Shh, it's counting.
Shh, it’s counting.
Cheryl

British scientists just realized plants do math to mete out their food overnight so they don’t starve. (It’s kind of like how you try to save at least ONE crummy bottle of wine for later in the party.) So the next time you hear a plant whine, “Math is dumb. I’m never gonna use it,” scowl in its direction.

The math in question is the division of resources, explains the BBC:

Overnight, when the plant cannot use energy from sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into sugars and starch, it must regulate its starch reserves to ensure they last until dawn.

Experiments by scientists at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, show that to adjust its starch consumption so precisely, the plant must be performing a mathematical calculation — arithmetic division.

“They’re actually doing maths in a simple, chemical way — that’s amazing, it astonished us as scientists to see that,” study leader Prof Alison Smith told BBC News.

Scientists studied the cute little flowering plant Arabidopsis, or the mouse-ear cress, which gets used a lot for experiments. Apparently ol’ mouse-ear calculates how fast it should break down starch overnight by dividing the amount of starch it has by time. Birds do this too when migrating super-far or incubating their babies. It’s nothing crazy-impressive — this is not programming a game on your TI-83 during physics class — but for plants, it’s a big deal.

But don’t worry; plants aren’t smart enough to take over the world, says University of London’s Dr. Richard Buggs:

This is not evidence for plant intelligence … Plants don’t do maths voluntarily and with a purpose in mind like we do.

Buggs needs to talk to some middle-schoolers about exactly how voluntary their math homework is.

Speaking of maths, let’s remember that the largest number in existence is 45 billion: