Generally, our actions are subject to a speed-accuracy trade-off: the faster you do something, the less accurate you tend to be. Slower behaviors allow you to gather more information about your goal and you can adjust your actions accordingly, whether moving your hand to precisely grasp a target or deciding when to press a button. Humans and many animals consistently demonstrate the speed-accuracy trade-off. Do plants?
In a recent study, researchers measured the growth of snow pea plants as they climbed towards a support trellis. Surprisingly, as the plants grew upwards, they grew faster as they reached to grasp the thin support compared to how quickly they grew toward a thick support. This finding is perfectly in line with a speed-accuracy trade-off explanation. Thicker supports may actually be more difficult to grasp and less preferred by climbing plants, so much that in rainforest field studies, fewer climbing plants are found in areas with thicker supports.
How are plants, with no advanced nervous system, able to gather information about their environment to guide their behavior, planning and flexibly executing movement? Sound, maybe. Or chemoreception. Possibly even eye-like structures. These findings about the speed-accuracy trade-off in plants perpetuate this interesting debate about plant communication.