Fastest plants

What are the fastest plants? The Morus alba comes with a natural catapult that moves at half the speed of sound.

Suyash Dwivedi / CC BY-SA

Out on the Internet, and in the trivia books, it seems like everyone is obsessed with which plant grows the fastest. The answer, which is a bit boring, is probably one of the species of bamboo. Sure sure, it’s fast, but it’s not like it grows so fast that you can see it move. I’m not impressed. Sorry bamboo.

(Giant kelp, by the way, grows faster than bamboo. But that’s not a plant, it’s algae.)

No, today I’m writing about the fastest moving plants. And the reigning monarch appears to be the Morus alba, the white mulberry tree. It’s the tree that silkworms feed on, and its pollen release mechanism is quite impressive. In brief, this tree uses catapults.

The stamen of the white mulberry is curled over. It’s storing an impressive amount of potential energy. When the time comes for it to release its pollen, the anther springs out exactly like a catapult. This movement is quick: 560 km/h (about 155 metres per second). It’s a strong contender for the fastest movement ever observed in a plant.

You can see some slow-motion black-and-white footage of these catapults here:

The creeping dogwood (Cornus canadensis), by the way, has a similar mechanism for its pollen release, although I’ve seen this one described as a trebuchet rather than a catapult. Hmmm, maybe I should have called this post “plant siege warfare” instead?

[Thanks to Gareth E. for suggesting this topic.]

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