Resisting the Wind

Have you ever wondered how some plants can withstand heavy winds? At lease one group, the cattails, produce specialized support structures within their cells to cope with winds. This is great, especially when growing near a large, windy water source.

A team of researchers recently took a much closer look at the leaf cells of a variety of cattail species (genus Typha). For decades, there has been knowledge of fibers that traverse the air chambers within the cells. These have largely been ignored but as it turns out, they indeed serve a purpose.

 (A) Longitudinal section showing the fibre cables anchored in diaphragms composed of aerenchyma tissue. (B) Longitudinal section showing the fibre cables anchored in diaphragms composed of aerenchyma tissue. (C) Cross section. The thick ventral (v)and dorsal (d) surfaces of the leaf are separated by thick partitions (P) that run the length of the leaf. Thin diaphragms (D) connected perpendicular to the thick partitionsare traversed by very fine fibre cables (FC), which are anchored to them. This construction has often been compared to sandwich-type construction, giving a low-density structure of high stiffness and strength (Rowlatt and Morshead, 1992)

(A) Longitudinal section showing the fibre cables anchored in diaphragms composed of aerenchyma tissue. (B) Longitudinal section showing the fibre cables anchored in diaphragms composed of aerenchyma tissue. (C) Cross section. The thick ventral (v)and dorsal (d) surfaces of the leaf are separated by thick partitions (P) that run the length of the leaf. Thin diaphragms (D) connected perpendicular to the thick partitionsare traversed by very fine fibre cables (FC), which are anchored to them. This construction has often been compared to sandwich-type construction, giving a low-density structure of high stiffness and strength (Rowlatt and Morshead, 1992)

As any good engineer will tell you, if a structure is to remain sound, it needs multiple avenues in which stress can be redistributed. The same goes for living structures like leaves. The fibers are arranged within the cells makes them quite strong under tension. In this way, multiple load paths are created to distribute the stress of high winds on the leaves. We like to take credit for most of our ideas but, time and again, nature beat us to it first.

Photo Credit: [1] [2]

Further Reading: [1]