Why is the Sensitive Plant So Timid?

Do you greet others by giving high fives? Some people shake hands or fist bump. In Spain, many people kiss both cheeks. In New Zealand, they touch noses! Different cultures have various ways of greeting each other. The purpose of these actions is to make others feel welcome. However, some people prefer verbal greetings. It is important to ensure that we greet people in ways that make them comfortable. But what if the “other” is not a person? Luckily, even certain plants let us know when they do not like to be touched!

The sensitive plant, scientifically known as mimosa pudica, is also referred to as the modest plant, bashful plant, or the touch-me-not. It is native to Central and South America. Some people keep it as a houseplant due to its intriguing behavior. When you touch the leaves of the sensitive plant, it releases water from its leaves and stems. As the water drains to the base of the plant, the leaves close and the stems droop. This gives the appearance of a wilted plant!

Why does the sensitive plant retract from physical contact? Because it wants to be left alone, of course! Similar to humans, this plant sends physical signals indicating that it prefers not to be touched.

This response to touch is a defense mechanism. Wouldn’t you be startled if the food you were about to eat moved away from you? Many animals and insects consume plants, so the sensitive plant has learned to move in order to scare away predators. Startled by the sudden wilting, hungry animals move on to find another plant to eat. Additionally, wilted plants do not look appetizing, which deters other nearby predators from choosing it as their meal.

The sensitive plant also closes up at night to conserve energy. It is not alone in this behavior. Many other plants fold up their leaves during nighttime. At night, leaves do not receive any energy from sunlight. Therefore, plants decide that keeping their leaves open and their stems erect is a waste of nutrients. Instead, the sensitive plant relaxes these parts, similar to going to sleep!

If you touch a sensitive plant and it wilts, do not worry! It is still a healthy plant. After a few minutes, it will regain water in its leaves and stand straight up again. However, it takes a significant amount of time for the sensitive plant to fully recover. Do not touch the plant just to observe it wilt. It may seem like fun, but it is not enjoyable for the sensitive plant.

It is always important to pay attention to the body language of plants, animals, and other people! We should never want to make other living beings uncomfortable, especially for our own amusement. What signals do you emit when you are uncomfortable? Remember those signals and be attentive to them in others, even in plants!

Give It a Try

Make sure to have an adult friend or family member assist you with these activities!

  • Learn more about the sensitive plant. Then, create your own drawing of the sensitive plant. On the reverse side of your drawing, write down the three most significant facts you have discovered about this plant. Share your artwork and facts with a friend or family member!
  • Are you curious about how other plants defend themselves against predators? Here are some examples of plant defenses! After reading, compose a paragraph that explains how other plants protect themselves.
  • Understanding body language is important! When the sensitive plant droops, it is signaling you not to touch it. Discuss body language with a friend or family member. How can you recognize when other people are happy, angry, or afraid? How can you tell when others do not want to be touched?

Wonder Sources

  • https://www.britannica.com/plant/sensitive-plantv (accessed 14 Mar., 2019)
  • http://www.plantsrescue.com/tag/humble-plant/ (accessed 14 Mar., 2019)
  • https://www.scienceabc.com/nature/how-mimosa-pudica-plant-leaves-work-sleep-touch-shake-turgor-pressure.html (accessed 14 Mar., 2019)
  • https://keys.lucidcentral.org/keys/v3/eafrinet/weeds/key/weeds/Media/Html/Mimosa_pudica_(Common_Sensitive_Plant).htm (14 Mar., 2019)


1. Why is the Sensitive Plant called “shy”?

The Sensitive Plant, also known as Mimosa pudica, is called “shy” because of its unique ability to exhibit rapid leaf movements in response to touch or other external stimuli. When the plant is touched or disturbed, its leaves fold inward and droop, giving the appearance of shyness or timidity.

2. What is the scientific explanation behind the Sensitive Plant’s leaf movements?

The leaf movements of the Sensitive Plant are a result of a process called thigmonasty. Thigmonasty is a rapid response mechanism triggered by touch or mechanical stimulation. When the plant’s leaves are touched, specialized cells in the leaf base release potassium ions, which cause water to rapidly leave the cells. This loss of water leads to the folding and drooping of the leaves.

3. Is the Sensitive Plant’s leaf movement a defense mechanism?

Yes, the leaf movement of the Sensitive Plant serves as a defense mechanism against potential threats. When an insect or animal touches the plant, the rapid leaf movements can startle or deter the predator. Additionally, the drooping leaves can provide some level of camouflage, making it harder for the plant to be detected.

4. Where is the Sensitive Plant commonly found?

The Sensitive Plant is native to tropical regions of South America, particularly Brazil and Peru. However, due to its unique characteristics and ornamental value, it has been introduced to various other regions around the world. It is commonly grown as a houseplant or in botanical gardens for its intriguing leaf movements.

5. How does the Sensitive Plant reproduce?

The Sensitive Plant reproduces through the production of small, ball-shaped flowers. These flowers contain both male and female reproductive organs and are pollinated by insects. Once pollination occurs, the flowers develop into seed pods that contain seeds. These seed pods eventually dry out and split open, dispersing the seeds, which can then germinate and grow into new Sensitive Plants.

6. Can the Sensitive Plant be harmful to humans or pets?

The Sensitive Plant is generally not harmful to humans or pets. However, it is always a good idea to avoid ingesting any part of the plant as a precaution. Some people may also experience skin irritation or allergic reactions when in contact with the plant’s leaves. If you have pets, it is advisable to keep them away from the plant to prevent them from damaging it or potentially ingesting any harmful substances.

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