it looks like Dr. Gagliano can back up the boldness — aside from her stunning paper on plant communication, she’s also showed perhaps the first example that plants can learn — learning in the sense of Pavlov’s dog, in the sense of observing and remembering a lesson from experience. In a recent paper, Dr. Gagliano demonstrated the studying skills of the Mimosa pudica plant. Mimosa pudica is one of the very few plants that can move as quickly as an animal — like the Venus Flytrap, it rapidly moves its leaves in response to being touched. Whereas the flytrap is looking for a meal, the Mimosa pudica plant is just trying to protect itself.
Experience teaches plants to learn faster and forget slower in environments where it matters
The nervous system of animals serves the acquisition, memorization and recollection of information. Like animals, plants also acquire a huge amount of information from their environment, yet their capacity to memorize and organize learned behavioral responses has not been demonstrated. In Mimosa pudica—the sensitive plant—the defensive leaf-folding behaviour in response to repeated physical disturbance exhibits clear habituation, suggesting some elementary form of learning. Applying the theory and the analytical methods usually employed in animal learning research, we show that leaf-folding habituation is more pronounced and persistent for plants growing in energetically costly environments. Astonishingly, Mimosa can display the learned response even when left undisturbed in a more favourable environment for a month. This relatively long-lasting learned behavioural change as a result of previous experience matches the persistence of habituation effects observed in many animals.
THE INTELLIGENT PLANT