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Distracted? Stare at a Plant to Regain Focus

Image Credit: colin grice via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

There’s a simple way to reel in your wandering attention: look at some plants. A new study from the University of Melbourne finds that taking in a rooftop covered in plants, even for just a few seconds, can boost concentration. 

In research described in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, a group of 150 students were assigned a boring task specifically designed to drain their attention. The subjects had to watch a series of random numbers flashing across a computer screen, pressing a key every time a new number came up—unless the number was three, in which case they were instructed not to press anything. Part of the way through the assignment, all the students got a 40-second break. 

The images participants looked at during their break. Image Credit: University of Melbourne

During the break, half the participants looked at an image of an urban green roof—a high-rise covered in a flowery meadow. The other half looked at a bare, concrete roof. The students who looked at the green roof were significantly better at their task when they returned to watching numbers flash by. They made fewer errors and were able to concentrate more than the students who looked at the concrete roof. 

This study adds to a substantial body of research that suggests that being around nature is good for our mental health, whether it’s walking in a park or looking at an office plant. Plants seem to ease brain fatigue and reduce stress [PDF], among other benefits.  

[h/t: Eurekalert]

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5 Smartphone Games That Let You Tend Plants and Chill Out
Ice Water Games, YouTube
Ice Water Games, YouTube

Being in nature is naturally relaxing, but city-dwellers don’t always have an opportunity to get outside. Gardening can be therapeutic for mental health, but you may not have access to a garden—or even the space to tend a houseplant. You can still have a few moments of horticultural meditation every day. It will just have to be digital.

Over the last few years, video game developers have released a number of mobile games that revolve around the simple act of tending to plants. These games are, for the most part, slow-moving, meditative experiences that focus on beautiful graphics, calming soundtracks, and low-key challenges. They’re a great way to de-stress and pursue your gardening dreams, no watering can required.

Here are five relaxing, plant-centric phone games you can download now.

1. VIRIDI; FREE

Viridi is like Neopets for plants. The game is dedicated to nurturing a pot of succulents that grow almost in real time. You can plant a variety of succulent species in your virtual pot. Spritz your plants with water when they’re thirsty and wait for them to grow. Each week, a new seedling will be available for you to plant. The game moves slowly by design. You can let it run in the background, and your plants will do their thing, just like a real plant would. These ones are even harder to kill than real succulents, though.

Find it: iOS, Android

2. TOCA NATURE; $2.99

Toca Boca makes games for kids, but honestly, Toca Nature is pretty fun no matter what your age. You can create your own natural landscapes, adding trees, water features, and mountains. Different natural features attract different animals, and the type of landscape you make shapes whether you’ll get bears, beavers, or birds living there. You can collect berries, feed the animals, or just enjoy planting trees.

Find it: iOS, Android

3. BREATH OF LIGHT: RELAXING PUZZLER; $1.99

In Breath of Light, your job is to bring a garden to life by manipulating a stream of light. Move rocks and mirrors around your zen garden to harness and direct the life-giving light emanating from a single flower. When the light hits another flower, it causes that plant to grow. The very simple puzzles are designed to help you chill out, and the award-winning soundtrack by the audio designer Winterpark features binaural tones that are naturally relaxing. “As a unique, gamified version of guided meditation, Breath of Light helps you enter a state of calm serenity without you even noticing,” according to Killscreen. Sorry, Android users—the app seems to have disappeared from Google Play, but it’s still available for iPhone.

Find it: iOS

4. PRUNE; $3.99

Prune is a puzzle game with a horticultural twist. The object is to plant a tree, then as it grows up, guide it with careful pruning, helping the branches reach the light while staying away from the cold shadows or hot sun, both of which will kill the tree. As the levels rise, you’ll need to contort your trees into ever more complex shapes.

Find it: iOS, Android

5. EUFLORIA; $4.99

If you like your gardening to be a little more high-stakes, Eufloria is out of this world. Seriously, it’s about colonizing asteroids. Your mission is to grow trees on far-off asteroids, sending your seedlings out to turn gray space rocks into thriving landscapes. Your seeds hop from asteroid to asteroid at your behest, creating a chain of fertile life. Sometimes, alien enemies will attack your flourishing asteroid colonies, but don’t worry; you can beat them back with the power of more seeds. The game can be fast-paced and competitive, but there’s a “relaxed” play option that’s more meditative.

Find it: iOS, Android

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Big Questions
What Makes Tumbleweeds Tumble?
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iStock

While most plants benefit from a sedentary lifestyle, a single tumbleweed can roll for miles across open terrain. In the video below, The Kid Should See This explains what makes these unusual weeds the lone wanderers of the West.

Think of a tumbleweed and you'll likely picture a plant that's already dead. The live version of a tumbleweed is called a Russian thistle. Like many other plants, it flowers and dies over the course of a season, but instead of relying on animals to disperse its seeds, it breaks off from its roots and plants the next generation itself. The wind carries the dried-out bush across barren landscapes where new seedlings can flourish without competition from grasses and other plants. As the weed bounces along, tiny seeds packed with coiled-up embryos sprinkle out from between its thorny leaves.

Though tumbleweeds may be an iconic symbol of the Wild West, they originated in Eastern Europe. They likely arrived as stowaways in shipments of flax seeds brought to the U.S. in the 19th century.

Some people living out west today aren't too fond of the European import. The California town of Victorville was recently invaded by tumbleweeds when wind gusts approaching 50 mph blew in from the Mojave Desert. In some cases the tumbleweeds clustered on doorsteps, trapping residents inside their homes.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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