Does a plant have memory?


On this question, an experiment by professor Stefano Mancuso is very relevant. He set out to test the hypothesis that plants have a kind of memory and can modify their behaviour based on such recall. Mancuso and his team carried out a study of the plant Mimosa pudica, a small plant frequently used in experiments for the speed of its reactions to stimuli.

So fast that such changes can be perceived easily also by human senses. In an interview published in the science section of the newspaper “Corriere della Sera” on 15th January 2014, Mancuso explains, “We trained the plants to ignore a non-dangerous stimulus, letting the pot in which they were growing fall from a height of 15 centimetres, repeatedly. After several repetitions, the Mimosas stopped curling up their leaves, saving valuable energy in the process. Cultivating the plants in two separate groups, with different levels of light, we were able to show that plants grown with less light, and thus with less energy available, learn faster than those that have more light, as if they didn’t want to waste resources. The plants retained the memory of this experience for more than 40 days. We are yet to understand how and where the plants store this information and how they retrieve it when this is necessary.”

Furthermore, the researchers found that some plants learn more quickly than others, leading them to hypothesize that there may be individual differences between plants of the same species, and that some plants may have better memory than others.

Indeed, work carried out by Dieter Volkmann at Bonn University has shown that pea plants placed horizontally were able to first perceive, and then remember, the direction in which their roots had to grow in order to find nutrients. They retained this memory for approximately five days, and also in this case, not all the plants had the same ability to remember, suggesting that this was not an innate or pre-programmed response.

In the instance of the Music of the Plants then, can there be plants that learn how to make music better and more quickly than others, so that they can go on to become ‘music teachers’?

Our experience over the years, plus the results of years of experiments, seem to confirm this. (from “Music of the Plants” book).

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