The witch hazel plant is recognized for its capacity to shoot out seeds over impressive distances. This mechanism aids in seed dispersal and reproduction. These plants shoot their seeds by coiling a spring inside the seed pod. When the pod dries out, the spring unwinds, catapulting the seeds at a speed of 30 feet (9 m) per second.
If you find a witch hazel plant in the forest, you might think of it as a sweet-smelling shrub with wrinkled ribbon-like petals.
But to the researchers at North Carolina’s Duke University, it resembles a howitzer.
Researchers have now uncovered the plant’s method and think that their discoveries could have uses in human technology.
They began by filming three types of witch hazel plants as their seed capsules shot out seeds. Since the seeds reached top speed in just half a millisecond, the video had to be recorded at 100,000 frames/sec.
The researchers say that insights gained from nature could result in better designs for robots.
“When we think of springy things, we typically think of rubber bands, coils, or archery bows,” biomechanics graduate student Justin Jorge said. “But in biology, we have all these weird, complex shapes. Perhaps there are some benefits to these shapes that can be used to improve the design of synthetic springs, such as those used in small jumping robots.”
The study was backed by the National Science Foundation, US Army Research Laboratory, and US Army Research Office. The findings were published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.