Moss That Makes Mushroom Clouds: A Plant Explodes to Spread Its Spores
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Let’s say you’re a peat moss plant. Since you’re stuck in one place, and it’s low to the ground where there’s little wind or air turbulence, you have to find a way to shoot your spores way up into the air where they can be dispersed.
In reality, mosses have conquered this problem by shooting their spores into the sky at speeds of greater than 30 meters (nearly 100 feet) per second. Their spherical capsules containing the spores deform inward until the pressure forces a ferocious explosion to propel spores at that velocity. But even this is not enough—air would slow the spores before they reached a high enough height to get carried away.
Luckily, Dwight Whitaker and Joan Edwards found that the moss plants have another trick, which they published in the journal Science. After shooting video at 100,000 frames per second, the scientists saw that the plants shoot their spores in a vortex ring, like a tiny mushroom cloud or a smoke ring. The fluid dynamics of the vortex rings allow it to carry those spores through the air much farther than they could travel without it.
For plenty more about this, read Ed Yong’s post at Not Exactly Rocket Science. But first, watch this short video the researchers made.
Video: Clara Hard, Joan Edwards, Dwight Whitaker