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The Plant Kingdom's Most Unusual Talents [Slide Show]

Plants do not just laze about, soaking up rays. They shift around, hunt, eat, attack--and defend themselves

By Daniel Chamovitz and Ferris Jabr

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NOSING AROUND:

The spindly orange vine known as dodder ( Cuscuta pentagona ) is a parasitic plant. Time-lapse video reveals that a dodder seedling twirls through the air, sniffing volatile chemicals released by neighboring plants in search of a suitable host.....[ More ]

POWER PLANT:

If you look closely at the inner pink lobes of the Venus flytrap's ( Dionaea muscipula ) trap, you will see several hairs. The trap shuts when an insect touches two or more of these hairs - or the same hair more than once – within a 30-second window.....[ More ]

SOLAR TRACKER:

Alpine buttercups ( Ranunculus adoneus ) are known for their solar tracking abilities – their small yellow flowers follow the sun's daily journey from east to west. Researchers think that the behavior helps keep the flowers warm, which boosts chances of pollination by heat-seeking insects.....[ More ]

SWIFT SWIVELING:

Like Alpine buttercups, a small Asian shrub named the telegraph plant ( Codariocalyx motorius ) tracks the sun - not with its blooms, but with its leaves. Small leaflets attached to the base of larger leaves constantly swivel to monitor changing levels of sunlight, adjusting the position of the primary leaves as needed.....[ More ]

FAST FOLDING:

If you stroke the sensitive plant ( Mimosa pudica ), also known as touch-me-not, its fern-like row of leaves reflexively folds in half. Same thing if you blow on the plant or shake it. Whereas the Venus flytrap evolved rapid movement to catch insect prey, the sensitive plant probably shrinks from touch to discourage any insects or herbivores looking for a leafy snack.....[ More ]

RISE AND SHINE:

Irises bloom in the spring and early summer. They know that the time for flowering has arrived because they can sense that the days are getting longer and the nights are getting shorter. In the lab, scientists have induced an iris to flower in winter by switching on the lights for a few seconds each night, punctuating the darkness.....[ More ]

CLINGY CREEPER:

The wild cucumber's ( Sicyos angulatus ) spidering tendrils, which grab onto fences and other plants for support, are super-sensers. Most people cannot feel the weight of a string weighing less than 0.07 ounces (2 grams).....[ More ]

ZERO GRAVITY:

Like most plants, morning glories ( Ipomea nil ) usually grow up towards the sun. But this strain of morning glory, called Shidare asagao , has lost its balance – it has lost its ability to sense gravity.....[ More ]

FAMILY VALUES:

In lab experiments, researchers have shown that a weedy beach plant known as sea rocket ( Cakile ) recognizes its siblings and restrains its root growth in their presence. The idea is that siblings benefit from sharing nutrients and helping each other pass on genes they have in common.....[ More ]

MOLECULAR MEMORY:

Common bread wheat ( Triticum aestivum ), also known as “winter wheat," only flowers and makes grain following a cold winter. If winter snows do not blanket the sprouts, they never flower. ....[ More ]

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