Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Plant, Clean Thyself!

Marsh Cinquefoil, Comarum palustre
I have always found the flower of the Marsh Cinquefoil (Comarum palustre) most beguiling. The sepals, petals and stamens all seem to combine to form a purplish-star that frames the black-spiked carpels. As its common name suggests, it is found in a variety of wetlands like fens, moors, bogs, wet heathlands and, or course, marshes (1). It is common in such habitats, but the their destruction means that it is becoming far less widespread in Ireland than it once was (2).

Marsh Cinquefoil, Comarum palustre
Growing in such wet, muddy conditions, C. palustre has to deal with the possibility of reduced photosynthetic activity due to dirt and debris from the surrounding waters getting on its leaves. And deal with it it does, in a most effective way. The leaves of C. palustre have a convex relief and are covered with ribbon shaped epicutlicular wax crystals. The roughness caused by these ribbon shapes and the hydrophobic properties of the wax gives the plant an excellent water repellency. Additionally, any particulate matter landing on the leaves will in turn be carried away with water droplets making them anti-adhesive with respect to such contamination. Of course such self cleaning ability is not purely the preserve of C. palustre. A great number of plants exbit such a capacity, many of which originate from habitats with conditions similar to the marshy home of C. plaustre. Probably the most famously in the Lotus blossom (Nelumbo spp.) which has lent the name “the Lotus effect” to the phenomenon.

  1. Phillips, 1977. Wild Flowers of Britain p. 106
  2. O'Sullivan, 2007. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 107 pp. 147-203
  3. Neinhuis and Barthlott, 1997. Annals of Botany 79 pp. 667-677

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