Digital Dimdima
Parachutes for the troops!
-By Rani Iyer

In a war soldiers drive deep into the enemy territory to conquer. They often storm enemy strongholds by dropping down from the air. It seems to be an impressive strategy really, until you consider that it is copied from plants!
Plants disperse fruits in many ways. Wind dispersal of seeds and fruits occur in the form of gliders, helicopters, parachutes, spinners, cottony mass, or hitch hikers! Although plants seem to be rooted to a spot, the seeds move on to conquer new areas.
Climbing gourd found in most Asian forests has a remarkable seed wings (up to 13 cm long) and glides around the forest in wide circles! The seed is said to have inspired early works on gliders and aeroplanes. Avenue trees planted in most roadsides, have winged seeds that glide or twirl from the canopy.

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Some trees send down nuts, twirling like a bomb! Fruits of Gyrocarpus provide one such example. In the low elevation evergreen forests of Western Ghats, Dipterocarpus disperse their seeds in the wind. These trees are often planted in the gardens and parks. One can often see the fruits floating in the winds! Pines, Fir, Spruce, and Hemlock found in the Himalayan forests also have winged seeds. Strong winds carry the seeds from these trees to nearby areas.
Some seeds possess parachutes! Most members of family Bombacaceae (Silk cotton tree family) have silky seeds that are dispersed by wind. Large numbers of seeds are produced in fruits called as follicles. When follicles split open, they release numerous seeds with silk parachutes! These soft, silky hairs are in much demand as waterproof fillers for cushions, pillows, mattress, soft balls, and life fillers. Follicles of nerium, and milkweed also release several parachutes. A cattail spikes sending out parachutes contain millions of tiny seeds packed in them.
Plants send out hitchhiker seeds through animals and humans who come in their vicinity. Several grasses send their seeds to distant areas in the form of thorns, burr, and bristles. Most of these seeds cause no harm to the body, but stick on the body until they are rubbed off.
Next time you look at seeds floating on the air, or stuck to your clothes, take time to observe them. The more you study, the more surprises you will have!

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