Feeling for your veg

Plants get sleepy. Who knew?

In his 1848 work titled Nanna, the German psychologist Dr Gustav Theodor Fechner was the first to theorise that plants are capable of feeling emotions such as pain and fear, and that their growth can be stimulated by people talking to them and showing affection.

That explains (sort of) why our crazy aunt spends so much time talking to the houseplants. But she may be on to something. While it remains unproven whether plants feel sad or happy, it does seem that they feel sleepy at the end of a long day.

According to a study published in Molecular Systems Biology, researchers from the University of Edinburgh have discovered a gene mechanism that triggers cress plants' circadian rhythm, giving them the capability to become dormant at night, control flowering and adjust for changing seasons. Twelve genes set plants' internal clocks, essentially controlling when they "go to sleep" at night and "wake up" in the morning.

"Just like humans you should think about plants having rhythms," said Professor Andrew Millar, part of the research team. From humans all the way down to bacteria, the indications are that all living things adjust to the Earth's 24-hour cycle. While that news might please our aunt, we expect a crisis for vegetarians trying to empathise with dinner.

Published: March 13, 2012 04:00 AM