Overview

Brief Summary

Introduction

The 250,000-380,000 currently-known plant species (2,7,8,11) , or members of the kingdom Plantae, are organisms that live on every continent and in nearly every habitat on Earth (10). Plants include some of the primarily water-dwelling organisms called green algae (specifically a group known as the charophyte algae(12)), and the embryophytes or land plants which evolved from green algae (1,12,14). A sometimes-used broader definition of plants also includes the rest of the green algae as well as red algae and glaucophyte algae (9,14). The subset of plants called land plants is divided into two main groups itself: nonvascular plants (those that lack specialized systems allowing them to transport water and nutrients internally; these include mosses, hornworts, and liverworts (5,7)); and vascular plants (those that do have vascular transport systems; these include ferns, lycophytes, gymnosperms, and the highly diverse flowering plants (14)). Plants have special cell walls around each of their cells built in large part out of a carbohydrate called cellulose (7) that makes them especially strong and firm (6). Unlike most other organisms, most plants produce their own food through a process called photosynthesis (9), in which they soak up sunlight, usually with their leaves, and deploy this sunlight within a complicated biochemical system to turn carbon dioxide combined with water into energy-rich sugars (3,15). Through this process, plants have a crucial effect on the global climate and the environment—they remove carbon dioxide, a gas that contributes to global warming, from the air (13), and release oxygen, which is essential for animals, fungi, protists, many bacteria, and even plants themselves in order for them to extract energy from organic molecules (4,15). In addition, plants provide food and shelter for many kinds of organisms, and humans rely on them directly for grains, vegetables, fruits, wood, paper, clothing, and many medicines (8,11). In the future, they may be useful as sources for new medical drugs (8), emerging cleaner, renewable fuels, and other products (6). For all of these reasons and more, plant conservation is critically important (2,8,11).

  • 1. Becker, Burkhard and Birger Marin. “Streptophyte Algae and the Origin of Embryophytes.” Annals of Botany 103.7 (2009): 999-1004.
  • 2. Brummitt, Neil, Steven P. Bachman, and Justin Moat. “Applications of the IUCN Red List: Towards a Global Barometer for Plant Diversity.” Endangered Species Research 6 (2008):127-135.
  • 3. Carter, J. Stein. “Photosynthesis.” 2004. 20 Jun. 2011. http://biology.clc.uc.edu/courses/bio104/photosyn.htm
  • 4. “Chapter 8 How Cells Harvest Energy from Food.” Lambuth University. 1 Aug. 2011.
  • http://eaglenet.lambuth.edu/facultyweb/science/biology/RCook/Survey%20chap%208.pdf
  • 5. Charron, Audra J. and Ralph S. Quatrano. “Between a Rock and a Dry Place: The Water-Stressed Moss.” Molecular Plant 2.3 (2009): 478-486.
  • 6. Doblin, Monika S., Filomena Pettolino, and Antony Bacic. “Plant Cell Walls: The Skeleton of the Plant World.” Functional Plant Biology 37.5 (2010): 357 -381.
  • 7. Farabee, M. J. “Biological Diversity: Nonvascular Plants and Nonseed Vascular Plants.” 2004. 29 Jun. 2011. http://www2.estrellamountain.edu/faculty/farabee/biobk/BioBookDiversity_5.html
  • 8. “Green Medicine.” Plant Conservation Alliance – Medicinal Plant Working Group. 2011. 1 Aug. 2011. http://www.nps.gov/plants/medicinal/
  • 9. Keeling, Patrick J. “Diversity and Evolutionary History of Plastids and Their Hosts.” American Journal of Botany 91.10 (2004): 1481-1493.
  • 10. Kier, Gerold, Jens Mutke, Eric Dinerstein, Taylor H. Ricketts, Wolfgang Küper, Holger Kreft, and Wilhelm Barthlott. “Global Patterns of Plant Diversity and Floristic Knowledge.” Journal of Biogeography 32 (2005): 1107–1116.
  • 11. Lane, Meredith. “Plant.” AccessScience. McGraw-Hill. 2008. 20 Jun. 2011. http://proxy.montgomerylibrary.org:2165/content/Plant/522400
  • 12. Lewis, Louise A. and Richard M. McCourt. “Green Algae and the Origin of Land Plants.” American Journal of Botany 91.10 (2004): 1535-1556.
  • 13. Loreto, Francesco and Mauro Centritto. “Leaf Carbon Assimilation in a Water-Limited World.” Plant Biosystems 142.1 (2008): 154-161.
  • 14. Palmer, Jeffrey D., Douglas E. Soltis, and Mark W. Chase. “The Plant Tree of Life: An Overview and Some Points of View.” American Journal of Botany 91.10 (2004): 1437-1445.
  • 15. Robertson, Bill. “Q: How Does Photosynthesis Work?” Science 101: Background Boosters for Elementary Teachers. National Science Teachers Association. 2006. 20 Jun. 2011.
  • http://science.nsta.org/enewsletter/2007-05/sc0704_60.pdf
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Overview

You see them every day. You eat them. You wear them. You live in buildings made of them. In fact, plants, or members of the kingdom Plantae, are found everywhere in the world10, and we simply would not be able to live without them(11). The approximately 250,000 to 380,000 currently-known plant species (2,7,8,11) include two main groups: some of the primarily water-dwelling organisms called green algae (specifically a group known as the charophyte algae12), and the embryophytes or land plants which evolved from green algae (1,12,14). A wider definition of plants that is sometimes used also includes the rest of the green algae as well as other types of algae known as red algae and glaucophyte algae (9,14.). The major subset of plants called land plants is divided into two main groups itself: nonvascular plants (those that don’t have special systems allowing them to transport water and nutrients inside their bodies; these plants include mosses, hornworts, and liverworts(5,7); and vascular plants (those that do have such transport systems; these include some more familiar groups including the largest plant group, the flowering plants(14). While all organisms are made up of cells, plants have a special wall around each of their cells built out of a carbohydrate called cellulose (7) that makes them especially strong and firm (6). Unlike most other forms of life, most plants produce their own food through a complicated process called photosynthesis (9), in which they soak up sunlight, usually with their leaves, and use it to turn carbon dioxide combined with water into energy-rich sugars (3,15). Through this process, plants have an extremely important effect on the environment and the climate—they remove carbon dioxide, a gas that contributes to global warming, from the air (13), and at the same time release oxygen, which is essential to the survival of animals, plants, protists, and many bacteria (3,4,15). Plants also provide food and shelter for many kinds of organisms, and we humans rely on them directly for grains, vegetables, fruits, wood, paper, clothing, and many medicines (8,11). In the future, they may be useful as sources for new medicines (8) and other products (6), as well as for emerging fuels that are renewable and more environmentally-friendly (6). For all of these reasons and more, it is vital that we protect plants around the world (2,8,11).

