What Plants Do When You’re Not Looking

“The seeds sit within a small fruit that is a bit over an inch long. A spine along each half of the fruit is made of three layers, which shrink at different rates as they dry. That creates a strain that bends them outward. The two halves remain held together by glue.

Drip some water onto it, the glue dissolves and the fruit violently splits in half.

With ultrahigh speed video — up to 20,000 frames a second — Dr. Whitaker and his students slowed down the action, watching as hooks in the fruit accelerated the seeds to speeds more than 30 miles per hour, similar to how the curved scoops used in the sport of jai alai can accelerate a ball to well over 100 m.p.h.

“It just looks like this gentle, beautiful motion,” Dr. Whitaker said.”

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