If we could talk to plants, they could teach us a thing or two about life and stress. Researchers have discovered that plants have selective memory. In order to deal with unpredictable environments, plants suppress negative memories and stressful situations, so as to not pass it down to new generations.

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Drought-stricken Plants

Plants grow in ever-changing environments where they are exposed to stress that may affect their development, yield and reproduction. These stresses are related to moisture, nutrients and other environmental factors. However, plants can regulate environmental memories either through resetting the formation of memories or forgetting them.

Peter Crisp at the Australian National University in Canberra and his colleagues have been studying this unique phenomenon. Crisp says,

Generally, plants are good at forgetting.

This trait can be good and bad, Plants have the ability to either form a memory or reset itself to a state prior to it occurring. In order to form a new memory, a plant has to make a protein that affects its own DNA, influencing future behavior. A process called RNA decay may affect this process. According to Crisp and his colleagues, in cells, double-stranded DNA is transcribed into single-stranded RNA, before being translated into proteins. RNA decay regulates the amount of RNA molecules related to the stress response, thus preventing memory formation.


Stressful memories that are handed down to future generations may prove detrimental. For instance, it was shown that when a drought-stressed knotweed (Polygonum hydropiper) passes down its stress response to seedlings, the seedlings grow smaller with suppressed roots, even if grown in an ideal environment. Forgetting the stress would allow subsequent generations to grow larger and healthier.

Plants also have short-term memory, which doesn’t depend on DNA or RNA. The researchers feel this warrants further study.

Listen to your plants and learn from them. Unlike people, plants don’t hold grudges.

Nancy Loyan Schuemann

Nancy Loyan Schuemann is a writer specializing in architecture, safes, profiles, histories and a multi-published fiction and non-fiction author and is Nailah, Middle Eastern dancer.

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