  • 1. Becker, Burkhard and Birger Marin. “Streptophyte Algae and the Origin of Embryophytes.” Annals of Botany 103.7 (2009): 999-1004.
  • 2. Brummitt, Neil, Steven P. Bachman, and Justin Moat. “Applications of the IUCN Red List: Towards a Global Barometer for Plant Diversity.” Endangered Species Research 6 (2008):127-135.
  • 3. Carter, J. Stein. “Photosynthesis.” 2004. 20 Jun. 2011. http://biology.clc.uc.edu/courses/bio104/photosyn.htm
  • 4. “Chapter 8 How Cells Harvest Energy from Food.” Lambuth University. 1 Aug. 2011.
  • http://eaglenet.lambuth.edu/facultyweb/science/biology/RCook/Survey%20chap%208.pdf
  • 5. Charron, Audra J. and Ralph S. Quatrano. “Between a Rock and a Dry Place: The Water-Stressed Moss.” Molecular Plant 2.3 (2009): 478-486.
  • 6. Doblin, Monika S., Filomena Pettolino, and Antony Bacic. “Plant Cell Walls: The Skeleton of the Plant World.” Functional Plant Biology 37.5 (2010): 357 -381.
  • 7. Farabee, M. J. “Biological Diversity: Nonvascular Plants and Nonseed Vascular Plants.” 2004. 29 Jun. 2011. http://www2.estrellamountain.edu/faculty/farabee/biobk/BioBookDiversity_5.html
  • 8. “Green Medicine.” Plant Conservation Alliance – Medicinal Plant Working Group. 2011. 1 Aug. 2011. http://www.nps.gov/plants/medicinal/
  • 9. Keeling, Patrick J. “Diversity and Evolutionary History of Plastids and Their Hosts.” American Journal of Botany 91.10 (2004): 1481-1493.
  • 10. Kier, Gerold, Jens Mutke, Eric Dinerstein, Taylor H. Ricketts, Wolfgang Küper, Holger Kreft, and Wilhelm Barthlott. “Global Patterns of Plant Diversity and Floristic Knowledge.” Journal of Biogeography 32 (2005): 1107–1116.
  • 11. Lane, Meredith. “Plant.” AccessScience. McGraw-Hill. 2008. 20 Jun. 2011. http://proxy.montgomerylibrary.org:2165/content/Plant/522400
  • 12. Lewis, Louise A. and Richard M. McCourt. “Green Algae and the Origin of Land Plants.” American Journal of Botany 91.10 (2004): 1535-1556.
  • 13. Loreto, Francesco and Mauro Centritto. “Leaf Carbon Assimilation in a Water-Limited World.” Plant Biosystems 142.1 (2008): 154-161.
  • 14. Palmer, Jeffrey D., Douglas E. Soltis, and Mark W. Chase. “The Plant Tree of Life: An Overview and Some Points of View.” American Journal of Botany 91.10 (2004): 1437-1445.
  • 15. Robertson, Bill. “Q: How Does Photosynthesis Work?” Science 101: Background Boosters for Elementary Teachers. National Science Teachers Association. 2006. 20 Jun. 2011.
  • http://science.nsta.org/enewsletter/2007-05/sc0704_60.pdf
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Ecology

Associations

Known predators

Plantae (Plant (macrophyte) cells) is prey of:
Rhabdosargus
Nassariidae
Culicidae
Gryllidae
Anguilliformes
Platyhelminthes
Tetraodontidae
Cyprinidae
invertebrates
Rallus
Passeriformes
Microtus
Reithrodontomys
Rattus
Barbus paludinosus
Haplochromis similis
Clarias gariepinus
herbivorous vertebrate harvesters
Testudines
Arthropoda
Aves
Mammalia
Herpestes auropunctatus
Anolis evermanni
Anolis stratulus
Epilobocera situatifrons
Opiliones
Orthoptera
Diplopoda
Secernentia nematodes
Collembola
Machilidae
Blattellidae
Phasmatidae
Teratembiidae
Lepidoptera
Aoteapsyche
Aphrophila noevaezelandiae
Deleatidium
Oligochaeta II
Olinga feredayi
Oniscigaster
Pycnocentrodes
Zephlebia spectabilis
Paranephrops zealandicus
Nesameletus ornatus
Atalophlebioides cromwelli
Austrosimulium australense
Baraeoptera roria
Pirara
Coloburiscus humeralis
Eriopterini
Helicopsyche albescens
Hudsonema amabilis
Hydora nitida
Orychmontia
Podaena
Pycnocentria
Scirtidae
Tanyderidae
Zelandoperla
Acroperla trivacuata
Austroclima jollyae
Tanytarsini II
Oligochaeta I
Oxyethira albiceps
Potamopyrgus antipodarum
Orthoclad Blue Black
Podonomidae
Pycnocentrella eruensis
Zelandotipula

Based on studies in:
South Africa (Estuarine)
USA: New York, Long Island (Marine)
USA: Texas (Lake or pond)
USA: California (Marine)
Malawi (River)
Africa, Crocodile Creek, Lake Nyasa (Lake or pond)
USA: California, Coachella Valley (Desert or dune)
Puerto Rico, El Verde (Rainforest)
New Zealand: Otago, Dempster's Stream, Taieri River, 3 O'Clock catchment (River)
New Zealand: Otago, Healy Stream, Taieri River, Kye Burn catchment (River)
New Zealand: Otago, Sutton Stream, Taieri River, Sutton catchment (River)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • J. H. Day, The biology of Knysna estuary, South Africa. In: Estuaries, G. H. Lauff, Ed. (American Association for the Advancement of Science Publication 83, Washington, DC, 1967), pp. 397-407, from p. 406.
  • G. M. Woodwell, Toxic substances and ecological cycles, Sci. Am. 216(3):24-31, from pp. 26-27 (March 1967).
  • G. Fryer, The trophic interrelationships and ecology of some littoral communities of Lake Nyasa, Proc. London Zool. Soc. 132:153-229, from p. 219 (1959).
  • G. Fryer, 1957. The trophic interrelationships and ecology of some littoral communities of Lake Nyasa with special reference to the fishes, and a discussion of the evolution of a group of rock-frequenting Cichlidae. Proc. Zool. Soc. London 132:153-281, f
  • Townsend, CR, Thompson, RM, McIntosh, AR, Kilroy, C, Edwards, ED, Scarsbrook, MR. 1998. Disturbance, resource supply and food-web architecture in streams. Ecology Letters 1:200-209.
  • Thompson, RM and Townsend, CR. 1999. The effect of seasonal variation on the community structure and food-web attributes of two streams: implications for food-web science. Oikos 87: 75-88.
  • B. C. Patten and 40 co-authors, Total ecosystem model for a cove in Lake Texoma. In: Systems Analysis and Simulation in Ecology, B. C. Patten, Ed. (Academic Press, New York, 1975), 3:205-421, from pp. 236, 258, 268.
  • R. F. Johnston, Predation by short-eared owls on a Salicornia salt marsh, Wilson Bull. 68(2):91-102, from p. 99 (1956).
  • Polis GA (1991) Complex desert food webs: an empirical critique of food web theory. Am Nat 138:123–155
  • Waide RB, Reagan WB (eds) (1996) The food web of a tropical rainforest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Antenna structure efficiently gathers light: vascular plants
 

Light harvesting antenna of plants allow for very quantum efficient capture by high pigment density and long excited-state lifetime design.

