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How maple fruits fall

A heavy body and big wing help seeds stay airborne

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2:24pm, June 11, 2009

View a video of the maple seeds and the mini-vortexes they generate.

A heavy body and lone, stubby wing seem unlikely features for an object trying to fly—but they help the seeds of maple trees travel thousands of meters from a parent tree, researchers report in the June 12 Science.

The helicopter-like seeds—technically fruits called samaras—dangle from trees in pairs. As the seeds age, they separate into single units, each a heavy, round mass at the base of a stubby, asymmetrical wing. This design makes the maple fruits spin as they descend, which generates an upward sucking mini-tornado atop

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