Something Is Rotten in the State of Denmark: Why Corpse Flowers Are Incredibly Awesome
Yesterday, I waited in line for an hour and a half to see a flower that smelled like dirty socks. And it was totally awesome.
The flower in question, Amorphophallus titanum (also known as ‘The Corpse Flower’ because of the bloom’s stench, or ‘titan arum’ because of its immense size) was located at Michigan State University’s Plant Biology Conservatory. Standing at around five feet tall, the mere size of this bloom would have been enough to attract a small crowd of eager plant enthusiasts. But size is just one feature of this amazing plant.
In its native Sumatra, the titan arum blooms infrequently, and when that bloom occurs, it usually lasts only for 36 hours at most. In order for reproduction between males and females of the species, the plant needs pollinators, and fast. So how does it get them?
That’s where the titan arum gets evolutionarily creative. Rather than smelling sweet to attract butterflies, hummingbirds, or other usual pollinators, the titan arum smells like rotting meat, to attract carrion beetles and flesh flies; insects which thrive on decomposing animal matter. The titan arum even takes this act a few steps further, having huge, red-maroon leaves the color of meat, and maintaining a temperature similar to that of the human body. This acts as a double attractor, as the heat both mimics the temperature of a decomposing body of animal matter, and further diffuses the putrid stench from the flower.
Though the flowers bloom rarely in the wild, and even more rarely in cultivation, around five titan arums bloom in cultivated gardens around the world each year, with ever increasing success. If you get the chance to see one in bloom, jump at the opportunity before it’s too late. Tell your friends. Everyone needs to experience this weird wonderful world we live in before it, like the titan arum’s bloom, is gone for good.
Click here to see a short clip of Sir David Attenborough talking about these incredible plants.
Submitted by thatoneguywithoutamustache
Edited by Mark S.
“The Flow II" film by Bose Collins and colleagues features a ferrofluid, a magnetically-sensitive liquid made up of a carrier fluid like oil and many tiny, ferrous nanoparticles. Although ferrofluids are known for many strange behaviors, their most distinctive one is the spiky appearance they take on when exposed to a constant magnetic field. This peak-and-valley structure is known as the normal-field instability. It’s the result of the fluid attempting to follow the magnetic field lines upward. Gravity and surface tension oppose this magnetic force, allowing the fluid to be drawn upward only so far until all three forces balance. (Video credit: B. Collins et al.)
Undoubtedly one of the most mind-boggling instances of fluid dynamics I’ve learned about in writing FYFD is that of sonoluminescence - an effect in which light is produced from imploding cavitation bubbles. In a laboratory, the effect is usually initiated with acoustic waves. A bubble can be forced to oscillate and collapse periodically when forced by the sound. During the collapse, the vapor inside the bubble reaches temperatures of the order of thousands of Kelvin, and light is produced. What is far more wild, though, is that the effect occurs in nature as well. Both the pistol shrimp and the mantis shrimp produce the effect. As shown in the video above, the mantis shrimp swings its club-like arm with such speed that the local pressure drops below the vapor pressure, causing a cavitation bubble to form and sonoluminescence to occur. Some real Mortal Kombat finishing move s&#% there, indeed. (Video credit: Z. Frank)
The mystery of the roaming rocks of Death Valley’s Racetrack Playa may be at an end. Since their discovery in the 1940s, researchers have speculated about what conditions on the playa could cause 15+ kg rocks to slide tens or hundreds of meters across the dry lakebed. But the rare nature of the movement and the remoteness of the location had prevented direct observation of the phenomenon until last December when a research team caught the rocks in motion (see the timelapse animation above or the source video). Winter rain and snow had created a shallow ice-encrusted pond across the playa by the time the researchers arrived to check their previously installed equipment. Late one sunny morning, the melting ice, only millimeters thick, cracked into plates tens of meters wide and began to move under the light breeze (~4-5 m/s). Despite its windowpane-like thickness, the ice pushed GPS-instrumented rocks up to hundreds of meters at speeds of 2-5 m/min. It took just the right mix of conditions—sun, wind, snow, and water—but the two ice-shoving instances the team observed go a long way toward explaining the sailing rocks. (Image credits: R. Norris et al.; J. Norris, source video; NASA Goddard; via Discover and SciAm)
In the dark of the ocean, some animals have evolved to use bioluminescence as a defense. In the animation above, an ostracod, one of the tiny crustaceans seen flitting near the top of the tank, has just been swallowed by a cardinal fish. When threatened, the ostracod ejects two chemicals, luciferin and luciferase, which, when combined, emit light. Because the glow would draw undesirable attention to the cardinal fish, it spits out the ostracod and the glowing liquid and flees. Check out the full video clip over at BBC News. Other crustaceans, including several species of shrimp, also spit out bioluminescent fluids defensively. (Image credit: BBC, source video; via @amyleerobinson)
Fresh fig and melon salad with mizuna and smoky cashews
Easy to make and delectable, this salad is perfect for the summer and fall season, when melon and figs are at their peak!
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Plants can be found in some of the most remote, inhospitable places on the planet, resulting in the evolution of creative ways to adapt to harsh environments. One adaptation used by plants are hairs, called trichomes (hydrangea trichomes seen here in this micrograph), that cover the surface of leaves. Trichomes help insulate the air surrounding leaf openings to increase humidity. They also shade from or reflect light to prevent water evaporating from leaf cells.
Image by Dr. Steve Lowry, Portstewart, Co.