Not-So-Still Life: These 4 Easy-to-Find Houseplants Move All on Their Own

published Nov 6, 2021
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If you’re living with the assumption that your beloved houseplants aren’t moving around when you’re not looking, you’re very wrong. In fact, they’re moving all the time — it’s just that the pace of our lives and the pace of our plants don’t quite line up. While we’re swirling around in our day-to-day lives, our plants are slowly, but surely, moving at their own leisure. 

You might have noticed that a few of your houseplants look different at night than they do during the day. The leaves might be turned in a different direction than they were just hours before. That is no coincidence — that is nature.

All plants move. They are living, breathing organisms that can perform a series of movements while they’re growing. Plants need to adjust themselves just as humans do. Houseplants have similar needs to us: food, water, a safe environment and the need to reproduce. 

The main difference between how we move and how plants move is the method in which the act happens. We use a lot of energy when we move — and we waste a lot of it. Plants have to conserve energy to survive and are, in turn, very particular about how and why they move. 

Inside the plant, the water pressure in the stem changes which moves the stem and leaves in a certain direction. If there’s more pressure on one side of the stem than the other, the stem will bend in the opposite direction. Mostly, plants move with movement of the light, but sometimes they respond to being touched.

Of course, some plants move more dramatically than others — like the four below, some of which you can see move shift before your eyes. Collecting these types of plants can be great fun, especially if you have an extra iPhone laying around and can rig up a time-lapse video! Here’s what to know when buying them.

Credit: Chloe Vid / Shutterstock

Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula)

When I said “plants that move,” there’s a good chance that your brain immediately went to the Venus flytrap. This plant was made famous by “Little Shop of Horrors,” the show with the human-eating dionaea muscipula

No, your run-of-the-mill flytrap won’t be eating you for supper, but it will catch its fair share of tiny flying insects. This plant has trigger hairs inside each trap. When a bug lands or crawls over them, the hairs send an electric signal to snap the trap shut – catching the prey. 

The traps snap quickly, so if you’re paying attention you’ll definitely be able to see how fast they are. It’s even possible to hand-feed your venus flytrap with dried mealworms or fish food flakes. Don’t over feed, though. Venus flytraps only need to eat once every month or so. Giving them too much food will cause the traps to rot. 

You can find Venus flytraps just about anywhere that sells houseplants. However, they are considered vulnerable in their natural habitat in the Carolinas due to poaching and habitat destruction. 

Credit: Molly Shannon/Shutterstock

Oxalis triangularis

This plant is commonly known as “false shamrock,” and can frequently be found in shops and nurseries, especially around St. Patrick’s Day. It’s technically a perennial in agricultural zones 8a to 11, but is mostly sought after as a houseplant. 

The leaves of the Oxalis triangularis move in response to the intensity of light in a process called photonasty. The process changes the entire look of the plant, which fascinates many hobbyists. Some people that bring an oxalis home don’t realize that it will move so dramatically and end up with a pretty big surprise when dusk comes.

Credit: kunanon/Shutterstock

Sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica)

This plant is known for its extremely sensitive leaves. When touched, the leaves immediately close in on themselves and droop down like they’re hiding. This movement caused by touch is a stimulus reaction known as thigmonasty. When the plant senses vibration from touch, it releases a bunch of chemicals that causes it to fold and look droopy — which is actually its natural state. 

 Over the years this plant has been nicknamed clever monikers like “tickle-me plant,” “touch-me-not,” and “shame plant.” 

They can be delicate to grow as houseplants, but it certainly can be done. They’re very temperamental, so it’s important not to activate their defense mechanisms, as doing so drains the plant’s energy store. I know, it’s fun to watch the reaction, but don’t make a habit out of petting your plant. 

Sensitive plants are native to South and North America, but have become invasive in the Pacific Island nations as well as Northern Australia. 

Credit: Marisa Vitale

Prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura)

This plant is commonly known as the prayer plants because of how the leaves move. The prayer plant moves its leaves upright as the sun sets, which can make it look like it’s moved its leaves up to pray. 

How much light the plant is getting determines how dramatic the movement is because of nyctinasty, a process similar to photonasty. While photonasty movements depend on the intensity of the light that the plant is exposed to, nyctinasty occurs in response to the alternation of day and night. Nyctinasty is almost like a circadian rhythm for plants.

Maranta leuconeura is native to Brazilian rainforests and is relatively easy to keep as a houseplant — which is why you’ve likely seen them in grocery stores, garden centers, and all over Instagram.