in (literal) action.

Top Image Credit Flickr User Whologwhy

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