The Hairyflower Wild Petunia

Dispersing seeds is a challenge when you’re stuck in one spot, but plants have evolved all sorts of mechanisms for it. Some rely on animals to carry their offspring away, others create their own vortex rings. The hairyflower wild petunia turns its fruit into a catapult. As the fruit dries out, layers inside it shrink, building up strain that bends the fruit outward. Once a raindrop strikes it, the pod bursts open, flinging out around twenty tiny, spinning, disk-shaped seeds. That spin is important for flight. The best-launched seeds may spin as quickly as 1600 times in a second, which helps stabilize them in a vertical orientation that minimizes their frontal area and reduces their drag. Researchers found that these vertically spinning seeds have almost half the drag force of a spherical seed of equal volume and density. That means the hairyflower wild petunia is able to spread its seeds much further without a larger investment in seed growth. (Image and research credit: E. Cooper et al., source; via NYTimes; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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