     
  "Light harvesting in photosynthetic organisms is largely an efficient  process. The first steps of the light phase of photosynthesis, capture  of light quanta and primary charge separation processes are particularly  well-tuned. In plants, these primary events that take place within the  photosystems possess remarkable quantum efficiency, reaching 80% and  100% in photosystems II and I respectively. This paper presents a view  on the organisation of a natural light harvesting machine—the antenna of  the photosystem II of higher plants. It explains the key principles of  biological antenna design and the strategies of adaptation to light  environment which have evolved over millions of years. This article  argues that the high efficiency of the light harvesting antenna and its   control are intimately interconnected owing to the molecular design of   the pigment–proteins it is built of, enabling high pigment density  combined with the long excited-state lifetime. The protein plays the  role of a programmed solvent, accommodating high quantities of  pigments, while ensuring their orientations and interaction yields are  optimised to efficiently transfer energy to the reaction centres,  simultaneously avoiding energy losses due to concentration quenching.  The minor group of pigments, the xanthophylls, play a central role in  the regulation of light harvesting, defining the antenna efficiency and   thus its abilities to simultaneously provide energy to photosystem II  and protect itself from excess light damage. Xanthophyll hydrophobicity  was found to be a key factor controlling chlorophyll efficiency by  modulating pigment–pigment and pigment–protein interactions.  Xanthophylls also endow the light harvesting antenna with the remarkable  ability to memorise photosystem II light exposure—a light counter principle. Indeed, this type of light harvesting regulation displays hysteretic  behaviour, typically observed during electromagnetic induction of  ferromagnetic materials, the polarization of ferroelectric materials and  the deformation of semi-elastic materials. The photosynthetic antenna   is thus a magnificent example of how nature utilises the principles of   physics to achieve its goal—extremely efficient, robust, autonomic and   yet flexible light harvesting." (Ruban et al. 2011:1643)

  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Ruban V; Johnson MP; Duffy CDP. 2011. Natural light harvesting: principles and environmental trends. Energy and Environmental Science. 4(5): 1643-1650.
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Functional adaptation

Biopolymers absorb organic compounds in soil: plants
 

The cuticle of plants are good sorbents for organic compounds due to rigid (crystalline) polymethylene moieties of the biopolymers cutin and cutan.

   
  "Plant cuticular materials are important precursors for soil organic matter (SOM). The plant cuticle is a thin, predominantly lipid layer that covers all primary aerial surfaces of vascular plants. Plant cuticle has been found in considerable amounts in both natural and agricultural soils. In most plant species, the major structural component of the plant cuticle is the cutin biopolymer (30–70% by weight). This is a high-molecular-weight, insoluble, polyester-like biopolymer, which is most often associated with waxes and cuticular polysaccharides. Cutin provides the structural framework for the cuticle and acts as a physical barrier, protecting the plant against microbial attack and water loss. In some plant species, the cutin biopolymer is associated with a base and acid hydrolysis resistant, polymethylene-like biopolymer, known as cutan. The function of the cutan is similar to that of the cutin, but in addition, it enhances the hydrophobic nature of the cuticle...Recently, it has been documented that plant cuticular matter exhibits high sorption capabilities for polar and nonpolar organic compounds...the objective of this study was to evaluate the role of important precursors for SOM, cutin and cutan biopolymers, as natural sorbents for organic compounds in soils." (Shechter et al. 2011:1139-1140)

"This study demonstrates the important role of the aliphatic biopolymers cutin and cutan as natural sorbents in soil. Although they were subjected to decomposition, they still exhibited a high sorption capacity. With humification and degradation, however, cutan is most likely to act as a highly efficient aliphatic-rich sorbent in soil. The cutan biopolymer is more likely to accumulate in soils via selective preservation, whereas the decomposed products of the cutin are probably transformed into humic-like substances during humification processes." (Shechter et al. 2011:1145)

  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Shechter M; Xing B; Chefetz B. 2010. Cutin and cutan biopolymers: their role as natural sorbents. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 74(4): 1139-1146.
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Functional adaptation

Tissues create hydrostatic pressure: plants
 

Tissues of plants generate hydrostatic pressure by injecting solutes into a confined space and allowing water to enter.

       
  "Osmotic Motors: Hydraulic motors and actuators work on the basis of a change in hydrostatic pressure…plants generate hydrostatic pressure by injecting solutes into a confined space that must be surrounded by a selective membrane that retains the solutes but allows water to permeate freely into this space. Osmosis therefore requires two components: a semipermeable membrane inside to concentrate the solutes and a restraining, but elastic and expandable wall outside to prevent the compartment from bursting when water is taken up during the hydration of these solutes. The hydration of the solutes generates hydrostatic pressure inside the osmotic compartments. All plants use osmosis to pump and concentrate water-binding electrolytes and nonelectrolytes into the inside of their cells and in particular into the vacuole, a membrane-surrounded compartment specifically designed for storing solutes and water. Osmotically operating plant cells allow the build-up of internal pressures far exceeding that of car tires." (Bar-Cohen 2006:474)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Yoseph Bar-Cohen. 2006. Biomimetics: biologically inspired technologies. Boca Raton, FL: CRC/Taylor & Francis. 527 p.
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Functional adaptation

Creating energy from sunlight: plants
 

Photosynthesis in plants creates energy from sunlight through five steps in the Kok Cycle.

             
  "The study of photosynthesis in plants could provide new clues by explaining how they absorb almost 100% of the sunlight reaching them, and how they transform it into other forms of energy. Researchers Michael Haumann and Holger Dau, from the Freie Universität Berlin, used the X-ray source of the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) to investigate the kinetics of the photosynthesis process. They have confirmed the existence of a fifth step in the catalysis process converting water into oxygen, and have published their results in Science Vol 310 (1019-1021). Five intermediate states have been proposed in the process of photosynthesis - a cycle known as the 'Kok cycle' - but only four had been proved until recently. With the help of the ESRF, scientists have been able to identify the missing state, which is particularly important because it is directly involved in the molecular oxygen formation." (Courtesy of the Biomimicry Guild)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Haumann M; Liebisch P; Muller C; Barra M; Grabolle M; Dau H. Photosynthetic O2 Formation Tracked by Time-Resolved X-ray Experiments. Science. 310(5750): 1019-1021.
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Functional adaptation

Root systems control erosion: vascular plants
 

Root systems of plants control erosion through architectural characteristics.

