Friday, May 25, 2012

Apple #583: Time Lapse Video of Plants

I've had about 9,000 things going on lately and the Daily Apple has had to take a back seat.  Now I'm about to leave for the long Memorial Day weekend, so I won't be here to post my usual Sunday entry once again.

The other day I was out walking in the woods, which I haven't done in a while, and I noticed how much some of the plants had grown since the last time I'd been there.  That reminded me of time lapse videos I've seen of plants growing, taking over things at what seems like lightning speed.  I thought that might be a good metaphor for what seems to have been happening with the Daily Apple lately -- while I'm away, you can watch the plants grow!

How long do you think it would take for the plants to take over and erase that two-track path?
(Photo from Sustainability Campaign)

Of course it wouldn't be the Daily Apple if I didn't provide some informative facts for you.  So I'll start with David Attenborough, who explains a bit how vine-like plants grow the way they do:

  • The rotation-like movement of the vines is one kind of plant movement called nutation.  Nutation means the plant is moving but not in response to stimuli, like changes in sunlight. Nutation is movement the plants do on their own.  In this case, the vines do that rotating thing, it is thought, in order to bump into a sturdy enough support on which to grow.
  • Other plants do the nutation dance, but they're not seeking some surface to bump into and grow around. Instead, the nutation happens as a result of changes in cell and tissue growth. That is, some sides of the plant grow faster than others, or one side has more leaves than another, so one side of the plant weighs more and thus it bends in that direction. Then the other side grows more and it bends in that direction.

Here are some pepper plants growing and doing the nutation dance. The person who made the video isn't entirely sure why the plants on the right are growing faster. One side is Jalapeno peppers and the other side is Cubanelles, so that may account for the difference, or he said he may have planted the ones on the right a day earlier:

  • Plants do, of course, move in response to changes in their environment. The environmentally-caused response we know best is when they move to try to get to more sunlight. The big word for this is phototropism.

Here's a time lapse video showing phototropism, made by third-grader Cameron Wright.  No, it's good! He tells you at the end how he made the video. And Cameron himself makes an appearance!

  • There's also simply plants' growth.  They will grow and develop differently depending on how much sunlight is present.  The more sunlight, the more they leaf out and the greener the leaves get in order to gear up for photosynthesis.  
  • If plants are grown in the shade or even in the dark, their energy goes into making the stems longer -- presumably to help the plant grow to a place where there is more light -- and they keep their leaves suppressed  The eleven-dollar word for this variation in growth depending on the amount of sunlight is photomorphogenesis.

Now that you've got a few facts under your belt, let's see some more of the sped-up growth of all sorts of plants.

Here's more of David Attenborough, attributing all sorts of nefarious anthropomorphic intent to the plants:

  • I wanted to find some fancy word and description of how flowers bloom, but all I found was "the most extreme changes in cell and tissue expansion usually occurs in the petals of flowers" and "much remains to be understood."   
  • Some physicists did discover that the shape a flower takes is dependent on what the cells are doing throughout the petals. Lots of growth happens at one part of the petal, and parts of the petal elsewhere curl up. It's another kind of nutation, I suppose.
  • Blooming happens when a ton of growth happens at the very tip of the petal until the petals have no place else to go and they pop open.
  • The physicists said that the entire process of growth to blooming of a blossom is based around "instabilities." More stuff is happening in one place than in another, so the plant moves or changes in response to that imbalance.
  • Beyond this, though, the physicists said there's a ton they still don't understand.  Everyone agrees, the process by which a flower blooms is complex. And pretty remarkable, how plants make these spectacular, colorful, fragrant blossoms.

In this one, the rose fascinates me, how many changes it goes through:

Here's a day in the life of some tulips. They bloom and then as the light fades, they close up again slightly (phototropism!):

Now, I know that fungi are a whole different kettle of . . . spores, but I think this one is pretty cool.  These are blue oyster mushrooms:

It seems natural to provide you with some instructions on how to make your own time-lapse video of plants growing. But it seems to be a pretty involved process, with all sorts of variables depending on what kind of equipment you have.  So I'll recommend a few resources that seem to be good:

I'll give you one more video to close with.  This one shows plants growing and also snails wandering around over the plants. It's funny to see the snails moving quickly.


Roger P. Hangarter, Plants-in-Motion (tons of information here)
Daniel Strain, The Physics of a Flower's Bloom, Wired Science, March 22, 2011

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