1 August 2012
Last updated at 00:13
One of the fastest actions in the plant world is the explosive opening of flowers on the bunchberry dogwood, which happens in just under 0.5 milliseconds. As the flowers burst open, the petals quickly separate and flip back, exposing the stamens. During the first 0.3 milliseconds, researchers have calculated the stamens are exposed to a force 800 times greater than astronauts experience during blast-off. The mechanism, it is understood, allows pollen to be thrown upwards in order for it to be transported by the wind.
Otherwise known as the dynamite tree or monkey-no-climb tree (as opposed to the monkey puzzle tree), the sandbox tree - found in the American tropics - has an explosive method of dispersing its seeds. One of its common names, dynamite tree, is derived from the noise its seed cases make when they explode and disperse seeds considerable distances from the mother plant.
One of the most famous of quaking aspens' vast underground root systems is a network called Pando (Latin for "I spread", and also known as the Trembling Giant). It is estimated to cover about 43 hectares, weighs about 6,600 tonnes and dates back 80,000 years - making it a contender to be one of the Earth's oldest and heaviest organisms. Trees within the root system grow and die, but these are replaced with fresh growth. The entire clonal organism, which is said to be derived from a single male plant, contains about 47,000 stems.
Contenders for long-distance travelling are tumbleweeds. They are plants that, when mature, dry out and break away from their root systems, allowing them to be transported by the wind. As the dried plant travels along, it disperses its seeds. This form of seed distribution is very effective, especially if the mother plant passes over soil that has been disturbed. It has been estimated that a species of tumbleweed spread from the US Mid-West to the Pacific coast in just over a decade.
A study of tree root depths has found that one species, Boscia albitrunca (also known as the shepherd's tree), has roots that extend downwards by 68m (223ft). The specimen was located in the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. As well as providing grazing material for livestock, the flower buds can be used as caper substitutes. The roots can be used to make beer and also, it is said, treat haemorrhoids.
One of the main contenders as champion wrestlers are strangler figs. The species has an aggressive strategy and shows little mercy to the host plant. The combination of strangulation, resource and sunshine deficiency means the host plant is unlikely to win its battle against strangler figs. Often, mature plants have hollow centres, showing where the host plant once stood. The success of the trees has elevated the species to keystone status, as many animal species in rainforests depend on the energy-rich fruit and different fig species fruit at different times of the year.
The giants of the plant world are unquestionably the coast redwoods, found in the north-west of the US. The record for the tallest living tree belongs to this species, Sequoia sempervirens. An individual known as Hyperion was recorded at 115.6m (379.3ft). Zoe Dunford, spokeswoman for the John Innes Centre for plant and microbial research, said the feats achieved by the world of plants provided an insight to ways to deliver food, medicine and biofuels more productively and sustainably in the future.