Moss That Makes Mushroom Clouds: A Plant Explodes to Spread Its Spores

By Andrew Moseman | July 22, 2010 3:08 pm

Let’s say you’re a peat moss plant. Since you’re stuck in one place, and it’s low to the ground where there’s little wind or air turbulence, you have to find a way to shoot your spores way up into the air where they can be dispersed.

In reality, mosses have conquered this problem by shooting their spores into the sky at speeds of greater than 30 meters (nearly 100 feet) per second. Their spherical capsules containing the spores deform inward until the pressure forces a ferocious explosion to propel spores at that velocity. But even this is not enough—air would slow the spores before they reached a high enough height to get carried away.

Luckily, Dwight Whitaker and Joan Edwards found that the moss plants have another trick, which they published in the journal Science. After shooting video at 100,000 frames per second, the scientists saw that the plants shoot their spores in a vortex ring, like a tiny mushroom cloud or a smoke ring. The fluid dynamics of the vortex rings allow it to carry those spores through the air much farther than they could travel without it.

For plenty more about this, read Ed Yong’s post at Not Exactly Rocket Science. But first, watch this short video the researchers made.

Related Content:
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Mosses Use Explosive Cannons And Mushroom Clouds To Spread Their Spores
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Flowers Change Color And Back Again To Advertise Their Opening Hours
80beats: Spores in Mastadon Dung Suggest Humans Didn’t Kill Off Ancient Mammals
The Loom: Fungus Opera

Video: Clara Hard, Joan Edwards, Dwight Whitaker

  • nick

    2 things: 1) i found this weird fungal growth in my backyard that resembled the tip of a minaret placed on the ground. When I poked it, I found that it was hollow and puffed out spores. I unfortunately didn’t remember to check if it made a mushroom cloud-type shape.

    2) if they shot 100,000 frames per second, you’d think they could have slowed down the eruption for the video a little more so we can see it better. It’s a 13 second video and the final 10 seconds show the trailing end of the cloud after it’s already off screen. I was really hoping for one of those super-slo-mo type vids where you can really see it roiling and boiling.

    Then again, maybe it just shoots out that fast.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar