Why do poppy flowers open in the morning and close at night? © iStock

Why do poppy flowers open in the morning and close at night?

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Alongside poppies, lots of other flowers engage in what's known as nyctinasty, everyday. But how do they do it? And why?

Asked by: Rosemary Whittington, East Lothian

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This behaviour is called nyctinasty, and although it is by no means universal, there are lots of other flowers besides poppies that do it. Most of them instigate the closure by pumping water out of cells at the base of the petals so that they wilt themselves shut.

But the genus Kalanchoe of tropical succulents actually grow new cells on the outside of the petal base to force them shut and then grow more cells on the inside to open them again in the morning. The most likely explanation for this behaviour is to protect the pollen. At night the insects that pollinate most flowers are dormant and closing the flower keeps the pollen dry and contained. Some flowers that are pollinated by moths or bats do the opposite and only open at night.

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Authors

luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.

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