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J Theor Biol. 2005 Jun 21;234(4):511-24.

Structural dynamics and resonance in plants with nonlinear stiffness.

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Department of Biology, Duke University, Box 90338, Durham, NC 27708, USA.


Although most biomaterials are characterized by strong stiffness nonlinearities, the majority of studies of plant biomechanics and structural dynamics focus on the linear elastic range of their behavior. In this paper, the effects of hardening (elastic modulus increases with strain) and softening (elastic modulus decreases with strain) nonlinearities on the structural dynamics of plant stems are investigated. A number of recent studies suggest that trees, crops, and other plants often uproot or snap when they are forced by gusting winds or waves at their natural frequency. This can be attributed to the fact that the deflections of the plant, and hence mechanical stresses along the stem and root system, are greatest during resonance. To better understand the effect of nonlinear stiffness on the resonant behavior of plants, plant stems have been modeled here as forced Duffing oscillators with softening or hardening nonlinearities. The results of this study suggest that the resonant behavior of plants with nonlinear stiffness is substantially different from that predicted by linear models of plant structural dynamics. Parameter values were considered over a range relevant to most plants. The maximum amplitudes of deflection of the plant stem were calculated numerically for forcing frequencies ranging from zero to twice the natural frequency. For hardening nonlinearities, the resonant behavior was 'pushed' to higher frequencies, and the maximum deflection amplitudes were lower than for the linear case. For softening nonlinearities, the resonant behavior was pushed to lower frequencies, and the maximum deflection amplitudes were higher than for the linear case. These nonlinearities could be beneficial or detrimental to the stability of the plant, depending on the environment. Damping had the effect of drastically decreasing deflection amplitudes and reducing the effect of the nonlinearities.

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