First watch this:

La lenta belleza de las plantas ( from tanavoltan on Vimeo.

This gorgeous video by Maurice Maeterlinck shows the movement of plants – movements we don’t normally notice since they happen on a time scale too slow for our perceptions and patience. It inspired me to look into the science of how plants move.

For most plants simply growing upwards is their strategy for reaching sunlight, competing with their neighbors for the highest positions. Climbing plants have a more complex strategy since they don’t simply seek out light but also other plants and objects to attach themselves to. They are the star performers in Maeterlinck’s video, twining in circles like someone reaching out for a handhold as they grow upwards. Some plant species always twine clockwise, in left-hand helices while others twine counterclockwise. Will Edwards, a researcher from James Cook University in Cairns, Australia and others (2007) wondered whether what, if anything, influenced the direction of these movements. For instance, if they were to track the sun from east to west while on the sunny side of an object (the south side here in the northern hemisphere) they would twine in left-handed helices here in the north and right-handed ones down in Edwards country. To find out they tracked the twining movements of plants all over the world.

The verdict? Maybe there is a method to the plants madness but it has nothing to do with the sun. Edwards found no difference in twining direction between the hemispheres. He did find, however, that almost all the plants, 92% of them, twined in the same direction – a right-handed helix. Why this is so remains a mystery. Perhaps it owes simply to some quirk in the cellular controls of twining. Heck maybe, like us humans, the lefties tend to be different in other ways too. Maybe they’re artists.