Leaf No Trace

Do our plant babies have FEELINGS too?


This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science saying…


Our sense of touch is a double edged sword. A pat on the head? Nice. A paper cut? Yowch. Either way, our skin sends a calcium nerve signal to our brains. What about plants? They lack nerves, but don’t they need to sense their surroundings too? 


Alexander Howell and team at Washington State University took a stab at it. Literally.


They poked leaves with glass tips and tracked similar calcium waves across plant cells.


Results? The first poke caused a slow ripple of calcium movement in cells that were touched. Calcium flowed in—and was slowly flushed out. But removing the tip initiated a much quicker and MORE INTENSE wave of calcium movement.


Without nerves, plants ARE STILL sensitive to touch, kind of! These findings help scientists better understand how sensing physical environments affects plant growth.


So… I’m going to stop plucking flowers… I think I’ll start patting them! They deserve it.


Howell, A.H., Völkner, C., McGreevy, P. et al. Pavement cells distinguish touch from letting go. Nat. Plants 9, 877–882 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-023-01418-9