World’s Shiest Flower Closes Its Petals in Seconds After Being Touched

A Gentiana flower discovered only a couple of years ago in Tibet has been dubbed the world’s shiest flower for its ability to close in as little as seven seconds after being touched.

Chinese scientists recently published a study conducted on four species of Gentiana discovered in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, focusing primarily on the flowers’ ability to quickly respond to being touched. Plants are generally perceived as static organisms, with the only notable exceptions being carnivorous plants capable of movements designed to trap inspects inside. However, the four new species of Gentiana flowers discovered in the plateaus of Tibet have faster reactions than any other plants observed before. According to the above-mentioned study, these flowers can close completely in just 7 seconds. This ability has earned the Gentiana the unofficial title of ‘world’s shiest flower’.

Photo via China Daily

The Gentiana flowers were discovered in 2020 near a lake in Nagchu, Tibet autonomous region, by a team of researchers at Hubei University’s School of Resources and Environmental Science. One of the members accidentally touched one of these flowers that they had never seen before, and while reaching for their camera to take some photos of it, they were shocked to see nothing but a bud in its place.

“It was startling to witness with the naked eye. The flowers disappeared momentarily in front of you,” said Dai Can, a professor at Hubei University’s School of Resources and Environmental Science, one of the scientists who led the study.

To prove that they weren’t hallucinating, the team members touched the other small flowers in the area and, sure enough, they all started closing. This behavior was very intriguing as neither the domestic nor foreign literature on the genus Gentiana mentioned this sort of behavior.

Photo: Hubei University’s School of Resources and Environmental Science

Upon further research, scientists discovered four species of Gentiana – G. pseudoaquatica; G. prostrata var. karelinii; G. clarkei, and an unnamed species – that exhibited this shy behavior. Upon being touched, their flowers would close in 7 to 210 seconds, which makes them the fastest-reacting flowers in the world.

Researchers have not been able to show exactly why these four Gentiana flowers close the way that they do, but they do have some theories. While studying the flowers, they noticed that they were favorites of bumblebees, which apparently aren’t the gentlest of pollinators. Nearly 80 percent of flowers experienced exterior damage, with 6 percent showing injuries to the ovary.

The flowers’ closing mechanism is believed to be an evolutionary means of defense against bumblebees, discouraging them from collecting nectar and thus protecting the ovary. However, another plausible theory turns this one on its head.

Could it be that the fascinating flowers close to encourage bumblebees to transfer pollen more efficiently, since a closed flower signals to the insect that it has already been visited and that it needs to find another viable Gentiana. Scientists don’t yet know, but both theories are just as plausible.