Understanding Plant Intelligence Using the Mimosa pudica

Table: 4
Experimentation location: Home
Regulated Research (Form 1c): No
Project continuation (Form 7): No

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1. https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2021/Q3/taking-lessons-from-a-sea-slug,-study-points-to-better-hardware-for-artificial-intelligence.html 

2. Serpell, Ella, and Johel Chaves-Campos. "Memory and habituation to harmful and non-harmful stimuli in a field population of the sensitive plant, Mimosa pudica." Journal of Tropical Ecology 38.2 (2022): 89-98. 

3. Su, Bin, et al. "Mimosa‐inspired design of a flexible pressure sensor with touch sensitivity." Small 11.16 (2015): 1886-1891.

4. Bela Hanief Abdurrahman et al. 2023 Bioinspir. Biomim. 18 016001

5. Amador-Vargas, Sabrina, et al. "Leaf-folding response of a sensitive plant shows context-dependent behavioral plasticity." Plant ecology 215 (2014): 1445-1454.

6. Li, Suyi, and K. W. Wang. "Plant-inspired adaptive structures and materials for morphing and actuation: a review." Bioinspiration & biomimetics 12.1 (2016): 011001.

7. Scheiner, Ricarda. "Responsiveness to sucrose and habituation of the proboscis extension response in honey bees." Journal of Comparative Physiology A 190 (2004): 727-733.

Additional Project Information

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Project files

Research Plan:

Parts of the Plant

Pinna: branch-like part with leaflets

Leaflets: tiny leaves on each pinna

Rachis: stalk-like part which connects leaflets on each pinna

Sub-pulvinus: tiny stem which connects multiple pinnae


Experiment 1: Characterization


    - 3 Mimosa pudica plants 

    - Ruler

    - Notebook


    1. Measure several pinnae on each plant from the sub-pulvinus to the tip of the end leaflet using a ruler. Record the length of each pinna                    rounded to the nearest whole centimeter.

    2. Count and record the number of leaflets on each pinna.


Experiment 2: Response to different stimuli


    - 3 Mimosa pudica plants

    - Pencil eraser

    - Grain of rice

    - Stopwatch

    - Notebook 


    1. Identify three pinnae, one from each plant, of length 2 cm. 

    2. Select a pinna and gently drag the pencil eraser against the rachis of the pinna. Start the stopwatch once the pinna closes.

    3. Stop the stopwatch after the pinna has recovered to its original state. Record the time it took in seconds.

    4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 on the same pinna two more times.

    5. Repeat steps 2-4 on the other two pinnae of the same length. 

    6. Repeat steps 1-5 on each of the other lengths recorded in Experiment 1 (3 cm, 4 cm, 5 cm, and 6 cm).

    7. Repeat steps 1-6 using different pinnae and dropping a grain of rice 3 cm above the pinna.


Experiment 3: Habituation


    - 3 Mimosa pudica plants

    - Pencil eraser

    - Stopwatch 

    - Notebook


    1. Select three pinnae of length 4 cm, one from each plant.

    2. Gently drag the pencil eraser along the rachis of a pinna. Start the stopwatch when the pinna is closed. 

    3. Record the degree of closing of the pinna.

    4. Once the pinna has recovered to its original state, stop the stopwatch. Record the time it took in seconds. 

    5. Repeat steps 2-4 ten more times immediately after the pinna opens for a total of 11 trials on the same pinna.

    6. Fatigue test: gently grab the pinna between two fingers. Record if it closes, the degree of closing, and the opening time.  

    7. Repeat steps 2-6 on all other selected pinnae.

    8. Repeat steps 1-7 for pinnae which have a length of 5 cm. 

Experiment 4: Habituation Under Low Light Conditions

Repeat Steps 1-8 from Experiment 3 on a cloudy day in the evening to test the light conditions necessary for the plant to habituate.

Questions and Answers

1. What was the major objective of your project and what was your plan to achieve it?

The major objective of my project was to understand if the Mimosa pudica (touch-me-not plant) can demonstrate habituation. Habituation is an organism’s ability to demonstrate a decreased response to a non-harmful stimulus that it is repeatedly exposed to. To understand whether the Mimosa pudica can habituate, I repeatedly contacted it with a pencil eraser, and measured the time it took to fully open, as well as the degree to which it closed each trial. 

       a. Was that goal the result of any specific situation, experience, or problem you encountered?  

