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Plants that move: How a New Zealand species disperses seeds in a high alpine, wet environment
Date:9/30/2010

High in an alpine meadow, Gesine Pufal, from the University of Wellington, New Zealand, crouched low to the ground and splashed some water from her water bottle on a low green plant cushion, then sat back waiting to see if something would move. Sound crazy? Many hikers passing by her may have thought so, but Pufal was trying to find potential plant species that possess a type of plant movement called hygrochasy.

Although the ability to move is typically thought to be a characteristic unique to the animal kingdom, plants are also capable of movement, from the sudden quick snap of a Venus flytrap to the more subtle creeping of the growing tips of a morning glory vine.

Pufal and her colleagues were interested in another type of plant movementone used for dispersing seeds, called hygrochasy. While most plants rely on outside sources such as animals or wind to move their seeds to new locations, some plants have specialized, self-sufficient mechanisms. Hygrochasy combines the movement of a plant organ with dispersal of seedsin response to moisture, such as rain drops, water fills specific cells or cell walls, changing their size, which in turn pops open a capsule expelling the seeds found within.

"Hygrochasy is a dehiscence mechanism that was previously thought to be very specific to plants from very dry environments with only sporadic rainfall," Pufal notes. "When the closed fruits of some desert plants are wetted by rainfall, they open and the seeds get dispersed, thus taking immediate advantage of the recently moistened soils and ensuring successful seed germination."

Although hygrochasy has been found primarily in plants in xeric, or dry, environments, Pufal's interest was piqued by reports that hygrochastic capsules had been found in plants from wetter environments, including some alpine cushion-forming species of Veronica in New Zealand.

Pufal's search for hygrochasy in New Zealand's high alps was successf
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Contact: Richard Hund
rhund@botany.org
314-577-9557
American Journal of Botany
Source:Eurekalert

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