Dancing plant

The leaves of Codariocalyx motorius move fast enough that you can see their motion. This plant likes to dance.

Ks.mini, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you were to choose an adjective to describe plants and trees, “fast” is probably not at the top of your list. Plants do, of course, move – but so slowly that it’s impossible to see without a time-lapse camera. However, there are exceptions to this rule: the rapid movers.

The leaves of the Venus flytrap snap shut in one-tenth of a second. If you touch the leaves of Mimosa pudica, the touch-me-not, they will curl up in response. But my favourite speedy plant is Codariocalyx motorius. Also known as the semaphore plant, the telegraph plant, or the dancing plant, it grows in much of South, East, and Southeast Asia. And, as the name suggests, it dances.

The dancing plant has big elliptic leaves. Each big leaf is flanked by two little leaflets. These leaflets circle around, and they do so fast enough that you can spot their movement. Why do they do this? The best theory is that they are scouts, seeking out the best angle for sunlight. When they find it, the big leaf pivots around on a sort of hinge, following the light.

The little waving leaflets look like an old-fashioned semaphore:

Napoleonic semaphore
Keith Thomas, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A lot of people think that this plant will react to upbeat music or loud clapping. But seeing as the leaflets wave around seeking light anyway, I’m not sure how you’d be able to tell the difference. You can see the plant’s movement in real time here:

Or, if you prefer the theatrical, here’s the dancing plant dancing to Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”:

[Thanks to Francis Hallé]

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