           We are all surrounded by plants - big and small, old and young, annual and perennial. However, we know so little about plant intelligence and communication and have few ways to research these topics as most plants do not move significantly, or quickly. After watching a TED Talk called "The Roots of Plant Intelligence" by Stefano Mancuso, I became interested in researching these topics and came up with an idea. The Mimosa pudica is a common houseplant which has the ability to close its leaves within 3 seconds. This makes it important to study, as very few other plants have this unique ability. Using the Mimosa pudica, I wanted to help answer questions related to plant intelligence, which can be used in a variety of fields. Mimosa pudica-inspired pressure sensors, AI algorithms, and robots can be used for medical devices in surgery, or even solar panels for energy efficiency!

       b. Were you trying to solve a problem, answer a question, or test a hypothesis?

            Although there is extensive research on animal intelligence, there is minimal research on plant intelligence, especially habituation. I was trying to answer questions related to the habituation of the Mimosa pudica:

                     - Can the Mimosa pudica habituate to a non-harmful stimulus?

                          - If so, how long does it take?

                     - Do different touch stimuli cause a difference in its response?

                     - How does the habituation of the Mimosa pudica compare to the habituation of animals?


2. What were the major tasks you had to perform in order to complete your project?

The three major tasks I had to perform were: characterizing the plant, testing the Mimosa pudica's response to different stimuli, and habituating the plant to a non-harmful stimulus. To characterize the plant, I measured important parts of it and observed any trends in them. I used a grain of rice and pencil eraser to learn if the Mimosa pudica responds differently to different touch stimuli. Finally, I repeatedly contacted the plant with a pencil eraser and observed the response through the degree of closing and the opening time of the leaves to determine if it habituated. 

       a. For teams, describe what each member worked on.

           Not applicable, I worked on this project by myself.


3. What is new or novel about your project?

My project explores habituation in the Mimosa pudica plant. Although habituation has been widely studied in animals, there is very little work on habituation in plants. 

       a. Is there some aspect of your project's objective, or how you achieved it that you haven't done before?

           Before I began my project, I didn't know much about the Mimosa pudica or its unique abilities, and the importance of them. In addition, I              hadn't conducted research on plants before. I also didn't know about habituation and how much it affects our daily lives.            

       b. Is your project's objective, or the way you implemented it, different from anything you have seen?

           While the objective has been considered and experimented on, the stimuli I have tested are new. Also, I used domestic plants in my                        experiments, but other research has used wild plants.

       c. If you believe your work to be unique in some way, what research have you done to confirm that it is?

           The stimuli I have used for testing habituation is novel, and I have confirmed this by reading a variety of papers that have studied the                     Mimosa pudica. 


4. What was the most challenging part of completing your project?

The most challenging part of completing my project was the amount of time I had to spend testing several things continuously in a timed manner. Each experiment took several hours each day.

      a. What problems did you encounter, and how did you overcome them?

           It took a long time to find a consistent method to measure the opening time of the pinnae. I had to do trial and error for several weeks until I            could find a good way with the least possible amount of error. The Mimosa pudica also "sleeps" when the sun starts to set, meaning the                  leaves close and are naturally less responsive, which also meant I only had a few good hours to work with it!

      b. What did you learn from overcoming these problems?

           I learned to be patient, and that research takes a lot of time. It's not as simple as immediately thinking of a project and coming up with a                  research plan. Although it was frustrating at times, the overall experience taught me so much about a topic I would've had no idea about                  otherwise. 


 5. If you were going to do this project again, are there any things you would you do differently the next time?

I would define what it means for the plant to be fully open better using a microscope. Also, I would continue to contact the plant for days after to see if the plant has memory about habituation.


6. Did working on this project give you any ideas for other projects?

Yes, I have many new ideas:

 - I would like to look at the Mimosa pudica under a videoscope while contacting it to see which part of the plant responds first, as well as how that changes with repeated touches.

- I would also like to work in a plant lab, and put different chemicals on the surface and see how it reacts.

- Lastly, I would like to build a plant-inspired pressure sensor that can be used for robot hands.


7. How did COVID-19 affect the completion of your project?

Fortunately, COVID-19 had no effect on the completion of my project.