June 16, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

Plants’ International Travel Upsets Evolutionary Idea

They may be rooted in soil, but plants really get around.  Some of them make it around the world.  One example has upset a long-believed evolutionary idea.
    First of all, plants have a social life.  National Geographic published a story about how plants socialize and communicate.  “Plants have family values, too, it seems, with new research suggesting they can recognize close relatives in order to work together.”
    Sometimes, another National Geographic article explained, they decide to go on vacation.  Using up their “frequent flora” miles, they can take to the winds and set down roots in distant lands.  Long distance travel by plants was assumed to be rare and random, but genetic studies of nine arctic species indicated they had traveled up to 1000 km from their starting place.
    One such international travel escapade amounts to a conspiracy.  Kapok plants crossed an ocean to undermine Darwin, according to a story in Science Daily.  The trail of intrigue led from South America to Africa: “the kapok tree now is upsetting an idea that biologists have clung to for decades: the notion that African and South American rainforests are similar because the continents were connected 96 million years ago.”  To pull off this scheme, the kapok seeds found ways to cross the ocean.

Another seed that enjoys ocean cruises is the mangrove.  The Moody film Journey of Life details how the long seed pods of this plant glide like submarines across the salty sea.  Upon reaching shallow water, one end becomes waterlogged and sinks, planting the pod upright in the sandy soil, ready to start a new mangrove forest.  The coconut is another world cruiser.
    We should not feel sorry for plants, stuck as they are in one place.  They move and socialize and travel more than we imagine.  Would that science reporters would appreciate the design in plants instead of spinning their reports around the latest scare fads, like global warming.  Mars and Venus have global warming but nothing like kapok trees, mangroves and coconuts.

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Categories: Amazing Facts

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