What is the plant that opens and closes at night?

What is the plant that opens and closes at night?

Unveiling the Ephemeral Dance: Plants that Open and Close at Night

The plant kingdom, often perceived as static and unchanging, holds a surprising array of behaviors that challenge this perception. One such captivating phenomenon is nyctinasty, the movement of plant organs – most commonly leaves – in response to the light-dark cycle. Among the most visually intriguing examples of nyctinasty are plants that open and close their leaves at night, creating an ephemeral dance synchronized with the setting sun. This seemingly whimsical behavior, however, serves crucial ecological purposes, revealing the intricate relationship between plants and their environment.

Unveiling the Ecological Significance of Nyctinasty

The evolution of night-closing movements in plants is attributed to the selective pressures of their environment. These nocturnal acrobatics offer distinct advantages for survival:

  • Conserving Precious Resources: Minimizing Water Loss Through Nighttime Closure: During the day, plants lose water vapor through transpiration, a vital physiological process for nutrient uptake. However, at night, with cooler temperatures and reduced sunlight, transpiration rates increase. By closing their leaves at night, plants like legumes and certain succulents minimize the surface area exposed to the air, effectively reducing water loss and conserving this precious resource.

  • Enhancing Defense Mechanisms: Discouraging Herbivory Under the Cover of Darkness: Nighttime can be a perilous time for plants, as many herbivores become more active under the veil of darkness. The closure of leaves at night can serve as a physical barrier, deterring grazing by insects and larger herbivores. Additionally, some night-closing plants, like the Mimosa pudica (Touch-me-not), fold their leaves inwards, potentially concealing tender leaflets or displaying spiny petioles, further discouraging nighttime predation.

Exploring the Diverse Examples of Night-Blooming and Night-Closing Plants

The world of nyctinasty is diverse, encompassing a wide variety of plant species with unique characteristics:

  • The Allure of Night-Blooming Beauties: Moonflowers and Night-Jessamine: While some plants close their foliage at night, others choose to unveil their beauty under the cloak of darkness. Night-blooming flowers, like Moonflowers (Ipomoea alba) and Night-Jessamine (Cestrum nocturnum), release their intoxicating fragrances at dusk, attracting night-pollinating insects such as moths and bats. These nocturnal pollinators, with their keen sense of smell, are perfectly suited to find these fragrant flowers amidst the darkness.

  • The Shy Charm of Night-Closing Foliage: Mimosa Pudica and Oxalis: Many plants exhibit nyctinasty through the movement of their leaves. The Mimosa pudica, also known as the Touch-me-not, famously folds its feathery leaves inwards and droops its petioles when touched or brushed against. This rapid movement is thought to be a startle response, deterring potential herbivores. Similarly, the Oxalis family, known for their beautiful clover-shaped leaves, closes their leaflets at night, creating a visually captivating display of folded foliage.


The phenomenon of nyctinasty, with its captivating display of night-closing leaves and night-blooming flowers, unveils the intricate dance between plants and their environment. These nocturnal movements, driven by the interplay of light and darkness, serve vital ecological functions, from conserving precious resources to enhancing defense mechanisms. So, the next time you step outside at dusk, take a moment to appreciate the silent symphony of the plant world, where even the seemingly static can transform into a captivating display of movement and adaptation.

The captivating world of nyctinasty extends beyond these few examples. Numerous other plant species, from cacti to certain ferns, exhibit variations of night-closing movements or nocturnal blooming habits. Exploring the diverse flora of your region or visiting a botanical garden after dark can reveal a hidden world of plant behavior, waiting to be discovered.

It’s important to remember that nyctinasty is not a rigid on-off switch. The timing of leaf closure and opening can be influenced by various factors, including moonlight intensity and temperature fluctuations. Additionally, some plants exhibit a more nuanced response, partially closing their leaves or adjusting their leaf angle in response to light levels.

By appreciating the phenomenon of nyctinasty, we gain a deeper understanding of the complex and dynamic world of plants. These seemingly simple movements reveal the remarkable adaptations plants have developed to thrive in their ever-changing environment. So, the next time you witness a plant unfolding its leaves at dawn or closing them under the twilight sky, take a moment to marvel at the silent ballet of the natural world.

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