Video: Mushroom Cloud Helps Moss Spores Reach New Heights

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Credit: Video courtesy of Clara Hard, Joan Edwards, and Dwight Whitaker

When breeding season comes around, Sphagnum moss just can't contain itself. The ground-hugging plants, also known as peat moss, reproduce by launching their spores up to 16 centimeters in the air, where the wind carries them away. How do the spores get so high? They form a mushroom cloud, according to a study to be published tomorrow in Science. When the capsule that contains the spores desiccates, it builds up huge amounts of pressure and eventually pops its top. Because of the shape of the capsule, the spores are ejected as a mushroom cloud, also known as a vortex ring. High speed video reveals that this cloud draws air up through its stem as it rises, pushing the spores 20 times higher than they would rise if they were ejected in a bullet-like trajectory. Jellyfish and squids employ similar mechanisms to move through water, but this is the first time it's been seen in plants.

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