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Integr Comp Biol. 2014 Dec;54(6):1034-42. doi: 10.1093/icb/icu026. Epub 2014 Apr 23.

Self-burial mechanics of hygroscopically responsive awns.

Author information

1
*Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Seoul National University, Seoul 151-744, Korea; Department of Mechanical Engineering, Sogang University, Seoul 121-742, Korea.
2
*Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Seoul National University, Seoul 151-744, Korea; Department of Mechanical Engineering, Sogang University, Seoul 121-742, Korea wonjungkim@sogang.ac.kr.
3
*Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Seoul National University, Seoul 151-744, Korea; Department of Mechanical Engineering, Sogang University, Seoul 121-742, Korea hyk@snu.ac.kr.

Abstract

We present the results of a combined experimental and theoretical investigation of the mechanics of self-burial of some plant seeds whose morphologies respond to environmental changes in humidity. The seeds of Erodium and Pelargonium have hygroscopically responsive awns that play a critical role in their self-burial into soil. The awn, coiled in a dry state, uncoils to stretch linearly under highly humid condition because of a tilted arrangement of cellulose microfibrils in one of the layers of the awn's bilayered structure. By measuring the mechanical characteristics of the awns of Pelargonium carnosum, we find that the extensional force of the awn can be aptly modeled by the theory of elasticity for a coiled spring. We further show that although the resistance to the seed-head penetrating relatively coarse soils without spinning is large enough to block the digging seed, the rotation of the seed greatly reduces the soil's resistance down to a level the awn can easily overcome. Our mechanical analysis reveals that the self-burial of the seed is a sophisticated outcome of the helically coiled configuration of the awn.

PMID:
24760793
DOI:
10.1093/icb/icu026
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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