marisa morby

Design & Nature Reimagined: Do flowers party at night? No they go to bed early.

Plants with flowers or leaves that open in the morning and close at night are called nyctinastic. It's really fun to watch time lapse videos of flowers doing this.

Why do flowers do this?

Scientists don't have a definitive answer on why flowers close at night, but there are several theories, all of which might be true depending on the type of flower. One of the reasons they might close is to conserve energy when their pollinators aren't out. Another is that they may close so that their pollen doesn't get wet with dew at night, ruining the pollen for pollinators. They also might do this to protect themselves from hungry herbivores.

What can we learn from plants that do this?

I think these plants can teach us about daily adaptation. We get up each morning and sleep each night to recharge, much like these plants do. I think the difference is that they're much more adapted to their environment than we are. We get up with our alarm every morning, while these flowers open and close with the rising or setting of the sun. What would our world look like if we decided to adapt to the world around us, like we used to, like we had to, instead of forcing our will on everything just because we can? We would naturally give some things up, but maybe we would gain a slowness, and appreciation of that slowness, by letting nature guide our days again.

How can we be more like flowers?

I couldn't find one specific company or group that was exploring how nyctinastic plants could be applied to existing problems, but I have a few ideas. Plants that are nyctinastic are great at conserving energy. Rather than do the work of keeping their petals spread for no reason, they close up shop. Much like automatic lights go off in rooms that we're not in. If we broadly applied this idea of energy conservation, how might we better use and conserve energy during the most active or inactive times of day? Mesa, a group within Sidewalk Labs, is working on a product that helps automatically regulate heating and cooling for commercial buildings, all by understanding occupancy levels and outside environmental factors. If we took this one step further, maybe our buildings could become even more like plants in that they automatically shade or deflect light as well through automatic shading or turning glass into mirrors at the right time of day. "Right time of day" being not the hottest part of the day or on warm days, where a mirrored building could literally set something on fire.

And if our buildings are using solar panels, think about how those panels could follow the sun to capture the most light all at once. They've already got solar trackers that are starting to do this, and if this was a system we employed for most panels, I wonder how much more energy we'd be able to get. So maybe we are inadvertently copying the flowers around us more than we realize.

You made it! Here, have a tulip from my garden!

A pink and white tulip sprouting from the garden.