   
  "A distinction is usually made between mechanical and hydrological effects of roots without much focus on the influence of architectural characteristics on these effects. Some commonly used architectural characteristics are the spatial distribution of root area ratio for slope stability analysis and root density or root length density for analysis of water erosion control. But many other architectural features, such as the branching pattern, root orientation and fractal characteristics, seem empirically and intuitively related to the effect of root systems on erosion phenomena. Many links between root system architectural characteristics and their soil fixing effects probably do exist and more links could be identified. However, most of these links remain very weak and empirical. The research which is needed to make these relationships explicit is still poorly developed and mainly focused on resistance against uprooting by wind loading. Moreover, although the mechanical and hydrological mechanisms of soil-root interaction are rather well described for simple processes such as sheet, rill or interrill erosion, this knowledge is almost nonexistent for complex processes such as gully erosion. This hampers understanding the importance of root system architecture for these processes." (Reubens et al. 2007:398-399)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Reubens, B.; Poesen, J.; Danjon, F.; Geudens, G.; Muys, B. 2007. The role of fine and coarse roots in shallow slope stability and soil erosion control with a focus on root system architecture: a review. Trees-Structure and Function. 21(4): 385-402.
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Functional adaptation

Leaves resist bending: trees
 

The leaves of many plants are flat yet flexible surfaces that resist bending thanks to structural features and bracing from below.

           
  "The main use of flat surfaces in nature consists of photosynthetic structures such as leaves. These also are well braced beneath; most leaves seem to circumvent problems of loads perpendicular to their surfaces simply by flexing or reorienting in winds (fig. 1.5). Quite a few leaves of various lineages (mostly monocots) use a slight longitudinal V-fold to get adequate flexural stiffness, which must also give them nicely low torsional stiffness. Other leaves use another deviation from flatness, crosswise fan folding, discussed by Niklas (1992). Figure 21.8 shows a few such schemes." (Vogel 2003:439)

[Caption for Figure 21.8 in Vogel 2003: "Thin leaf surfaces avoid bending in various ways. Veins may provide supporting trusses (a), the whole leaf may be cambered lengthwise (b), or pleats can make a ridge-and-valley self-trussing system (c)."]

  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Steven Vogel. 2003. Comparative Biomechanics: Life's Physical World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 580 p.
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Functional adaptation

Pollen survives extreme dehydration: flowering plants
 

Pollen of flowering plants can survive extreme dehydration via several mechanisms, including a reversible wall-folding pathway that results in complete impermeability.

     
  "Upon release from the anther, pollen grains of angiosperm flowers are  exposed to a dry environment and dehydrate. To survive  this process, pollen grains possess a variety of  physiological and structural adaptations. Perhaps the most striking of  these  adaptations is the ability of the pollen wall to  fold onto itself to prevent further desiccation. Roger P. Wodehouse  coined  the term harmomegathy for this folding process in  recognition of the critical role it plays in the survival of the pollen  grain. There is still, however, no quantitative  theory that explains how the structure of the pollen wall contributes to  harmomegathy.  Here we demonstrate that simple geometrical and  mechanical principles explain how wall structure guides pollen grains  toward  distinct folding pathways. We found that the  presence of axially elongated apertures of high compliance is critical  for achieving  a predictable and reversible folding pattern.  Moreover, the intricate sculpturing of the wall assists pollen closure  by preventing  mirror buckling of the surface. These results  constitute quantitative structure-function relationships for pollen  harmomegathy  and provide a framework to elucidate the functional  significance of the very diverse pollen morphologies observed in  angiosperms." (Katifori et al. 2010:7635)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Chaffey N. 2010. Plant Cuttings. Annals of Botany. 105(6): v-viii.
  • Katifori E; Alben S; Cerda E; Nelson DR; Dumais J. 2010. Foldable structures and the natural design of pollen grains. PNAS. 107(17): 7635-9.
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Functional adaptation

Structure and shape provide flexibility: vines
 

Architecture of vines increases flexibility via soft tissue components and ribbon-like shape.

   
  "There is another way in which the stem anatomy of woody vines differs from that of trees. In trees, the wood or xylem, of which only the newest and outermost annual ring actually conducts water, is in the form of a solid cylinder whose rigidity is able to support large crowns of leaves and branches. Vines need to be more flexible to cope with the twists and turns of climbing or the stresses that result when they partly or completely slip away from their supports. Woody vines achieve flexibility by having a considerable amount of soft tissue as well as wood in their stems. In some, the cylinder of wood is divided into segments that alternate with soft tissue; in others, there are alternating cylinders of wood and soft tissue. Some woody vines also have flattened, ribbon-like stems to achieve greater flexibility." (Dawson and Lucas 2005:17)
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  • Dawson, J.; Lucas, R. 2005. The Nature of Plants: Habitats, Challenges, and Adaptations. Portland: Timber Press. 314 p.
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Functional adaptation

Plants survive few pollinators: peatland plants
 

Plants in peatlands survive low numbers of pollinators by staggering their flowering times.

 
  "Many plant species depend on insect pollinators, and such insects are often rare on peatlands. Bog dwarf shrubs have separated flowering times. For instance, in Ontario the flowering sequence is Chamaedaphne calyculata, Andromeda glaucophylla, Kalmia polifolia, Rhododendron groenlandicum, Vaccinium macrocarpon (with wide overlap in flowering time only between Andromeda and Kalmia). The pollinators (e.g. bees) are quite generalist and serve several species, so it may well be that the differentiation in flowering time has evolved to avoid competition for pollinators (Reader 1975)." (Rydin and Jeglum 2006:56)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Rydin, H.; Jeglum, J. K. 2006. The Biology of Peatlands. Oxford University Press. 343 p.
  • Reader RJ. 1975. Competitive relationships of some bog ericads for major insect pollinators. Canadian Journal of Botany. 53(13): 1300-1305.
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Functional adaptation

Reinforced fibers provide strength: plants
 

Fibers in many woody plants provide mechanical strength via lignin reinforcements.

   
  "Plant fibres occur in the wood of many plants, and because of their association with the xylem, are called xylary fibres. They are also often found in the outer part of young stems, bark and leaves, where they are called extraxylary fibres. Their main functioning is in strengthening. The common feature of fibre cells is that they are elongated and thick-walled, with lignins permeating the cellulose of the cell wall. Fibre cells normally have pointed ends (Fig. 3). They often extend in length during development, growing between cells that may not be lengthening at the same rate. Fibres may be only about 10 times longer than wide, but many are 20-30 and even up to and exceeding 100 times longer than wide. They may remain flexible, as in many extraxylary fibres, or have more limited flexibility, as in xylary fibres." (Cutler 2005:103)
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  • Cutler, DF. 2005. Design in plants. In: Collins, MW; Atherton, MA; Bryant, JA, editors. Nature and Design. Southampton, Boston: WIT Press. p 95-124
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Functional adaptation

Pressure sucks moisture from soil: desert plants
 

The roots of desert plants extract hard to remove water from soil using negative pressure.

