Measured Against Reality

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Dodder, the plant that smells

There is a remarkable plant called the dodder. It’s a parasitic vine that attaches itself to other plants and inserts growths called haustoria that absorb nutrients from the host. It then loses its roots and become wholly dependent on the host plant to survive.

While that’s interesting, it’s not the most interesting thing about this plant. For a while no one was entirely sure how the dodder actually located its prey. As it turns out, the dodder can accomplish this using smell.

Consuelo De Moraes and Mark Mescher lead a study that determined this. They found that the dodder will grow toward a tomato’s scent, regardless of whether it’s actually a plant or just a piece of rubber.

Plants never cease to amaze me. Actually, life and evolution never cease to amaze me. If anything, the fact that plants are so radically different from animals, and yet are capable of many of the same things is a testament to the capabilities of evolution. Time and time again, we see the same strategies evolve in different circumstances from different starting lines, such as plants that can “smell” or eat, or the dozens of times the eye has evolved. Evolution is a very powerful force.

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