Tuesday, October 1, 2013

HortiCOOLture - Designed for Dispersion

Bitter Melon fruits are dehiscent - they crack open when ripe.

Plants continually amaze me.  The designer of life, I personally believe it to be God, made sure that each one is uniquely equipped with everything it needs to succeed.  For plants, success means to be able to reproduce their kind.  They photosynthesize and grow in order to flower.  Flowers eventually turn into fruits.  Fruits bear the seeds.  The seeds are dispersed to begin a new life.  And the cycle goes on.  Unlike other organisms plants do not have the mobility that would facilitate dispersal of seeds.  Nonetheless, plants have the ability to lure other life forms and the environment into scattering their seeds.  In the wild world where cultivation is not an option, plant seeds are dispersed by animals, wind, and water.

Case Example
Bitter melon (Momordica charantia L.), a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, produces fruits that are characteristically bitter.  Unaided, this unpalatable plant has a chance to grow only on the same place over and over again.  That would be a losing proposition.  But this plant is equipped with a mechanism that compensates for the bitterness of its fruit.  First of all, this plant is equipped with dehiscent fruits.  Dehiscent fruits are those that split open at maturity.  Most plants in the Cucurbitaceae family produce fruits called pepo with thick rind like that of the watermelon, pumpkin, and cucumber - they are indehiscent fruits.   But the bitter melon is one of the rare exceptions.  The fruits crack at maturity.  Secondly, as the fruit opens, the seeds that are encased in sweet red membrane are revealed to the rest of the world inviting all to come and have a taste.  Animals cannot resist the succulent and sweet seed-covering but they leave the seeds elsewhere.  At this point, seed dispersal is complete.


Have you observed any special plant features that aid seed dispersal lately?

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