   
  "Plants again. Even in a desert the soil a little ways below the surface contains liquid water. It's called 'capillary water' and is often thought of as firmly stuck to soil particles. The binding, though, is as much physical as chemical - the water in the soil interstices lie in tiny recesses between soil crumbs where it has minimized its exposed interface with air (Rose 1966). For the roots of a plant to extract the water requires making more surface, and thus it takes a very great pull, one that appears as an additional (negative) component of the pressure in the vessels running up a stem or trunk. The lowest (most negative) pressures known in plants occur in desert shrubs, which must suck really hard on the ground to get any water out. The most extreme value on record is, I think, minus 120 atmospheres (Schlessinger et al. 1982) - that would hold up a column water over 1,200 meters (4,000 feet) high. So the pull needed to get water free of soil can exceed both the pull that keeps water moving in the vessels and the pull that counteracts gravity." (Vogel 2003:113)
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  • Steven Vogel. 2003. Comparative Biomechanics: Life's Physical World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 580 p.
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Functional adaptation

Roots maximize water uptake: plants
 

Roots of plants maximize water uptake by adapting their orientation to the environment.

     
  "To find water, a plant has to position its roots with just as much precision as it arranges its leaves. If moisture is in very short supply, then a plant may have to drive a tap root deep into the ground to reach the water table. Some desert plants have had to develop root systems that are far deeper than they are tall and extend laterally a very long way beyond the furthest extent of their foliage. Even if the environment is well-watered, a plant may still need to compete with others for this essential commodity, so it positions a network of roots within a few inches of the soil surface, where it can gather the rain water before others can." (Attenborough 1995:48-51)
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  • Attenborough, D. 1995. The Private Life of Plants: A Natural History of Plant Behavior. London: BBC Books. 320 p.
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Functional adaptation

Stems resist buckling: plants
 

The stems of many plants resist buckling using low-density foam cores.

     
  "Anyone who has squashed an empty metal can knows about the second form of buckling; it's called 'local buckling' or 'Brazier buckling...Local buckling does occur in biological columns--it's certainly involved in the lodging of slender crop plants in wind storms, and it can be deliberately induced in any dandelion stem. A low-density foam core reduces susceptibility, and many plants (but not dandelions!) have such cores." (Vogel 2003:378)
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  • Steven Vogel. 2003. Comparative Biomechanics: Life's Physical World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 580 p.
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Functional adaptation

Coating removes unwanted organisms: trees
 

The leaves of some trees protect from epiphytic freeloaders via sheddable waxy coating.

       
  "Some trees do so [get rid of plants residing on the surface of their leaves] by regularly shedding the waxy coat to their leaves." (Attenborough 1995:168)
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  • Attenborough, D. 1995. The Private Life of Plants: A Natural History of Plant Behavior. London: BBC Books. 320 p.
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Functional adaptation

Xylem conduits transport water: plants
 

Xylem conduits in plants transport water from soil to leaves through a pulling force generated when water evaporates at the surface of leaves creating a negative pressure gradient.

   
  "The transport system that drives sap ascent from soil to leaves is extraordinary and controversial. More than a century ago, H. H. Dixon (1896) proposed that a pulling force was generated at the evaporative surface of leaves and that this force was transmitted downward through water columns under tension to lift water much like a rope under tension can lift a weight. The cohesion–tension theory (C–T theory), as it is known, supposes both adhesion of water to conduit walls and cohesion of water molecules to each other." (Tyree 2003: 923)
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  • Tyree, Melvin T. 2003. Plant hydraulics: The ascent of water. Nature. 423(6943): 923-923.
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Functional adaptation

Surviving low nutrient, low light conditions: peatland plants
 

Plants in peatlands survive low nutrients and low light thanks to their perennial life cycle, which ensures a large biomass above and below ground.

         
  "Virtually all true mire vascular plants are perennial. This is a most effective way to ensure a large biomass, both below and above ground. In a nutrient-poor environment, a relatively large root biomass is required to obtain enough resources, and this cannot easily be built up within one season. Also, the large above-ground biomass which may be necessary for light capture in wooded mires can be built only by perennials." (Rydin and Jeglum 2006:50)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Rydin, H.; Jeglum, J. K. 2006. The Biology of Peatlands. Oxford University Press. 343 p.
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Functional adaptation

Rind resists rotting: flowering plants
 

Pollen grains of flowering plants are protected because of a stable, rot-resistant outer rind.

       
  "The outer rind that carries [pollen grains] is composed of a substance so stable and so resistant to rotting that it may survive for tens of thousands of years and still be recognisable." (Attenborough 1995:95)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Attenborough, D. 1995. The Private Life of Plants: A Natural History of Plant Behavior. London: BBC Books. 320 p.
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Functional adaptation

Pollen coat prevents dehydration: plants
 

The pollen grains of seed plants are protected from dehydration via a hard coat.

   
  "The gymnosperms, and the flowering plants which evolved more recently, among other, much smaller groups, have developed pollen which carries the male gamete in a form protected from dehydration to special receptive structures in the female part of the flower (pollination)." (Cutler 2005:96)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Cutler, DF. 2005. Design in plants. In: Collins, MW; Atherton, MA; Bryant, JA, editors. Nature and Design. Southampton, Boston: WIT Press. p 95-124
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Functional adaptation

Walls prevent collapse under tension: plants
 

Xylem vessels and tracheids of vascular plants prevent their own collapse while under tension via helical thickening of their walls.

   
  "In young plants, often in addition to the epidermis, the cells specialized for conducting water from root to leaves and shoots, have a mechanical function. The xylem vessels and tracheids are elongated cells (in the case of vessels, the vessel itself is composed of a series of shorter 'vessel elements' forming an axially elongated structure). These cells have thickened walls which help prevent their collapse when water in them is under tension through the pull of the transpiration stream (Fig. 3). The drying effect at the leaf surface promotes water movement from the roots through the plant body. The first formed conducting cells of the xylem consist of rather thin-walled, elongated cells that have to extend with the growth in the length of the stem. Their collapse during the time they are needed to function is prevented by specialised thickening in their walls. This takes on the form of a series of annuli, or of a spiral (helical) winding…The tracheids and vessels formed after extension growth is complete tend to have thick, rigid walls with either thin areas (pits), as in both tracheids and vessel elements, or clear openings between cells in line, as in vessel elements alone. These facilitate water movement from cell to cell. Even here, some of these cells in a range of species have an additional helical thickening on the inner side of their walls." (Cutler 2005:99-100)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Cutler, DF. 2005. Design in plants. In: Collins, MW; Atherton, MA; Bryant, JA, editors. Nature and Design. Southampton, Boston: WIT Press. p 95-124
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Functional adaptation

Structures maximize light absorption: plants
 

Thylakoid structures of plants and cyanobacteria maximize exposure to light by being stacked and cross-linked.

     
  "Since life needs light, air, and a protective shield, it is in theory subject to conditions similar to those that prevail for a photochemical surface reaction. Such a reaction is the process of photosynthesis in green leaves, by which light is transformed into chemical energy. Perhaps, then, nature would build cities similar to the submicroscopic thylakoid structures--the power stations of plants, which consist of self-contained flat membrane sacs, often stacked like rolls of coins and linked to each other by many cross-connections. The units are arranged so as to make maximal use of light and to form as large a contact surface as possible with the environment--architectonic criteria our cities still fail to meet adequately. A bird's-eye view of a natural metropolis would show nothing but green. No roofs, parking lots, or highways would be visible. All flat surfaces would be covered with woods, parks, and gardens. The vertical structures would be the facades of offices, residential buildings, cafes, and boutiques, all with access to nature. Inside the 'thylakoid structures' would be sufficient space for transportation, parking lots, shopping malls, and factories, which could manage with artificial light." (Tributsch 1984:7-8)
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  • Tributsch, H. 1984. How life learned to live. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 218 p.
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Functional adaptation

Wood resists fracture: trees
 

Wood of trees resists crosswise fracture via complex architecture.

