Planet Earth

Flowering Plants' Secret Weapon

How flowering plants beat out the competition on ancient earth


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Barbed spikes harpoon the fur or skin of a passing animal to ensure transport to a new setting. The amazing sticking power of such hitchhiking seeds inspired engineer and amateur mountaineer George de Mastral to invent Velcro.

The tufts on top move in and out with changes in humidity pusing into the ground and causing the seed to creep a bit. The base, like that of the sand milkwort seed, holds a tip that lures ants.

An array of spikes on the seed may help it catch a ride on the wind. This image, like all the electron micrographs in this gallery, is in false color.

The papery fringe that wraps around the seed helps it ride the wind. Other windborne seeds have wings that cause them to flutter or spin to the ground, potentially drifting farther from the tree.

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