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The air resistance to something as small as dust is so great that even if you threw it at mach speeds it would only go a couple inches. That is, unless you create a vortex ring — like a smoke ring or mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion.
Peat moss (Sphagnum moss), one of the most primitive living plants, does just that. By releasing its spores at up to 65 miles per hour in less than a thousandth of a second through a cylindrical opening, it can launch them up about half a foot high.
It might not sound like much, but getting spores to that height is critical for a plant that can grow less than half an inch tall. Half a foot is high enough to intersect normal air currents, which can carry the spores for miles and miles — theoretically indefinitely.
“Vortex rings allow the spores to be carried up very efficiently, because they have very little drag in the air and don’t mix with the air around it,” said physicist Dwight Whitaker of Pomona College, co-author of the study published July 23 in Science. ”The air coming out of the spore capsule is like the a core of a tornado, but if you took the top and the bottom of a tornado and glued them together. The tornado holds the spores in because of its very motion.”
Whitaker and his team captured high-resolution video of the moss tops exploding to study the vortex ring formation.
“Whitaker and Edwards have produced beautiful images and analyses of the involvement of turbulent vortex rings in this amazing spore discharge process,” said biologist Karen Renzaglia of Southern Illinois University. “I think it is really cool.”
Biologists have known for over a hundred years about the exploding nature of peat moss reproduction. In 1897, biologist Sergius Nawaschin wrote: “Many times, when bending over a hammock [of peat moss] for closer examination, I felt the explosively discharged capsule lids strike my face.”
But this is the first time anyone has documented a plant creating a vortex ring, Whitaker said. In animals it is not that uncommon. Squid and jellyfish create vortex rings to propel themselves forward, and a healthy human heart creates a vortex ring between the left atrium and ventricle.
“This explains one of the wonders of the botanical world,” said biologist Joan Edwards of Williams College, an author on the paper. “It is amazing that such a simple plant came up with such a sophisticated system for propelling its spores.”
Peat moss is a critical plant for carbon storage on our planet. Peat bogs, formed of layers and layers of peat moss, cover one percent of Earth’s land surface, and account for 30 percent of the world’s soil carbon, Edwards said. Peat bogs are highly acidic and inhospitable to other life, so organic material like dead mosses, or dead bodies, doesn’t decompose.
As new habitat opens up in the Arctic with global warming, we should hope that peat moss disperses there, because it is such an effective carbon sponge, she said.
Originally posted by Aresh Troxit
It first brought some souvenirs of using spores filled mushrooms as grenades when I was a kid, and then I thought; hm, spirals yet again!
My brother told me that firearms had spiraling grooves inside to allow for maximum speed of the bullet. ( It may not be general, it was a long time ago! )
One wonders if the Vril energy concept is valid when one sees this!
Also, is spiraling the ultimate motion?
My girlfriend always makes me notice how as kids we naturally start to rotate on ourselves... ( Not really a spiral, but a bit reminiscent... )
I am always amazed to see nature has already solved many problems we end up facing. It has so much to teach us! Nice find!
Nature and its wonders are so cool!
PS: Who would have thought the reproductive analysis of a mushroom would bring so much activity in my brain!?!