Fern magic. Millions of years ago, plants “fell asleep” by twisting their leaves.

New research shows that the leaves of Permian plants curled up when they went to sleep.

Every night, plants like legumes and daisies roll up their leaves and petals as the sun sets, as if falling asleep, and unfold them at sunrise. A new study suggests that this happened a quarter of a billion years ago, writes Live Science .

New research from the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm suggests that more than 250 million years ago, plants could fold their leaves at night. Author of the study and curator of the collection of Paleozoic and Mesozoic fossil plants Stephen McLaughlin and his team traced the unique traces that insects leave only on folded leaves. They found that one group of long-extinct plants was likely nyctynastic—that is, plants that curl up in response to darkness.

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The author of the study notes that the difficulty lies in the fact that it is impossible to tell from a fossilized plant whether it has curled up due to darkness or as a result of wilting. That’s why the researchers focused on looking for patterns of insect damage that are unique to plants with a similar response to darkness. As a result, the researchers were able to find one group of plants that points to an extremely ancient occurrence of this plant behavior.

Note that this behavior of plants was first described by Androsten of Thassos back in 324 BC. Later in 1880, the “drowsy movements of plants” were also described by Charles Darwin. However, scientists are still not quite sure what causes this behavior of plants.

Some research suggests that it may play a role in temperature regulation or the removal of excess water from the leaf surface. Others suggest that nyctinasty is a way to fight insects. But if we assume that the “sleeping behavior” of plants is a defense mechanism, then it clearly does not work every time. In fact, scientists have found that plants with this behavior, on the contrary, are often riddled with perfectly symmetrical holes left by insects.

It was this feature that McLaughlin and colleagues used in their study. During the study, they discovered a group of Permian plants (gigantopterids) that became extinct over 250 million years ago. Based on the data obtained, scientists suggest that these plants had fern-like leaves and woody stems and grew up to 25 centimeters in height. What’s more, they were able to “crawl” through trees like vines and twist their leaves at nightfall.

Focus has previously written about how scientists believe plants are capable of thinking and making decisions .

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