Posted in biology, electronic imaging and displays

Why flowers are pretty

Just when you thought flowers’ beauty might escape the hyper-analysis of scientific inquiry, behold!

From NPR: Those rows of wiggly lines are microscopic ridges on the surface of a flower petal. Plant experts have known about them for at least 75 years, but their exact function still remains a mystery.

Some have proposed that the ridges act like Velcro, and help bees get a grip on flowers . Others have suggested that they trap droplets of water that give petals a “come hither” sparkle. Or, because of the way the ridges are arranged, they could create an iridescent shimmer that amounts to a flashing “Open For Business” sign for passing pollinators.

But even if their exact function isn’t known, researchers at Michigan State University have at least figured out how plants manufacture the ridges.

According to the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the tiny structures form on the surface of the plant, not in the underlying layers as some have speculated. Researchers also found that the ridges are made of “cutin polyester,” a material in the waxy outer layer of plants that helps protect them from drying out.

And why do we care? For one thing, the discovery could give researchers a model for designing microscopic objects — like nanomachines — with easily gripped, non-skid surfaces.



Beth Kelley is an applied & digital anthropologist with an overall interest in how people engage with and are impacted by their environments and vice versa. This has manifested itself in many ways, by looking at creativity, playful spaces, built environments, and environmental enrichment, sustainability, design research, and integrative and collaborative models of learning such as through play and hands-on learning.

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