How Flowers Recover from Injury

April 9, 2020

Some flowers have a remarkable capacity to pick themselves up – literally – after an accident, according to a study published in the journal New Phytologist.

Within 10-48 hours of being knocked over, they can bend and twist themselves back into an optimal position to align their sexual organs and nectar tubes and ensure successful reproduction.

“That ‘accidents happen’ is an aphorism few would argue with,” write W Scott Armbruster from the University of Portsmouth, UK, and Nathan Muchhala from the University of Missouri-St Louis, US.

In animals and humans, the ability to bounce back is vital for survival and reproductive fitness, yet less is known about plants, and virtually nothing about flowers, they note.

Yet flowers can be knocked over by strong weather, large twigs or passers-by, and even if this doesn’t harm them, it can change their orientation and thus their ability to attract pollinators and make seeds.

“Making seeds and propagating is a flower’s main purpose,” says Armbruster, “so injuries which threaten that pose a huge problem.”

Intriguingly, not even Darwin had much to say about this, despite observations that certain flowers like wild tobacco (Nicotiana attenuate) reorient themselves daily to promote pollination at night and stay cool during the day.

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