Pea plants may not have a reputation for being adventurous, but they can make some pretty risky decisions, according to a new study from the U.K. and Israel.
That study experimented on a group of pea plants by splitting each plant's roots between two pots of soil. Every plant, therefore, had to “choose” which pot to grow more of its roots into.
In the first set of experiments, the choice was simple: one pot had more nutrients than the other. Naturally, each pea plant chose to prioritize that pot.
In the second set, the choice involved an element of risk: one pot had a certain, static amount of nutrients, while the other had an amount that changed over time.
What the plants did in response was surprisingly human. When the static pot was high in nutrients, the plants spread more roots into that pot. When the static pot was low in nutrients, the plants took a “gamble,” and grew more roots into the variable pot—even though the outcome was uncertain.
In other words, when things were good, the plants played it safe. When things were bad, they took risks.
“I used to look at plants as passive receivers of circumstances,” Efrat Dener, the study’s first author, said in a statement. “This line of experiments illustrates how wrong that view is.”