Sunday, September 25, 2011

Geocarpy a.k.a. genuflecting

A new word for today:

Geocarpy n. Botany. A method in which some plants distribute their fruit by injecting the ovary into the soil though the actions of a unique and complicated flexure of the stalk.

Peanuts do it. So does this teensy plant (pictured above) from the strychnine family, first singled out by José Carlos "Louro" Mendes Santos, a handyman in rural northeastern Bahia, Brazil. He found the inch-high plant 2 years ago in the backyard of Alex Popovkin, an amateur botanist, and brought it to his attention. Popovkin networked through the Internet with Lena Struwe, of Rutgers University, and others to determine that the plant is a new species, which they named Spigelia genuflexa. Struwe comments, "This discovery shows that the most amazing living things can be found when you least expect it, during times and places when you really aren't looking for something new, and suddenly it is right there in front of you." The genuflecting plant, as it is becoming known, is distinguised by a rare and unusual characteristic: after fruits form, the branches bend down and deposit the seed-containing capsules on the ground - even burying them in the soft cover of moss - to ensure that the seedlings end up as close to the mother plant as possible, facilitating its propagation the following season. I await the time-lapse video!

All images by Alex Popovkin.

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