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Meet the speedsters of the plant world

Ingenious botanical mechanisms let plants fling, snap and burst

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12:11pm, May 16, 2018
venus flytrap

WITH A SNAP The leaves of the Venus flytrap capture prey through a process called snap-buckling. The outer leaf surface expands until it’s too much for the inner surface of the leaf to bear.

Somewhere in the wetlands of South Carolina, a buzzing fly alights on a rosy-pink surface. As the fly explores the strange scenery, it unknowingly brushes a small hair sticking up like a slender sword. Strolling along, the fly accidentally grazes another hair. Suddenly, the pink surface closes in from both sides, snapping shut like a pair of ravenous jaws. The blur of movement lasts only a tenth of a second, but the fly is trapped forever.

“We don’t think plants move at all, yet they can move so fast you can’t catch them with the naked eye,” says Joan Edwards, a botanist at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass.

We tend to picture plants as static life-forms rooted in place until they die. To describe something boring, we say it’s “like watching grass grow.” But this is a stale view of plant life.

All plants grow, a rather slow form of motion, but many can also move rapidly. The snapping jaws of the Venus flytrap (

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