   
  "That construction of lengthwise tubes with relatively modest cross-connections gives wood its spectacular anisotropy…Crosswise, though, most woods resist fracture well, with the highest work of fracture of any rigid biological material; the orientational difference can be as much as a hundredfold (table 15.7). Not only can we use all kinds of intrusive fasteners such as nails and screws without initiating fracture, but a tree can be injured by a crosswise ax stroke and yet not crack in the next storm. A sawyer must cut almost all the way across the trunk before a healthy tree topples." (Vogel 2003:343)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Steven Vogel. 2003. Comparative Biomechanics: Life's Physical World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 580 p.
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Functional adaptation

Thylakoidal system transports folded proteins: plants
 

Thylakoids of plants and cyanobacteria are able to transport folded or malformed proteins across tightly sealed membranes via a protein translocation system.

   
  "A subset of lumen proteins is transported across the thylakoid membrane by a Sec-independent translocase that recognizes a twin-arginine motif in the targeting signal. A related system operates in bacteria, apparently for the export of redox cofactor-containing proteins. In this report we describe a key feature of this system, the ability to transport folded proteins. The thylakoidal system is able to transport dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) when an appropriate signal is attached, and the transport efficiency is almost undiminished by the binding of folate analogs such as methotrexate that cause the protein to fold very tightly. The system is moreover able to transport DHFR into the lumen with methotrexate bound in the active site, demonstrating that the ΔpH-driven transport of large, native structures is possible by this pathway. However, correct folding is not a prerequisite for transport. Truncated, malfolded DHFR can be translocated by this system, as can physiological substrates that are severely malfolded by the incorporation of amino acid analogs." (Hynds et al. 1998:34868)
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  • Hynds, P. J.; Robinson, D.; Robinson, C. 1998. The Sec-independent Twin-arginine Translocation System Can Transport Both Tightly Folded and Malfolded Proteins across the Thylakoid Membrane. Journal of Biological Chemistry. 273(52): 34868-34874.
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Functional adaptation

Catalysts facilitate water-splitting: plants
 

Plants get the charge needed for photosynthesis by holding water molecules in place to facilitate proton and electron transfer using catalysts.

   
  "To replicate one of the important steps in natural photosynthesis, Brookhaven chemists James Muckerman and Dmitry Polyansky have turned to molecular complexes containing metals such as ruthenium that can drive the conversion of water into oxygen, protons, and electrons. These ruthenium catalysts hold water molecules in place to make oxygen bonds while the protons and electrons are transferred among the molecules and the catalyst, providing the charges necessary to continue the photosynthesis process." (ScienceDaily 2007)
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Functional adaptation

Flexibility limits bending in wind: trees
 

The trunks of trees reduce their tendency to bend in the wind due to their torsional flexibility.

   
  "Another use of torsional flexibility, perhaps less sophisticated, happens on a larger scale. Wind on a tree will twist it unless everything (including the wind) is perfectly symmetrical about the trunk. But twisting brings bits of tree closer to a downwind orientation and brings the bits into closer proximity to each other. Both should reduce the tendency of the tree to bend over. Clever--lowering torsional stiffness ought to reduce the requirement for flexural stiffness! While we don't have data for any intact tree, the effect has been shown for clusters of leaves (Vogel 1989), and casual observations in storms suggest that it works on larger scales. Tree-level use is consistent with the relatively low values of torsional stiffness of fresh samples of tree trunks and bamboo culms (Vogel 1995b)." (Vogel 2003:382)
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  • Steven Vogel. 2003. Comparative Biomechanics: Life's Physical World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 580 p.
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Functional adaptation

Collenchyma cells provide strength, flexibility: plants
 

Collenchyma cells in vascular plants support growing parts due to flexible cellulosic walls, which lignify once growth has ceased.

   
  "In addition to the 'mechanical' cells - fibres and lignified parenchyma - a third cell type has mechanical functions. This is collenchyma. Collenchyma cells have walls which during their development and extension are mainly cellulosic. They grow with the surrounding tissue as it expands or lengthens. They are more flexible than fibres, and if they remain unlignified, as they might in association with leaf veins or midribs, or in leaf stalks (petioles), they allow for a high degree of flexibility in the organ itself. Often, after growth in length of stems has occurred, and more mechanical rigidity is an advantage, we find that the collenchyma cells become lignified, and function more as fibres." (Cutler 2005:105)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Cutler, DF. 2005. Design in plants. In: Collins, MW; Atherton, MA; Bryant, JA, editors. Nature and Design. Southampton, Boston: WIT Press. p 95-124
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Functional adaptation

Wood self-assembles: trees
 

The cell walls of wood in trees self-assemble through structural features, not biochemistry.

     
  A better understanding of how the cell wall of wood forms will someday help wood scientists assemble wood-like composites without using trees. The current hypothesis is that the cell wall of wood does not require biochemistry to form, but self-assembles spontaneously because of structural features. Researchers are studying this process carefully, in hopes that someday wood-like materials can be produced from other plant-derived molecules. (Courtesy of the Biomimicry Guild)
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Functional adaptation

Circular, tapering beams stabilize: plants
 

Cantilever-like structures such as long necks and antennae of many organisms stabilize via circular, tapering structure.

       
  "Organisms most often use beams that are circular (or elliptical) in cross section, and for these the common engineering handbooks…don't give such direct solutions. Denny (1988) faced the matter in admirably direct fashion. Some degree of taper, though, is virtually universal, for the branches of trees, for long necks and upheld tails, for archy's long, thin cockroach antennae as well as for the cat's whiskers of mehitabel (Marquis 1927)." (Vogel 2003:373)
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  • Steven Vogel. 2003. Comparative Biomechanics: Life's Physical World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 580 p.
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Functional adaptation

Structures optimize material use: plants
 

Plants maximize strength while reducing materials by incorporating tetrahedral elements that can be stacked in hexagonal containers.

       
  "Nature has provided many packaging methods to protect plants and animals against physical impact. The design often uses a minimum of material while offering a maximum of usable space. Tetrahedral elements which can be stacked in hexagonal containers without any waste of space are frequently found in plants." (Tributsch 1984:22)
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  • Tributsch, H. 1984. How life learned to live. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 218 p.
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Functional adaptation

Vascular systems transport fluids and solutes: plants
 

Vascular systems of plants transport fluids and solutes by creating bars of tension by capillary action in leaves to pull water out of the soil and through the plant.

