Plants That Move: Learn About Plant Movement

By: Mary Ellen Ellis

Plants don’t move like animals do, but plant movement isreal. If you have watched one grow from a small seedling to a full plant, youhave watched it slowly move up and out. There are other ways that plants movethough, mostly slowly. In some cases, movement in particular species is fastand you can see it happen in real time.

Can Plants Move?

Yes, plants most definitely can move. They need to move inorder to grow, catch sunlight, and for some to feed. One of the most typicalways that plants move is through a process known as phototropism. Essentially,they move and grow toward light. You have probably seen this with a houseplantthat you rotate once in a while for even growth. It will grow more to oneside if facing a sunny window, for instance.

Plants may also move or grow in response to other stimuli,in addition to light. They can grow or move in response to physical touch, inresponse to a chemical, or toward warmth. Some plants closeup their flowers at night, moving petals when there is no chance of apollinator stopping by.

Notable Plants that Move

All plants move to some extent, but some do so much moredramatically than others. Some moving plants you can really notice include:

  • Venus fly trap: This classic, carnivorous plant traps flies and other small insects in its “jaws.” Small hairs on the inside of the leaves of the Venus fly trap are triggered by being touched by an insect and snap shut on it.
  • Bladderwort: Bladderwort traps prey in a similar manner to the Venus fly trap. It happens underwater though, making it not as easy to see.
  • Sensitive plant: Mimosa pudica is a fun houseplant. The fern-like leaves quickly close up when you touch them.
  • Prayer plant: Maranta leuconeura is another popular houseplant. It is called prayer plant because it folds up its leaves at night, as if hands in prayer. The movement is not as sudden as in the sensitive plant, but you can see the results each night and day. This kind of nighttime folding is known as nyctinasty.
  • Telegraph plant: Some plants, including the telegraph plant, move their leaves at a speed somewhere between that of the sensitive plant and the prayer plant. If you are patient and watch this plant, especially when conditions are warm and humid, you will see some movement.
  • Trigger plant: When a pollinator stops by the flower of the trigger plant, it triggers the reproductive organs to snap forward. This covers the insect in a spray of pollen that it will carry to other plants.

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Get a move on: Alan Titchmarsh's tips on shifting plants in your garden

SHIFTING plants around keeps the garden looking good. But don’t delay because the time is right.

Keen gardeners shift plants all the time

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No matter how well you plan your garden or how carefully you group plants together, you’ll always spot something that needs moving.

It happens to all of us. Keen gardeners shift plants all the time. Sometimes they have outgrown their space or don’t do very well in a particular spot. Perhaps they just don’t look quite right with their neighbours and you spot a far better place somewhere else, but moving plants isn’t quite like rearranging the ornaments on the mantelpiece. You need the right timing and technique.

Any plant that’s only been in the ground for a year or so will move very easily, since its roots haven’t had time to extend too far out from their original root ball. So you can safely dig up new trees, shrubs, evergreens and perennials – even things like magnolias and fountain grass that traditionally don’t like being moved – and shift them to a new spot.

The best time to do it is over the next three to four weeks, at the start of the growing season when any slight root damage will heal fast.

Roses traditionally don’t transplant well [S MAG]

Ornamental grasses, perennials and rock plants are also happy to move in spring and even well- established specimens normally move well, since they don’t have a big root system in the first place.

But there’s no point in replanting big, old perennials and grasses as they are divide them first.

You can dig them up – and do it now. Simply sling out the old unproductive centre and replant healthy, young pieces from the edges.

Some rock plants produce their own “pups”, in which case you only need to detach partly rooted offsets or rosettes, then pot them up until they make strong new plants and replant those instead.

But delay moving spring-flowering rock plants until shortly after they’ve finished flowering or you’ll miss out on this year’s show.

It’s the same with bearded irises, which move best about six weeks after they finish flowering – that’s the best time to divide them, too.

Magnolias will tolerate a shift [S MAG]

Well-established woody plants are a bit different. Evergreens and conifersmove best in April or September. Deciduous kinds move best in winter when they have lost their leaves.

In both cases, its no bad thing to trim the tops back a bit first. Besides improving the shape, this means there is less surface area for the plant to lose water, giving damaged roots time to recover after they’ve been transplanted.

You can move climbers too, when they aren’t too big or old, but it’s worth cutting them back very hard indeed, say to a couple of feet.

It makes them easier to dig out and at the new location they’ll shoot out from the base instead of having a tangle of long stems that die back anyway.

Try not to move grafter plants as you can’t avoid damaging the roots, which will trigger the growth of adventurous buds, producing thickets of suckers. And roses don’t transplant well, either.

After a few years in the ground they develop a big, thick, woody anchoring root, which breaks off when you dig it up. If they survive, they just sucker like crazy. Roses are some of the cheapest of shrubs to buy, so settle for new ones instead. Because they’re worth it.

Types of Irises

There are many species in the Iris genus. However, the most common iris in the American garden is the bearded iris (Iris germanica), hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 10, according to Missouri Botanical Garden. It is commonly assumed to be the progenitor of modern bearded iris varieties. These come in a variety of colors, ranging from blue, purple, pink and reddish to white, yellow and bi-color. They spread by underground rhizomes.

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