Tiny pores, skinny pipes prevent ice from reaching alpine heather’s flowers
A summertime cold snap can, quite literally, take the bloom off the rose. Not so for Scotch heather — and now scientists know why.
Thick cell walls and narrow plumbing in the alpine shrub’s stems stop deadly ice crystals from spreading to its fragile flowers during sudden summer freezes, researchers report September 15 in PLOS ONE. That lets the flowers survive and the plant make seeds even if temperatures dip below freezing.
Once ice crystals start to form inside of a plant, they can spread very quickly, says Gilbert Neuner, a botanist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria who led the study. Those sharp crystals can destroy plant cells — and flowers are particularly sensitive. So plants living in cold climes have developed strategies to confine ice damage to less harmful spots.
Neuner and his team used infrared imaging to measure heat given off by