   
  "Vascular structures are the central element of nearly all biological tissues, allowing for efficient convective transport of fluid and solute to all parts of the tissue from a centralized source. Abraham Stroock and colleagues from the Dept. of Biomedical Engineering at Cornell are developing synthetic biomaterials with embedded microfluidic vascular structures to address two important challenges in the field of wound healing: 1) clinical treatment of severe cutaneous wounds due to burns or diabetes; and 2) in vitro modeling of the wound bed and development of improved epidermal grafts." (Courtesy of the Biomimicry Guild)
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Functional adaptation

Leaves communicate pest damage: plants
 

The leaves of some plants protect from webworm caterpillars and other pests because as they are chewed, they release a chemical combination of acids and alcohols that attracts pest-eating yellow jackets.

       
  Summary: The yellow jacket hunting for a meal needs a chemical signal. A plant injured by a chewing insect such as a webworm will give off a chemical that would draw in yellow jackets.

"The heat that the webworm produces in its chewing isn't sufficient to identify it, as that's only produced at a low level and mixes with the general heat coming up from the leaves anyway. And similarly for any bubbles of gas from the surface wax of the leaf: a leaf is always releasing microbubbles of wax on its own, so the webworm's contribution is not going to mark it outHow could the bush make a signal, using only plant-available materials, that could float and pass on a coherent message to the circling wasp?It's in two steps. If a plant leaf is damaged, one of the acids that's released changes from its usual heavy form into a lighter kind which evaporates more easilyWhat the wasp will respond to is a mixture of that smell with something else. In the leaf of our lawn-edge bush, there's another chemical mixed inBut suppose it could be made in a way that it would transform into a lighter, evaporating form only when it was crushed by something like the fastidious webworm caterpillar?When the pressure of a biting insect is applied to the second chemical, alcohols much like our ordinary drinking alcohols split loosealchohols easily evaporate to carry an odor outward." (Bodanis 1992:58)
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  • Bodanis, D. 1992. The Secret Garden: Dawn to Dusk in the Astonishing Hidden World of the Garden. Simon & Schuster. 187 p.
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Functional adaptation

Rod-like reinforcements provide strength: plants
 

Vascular bundles in plants provide mechanical strength, serving as rod-like reinforcements.

     
  "Figure 5: Part of a stem of a robust grass, in cross section. Here mechanical strength of the stem is provided by the vascular bundles set in a matrix of thinner-walled cells, rather like rod reinforcements. Each vascular bundle has an outer sheath of fibres, forming a strong tube in which the two wide vessels can conduct water, and the strand of thin-walled, narrow cells (phloem) can transport sugar solutions with little risk of damage. Just to the inner side of the outer ring of smaller vessels the several layers of narrow cells eventually become thick-walled and provide additional strength in the form of a cylinder to the whole stem." (Cutler 2005:101)
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  • Cutler, DF. 2005. Design in plants. In: Collins, MW; Atherton, MA; Bryant, JA, editors. Nature and Design. Southampton, Boston: WIT Press. p 95-124
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Functional adaptation

Continuous fibers prevent structural weakness: trees
 

Knotholes in wood do not crack because the fibers around them are continuous.

   
  "There has been relatively little attempt to produce an artificial analogue to wood because wood is cheap, lightweight, tough, moldable, and easily shaped. However, when a hole is drilled in timber, it weakens the structure. The tree, however, drills no holes, even though it must disrupt the trunk's wood where a new branch pushes through. The fibers deform around a knothole, remaining continuous. George Jeronimidis of the Univ. of Reading Center for Biometrics is proposing to study how this can be used in fibrous composite materials." (Courtesy of the Biomimicry Guild)
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Functional adaptation

CO2 breakdown used in organic compound manufacturing: plants
 

The metabolism of photosynthesizing organisms manufactures organic compounds via carbon dioxide breakdown.

     
  "The chemical activation of CO2, that is, the splitting of its structure in a chemical reaction, is a major challenge in synthetic chemistry because of the very high thermodynamic stability of CO2, which requires an efficient energy source for its activation. However, the fact that biogenic carbon (i.e., biomass) originates from the fixation of CO2 implies that CO2 activation must be one of the oldest reactions in biological systems and have already occurred in prebiotic times.[1], [2] Interestingly, in current photosynthetic systems, this process relies on the formation of a carbamate as the first step of the cycle,[3] which may also have been the case in prebiotic systems, as a number of cyanide-based, nitrogen-rich, conjugated organic molecules, such as nucleic acids, porphyrins, and phthalocyanines, existed before life began." (Goettmann et al. 2007:2717)
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  • Goettmann, Frédéric; Thomas, Arne; Antonietti, Markus. 2007. Metal-Free Activation of CO2 by Mesoporous Graphitic Carbon Nitride. Angewandte Chemie International Edition. 46(15): 2717-2720.
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Functional adaptation

Leaves resist gravitational loading: broad-leaved trees
 

The broad leaf of a tree resists gravitational loading through its internal anisotropic structure: liquid-filled cells along the bottom resist compression, and, along the top, long cells with lengthwise fibers resist tension.

           
  "Consider a broad leaf on a tree. The greatest forces on its petiole ('stem') and midrib probably occur as it's pulled by the drag of the blade in a wind storm, but these forces are tensile and thus easy to resist. Without wind, it's a beam faced with the task of keeping its blade in a position to intercept sunlight, which, on the average, comes from above. So its design, as in figure 18.8, ought to reflect gravitational loading. Which it does, but more by using internal material anisotropy than externally obvious cross-sectional specialization. It uses thick-walled, liquid-filled cells along its bottom, which resist compression well, and long cells with lengthwise fibers along the top, which act as ropy tension resistors. The petiole and midrib are as truly cantilevers as any protruding I-beam, but internal structure--anisotropy at various levels--matters at least as much as overall cross section in efficiently dealing with gravity. And the rest of the leaf blade, an extension of the cantilever, faces much the same mechanical situation. Veins protrude downward to get some height to the beam and to continue the compression-resisting material of petiole and midrib. The blade is always at the top--a flat sheet can take tension, but it's almost as bad in compression as a rope." (Vogel 2003:375-376)
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  • Steven Vogel. 2003. Comparative Biomechanics: Life's Physical World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 580 p.
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Functional adaptation

Structural composition provides strength in changing conditions: plants
 

The cell walls of vascular plants provide mechanical strength during different stages of growth by adjusting their structural composition.

     
  "Plant cells need to be fully hydrated to work properly (except in periods of dormancy, as for example in many seeds). Individual vegetative cells in plants, unlike those in animals, are encased in a cellulose cell wall. The cellulose cell wall may be very thin, in cells that are actively dividing, as for example, in growing shoot or root tips. However, once developed into their mature form, the cell walls may become thicker, and additional substances, mainly lignins, incorporated into their structure. The cells themselves, then, contribute to the mechanical strength of the plant. Thin-walled cells when fully hydrated, are like small, pressurised containers. Mature cells, especially those with thick walls, have mechanical strength of their own, even without watery contents. Indeed, many fibres lack living contents when mature." (Cutler 2005:98)
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  • Cutler, DF. 2005. Design in plants. In: Collins, MW; Atherton, MA; Bryant, JA, editors. Nature and Design. Southampton, Boston: WIT Press. p 95-124
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Functional adaptation

Leaves maximize sun exposure: plants
 

Leaves of plants maximize exposure to sun to maximize photosynthesis by moving throughout the day.

