Plant Week: Citrus Jets

Bartenders and citrus lovers the world over are familiar with the mist of oil that bursts from a bent citrus peel. These microjets are about the width of a human hair, but they can spray at nearly 30 m/s in some citrus species. That’s an acceleration g-force of more 5,100, comparable to a bullet fired from a gun!

The key to the jets is the structure of the fruit’s peel. Citrus fruits have a relatively thick, soft inner material, known as the albedo, which houses the oil reservoirs. The thin, stiff outer layer of the peel, called the flavedo or zest, covers that. When the peel is bent, the albedo compresses, increasing the pressure inside the oil reservoirs up to an additional atmosphere’s worth. Meanwhile, the flavedo is stretched. When that outer layer fails, it releases the oil pressure and a jet spurts out. For more on this work, including some awesome high-speed videos, check out my interview (starting at 2:59) with one of the authors in the video below. (Image and research credit: N. Smith et al.; video credit: N. Sharp and T. Crawford)

FYFD is celebrating Plant Week all this week. Check out our previous posts on how moisture lets horsetail plant spores walk and jump, the incredible aerodynamics of dandelion seeds, and the ultra-fast suction bladderworts use to hunt.

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