   
  "Since daylight is essential for this process, every plant must, as far as possible, position its leaves so that each collects its share without interfering with any others the plant may have. This may require changing the posture of the leaves throughout the day as the sun moves across the sky. The accuracy with which a plant can position them may be judged simply by gazing up at the canopy in a wood. The leaves form a near-continuous ceiling, fitting together like the pieces of a jigsaw." (Attenborough 1995: 46)
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  • Attenborough, D. 1995. The Private Life of Plants: A Natural History of Plant Behavior. London: BBC Books. 320 p.
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Functional adaptation

Red leaves hide plants from insects: plants
 

Anthocyanins in leaves camouflage the plant from insects and make insects more vulnerable to predators by inhibiting the reflecting of green wavelengths.

   
  "Hence, leaf anthocyanins by closing the green reflectance window left by chlorophyll make the leaf less discernible to insect consumers (plant camouflage hypothesis). Alternatively (or in addition), the usually green folivorous insects, if found on a red leaf, are more easily recognized by their predators (undermining of insect camouflage by the plant)…The neglected hypothesis of plant camouflage against herbivory and the recent opinion that leaf redness may undermine the green folivorous insect camouflage are theoretically more sound since they are compatible with folivorous insect vision physiology and also afford a reasonable explanation for the almost exclusive selection of red anthocyanins in leaves." (Manetas 2006:172)
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  • Manetas, Y. 2006. Why some leaves are anthocyanic and why most anthocyanic leaves are red?. Flora: Morphology, Distribution, Functional Ecology of Plants. 201(3): 163-177.
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Functional adaptation

Investing resources increases competitive success: trees
 

The investment of resources for structural support in trees allows for competitive success by prolonging the reproductive life of the organism.

   
  "The development of the 'tree' habit in many different plant families must reflect a high degree of competitive success for this life form. The expenditure of materials in short supply in the production of long-lived, mechanically robust forms must confer survival benefits to such plants. Synthesis of materials for mechanical support of the plant uses resources that otherwise might have been directed towards reproduction. We see an elegant use of strengthening tissues that parallels engineering solutions. Although expensive in mechanical tissues, the tree habit prolongs the period over which an individual may produce seed; over a long period successful seed formation and germination is more likely." (Cutler 2005:98)
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  • Cutler, DF. 2005. Design in plants. In: Collins, MW; Atherton, MA; Bryant, JA, editors. Nature and Design. Southampton, Boston: WIT Press. p 95-124
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Functional adaptation

Sclereid cells prevent soft tissue collapse: plants
 

Sclereid cells in vascular plants help prevent the collapse of soft tissues during water stress via thick, lignified walls.

   
  "Sclereids are also cells with thick, lignified walls. They are grouped with fibres under the general term sclerenchyma. They differ from fibres in generally being shorter in relation to their length, but there is some overlap in the range of cells. They may be branched, sinuous or short -- often more or less isodiametric. The longer ones commonly feature in the sheaths to veins, particularly near the ends of the finer branches. They can be pit-prop-like when they extend between the upper and lower surfaces of leaves, and appear to help prevent collapse of softer tissues at times of water stress, as in olive leaves and the leaves of many mangrove plants. These plants, and many of the hard-leaved plants found in arid habitats, often have abundant elongated or branched sclereids." (Cutler 2005:104)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Cutler, DF. 2005. Design in plants. In: Collins, MW; Atherton, MA; Bryant, JA, editors. Nature and Design. Southampton, Boston: WIT Press. p 95-124
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Functional adaptation

Vessels resist bubble formation: trees
 

Xylem vessels running up tree trunks prevent gas bubble formation because all surfaces are hydrophilic.

     
  "The water columns in the xylem vessels running up the trunk of a tree provide a dramatic example of what's possible when all surfaces are hydrophilic. With megapascals of negative pressures virtually any dissolved gas ensures supersaturation, yet bubbles rarely form. It's a good thing, too- a tiny bubble would rupture a water column since any bubble is itself an appropriate surface for gas formation; and, once formed, bubbles grow almost explosively in a supersaturated liquid." (Vogel 2003:111)
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  • Steven Vogel. 2003. Comparative Biomechanics: Life's Physical World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 580 p.
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Functional adaptation

Folds allow efficient leaf deployment: plants
 

Leaves of plants maximize time exposed for photosynthesis by using various packaging schemes to fold the large leaves within the buds so they can begin photosynthesizing upon deployment.

     
  "Leaves emerge from their buds in many different ways. Those of the cheese plant emerge tightly rolled, like perfectly furled umbrellas. Palms produce theirs neatly packed in pleats. The big fat buds of rhubarb push up through the ground and burst to reveal their young leaves squashed and crumpled. Ferns send up their shoots curled in the shape of croziers with each of the side fronds curled in its own crozier-in-miniature." (Attenborough 1995: 43-45)
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  • Attenborough, D. 1995. The Private Life of Plants: A Natural History of Plant Behavior. London: BBC Books. 320 p.
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Functional adaptation

Lignified parenchyma cells provide strength: plants
 

Parenchyma cells in plants provide mechanical support when they become lignified and thick-walled.

   
  "Sometimes axially elongated cells of the 'packing' tissue, parenchyma, become thick-walled and lignified. These have similar functions to fibres, but their ends tend not to be pointed. Often no distinction is made between this cell type and true fibres. Cells of this type make up the bulk of the strengthening tissue in bamboos. They are arranged towards the periphery of the stem, the centre of which is often hollow, with transverse septa at intervals." (Cutler 2005:103)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Cutler, DF. 2005. Design in plants. In: Collins, MW; Atherton, MA; Bryant, JA, editors. Nature and Design. Southampton, Boston: WIT Press. p 95-124
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Functional adaptation

Enzyme catalyzes many reactions: plants
 

Many plants and microorganisms can catalyze a wide variety of organic chemical reactions via the 2OG oxygenase enzyme.

     
  "In plants and microorganisms…2OG oxygenases catalyze a plethora of oxidative reactions, which has led to the proposal that they may be the most versatile of all oxidizing biological catalysts. Some of these reactions are chemically remarkable and indeed presently cannot be achieved through synthetic—that is, non-biological—chemistry. Oxidative reactions catalyzed by 2OG oxygenases include cyclizations, ring fragmentation, C-C bond cleavage, epimerization, desaturation and the hydroxylation of aromatic rings. The discovery that 2OG oxygenases can catalyze chlorination reactions further extends the scope of the family." (Flashman 2007:86)
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  • Flashman, Emily; Schofield, Christopher J. 2007. The most versatile of all reactive intermediates?. Nat Chem Biol. 3(2): 86-87.
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