Drought can take a serious toll on plants and animals. When cells are deprived of water, they shrink, collapsing upon themselves and without water, cell biochemistry may malfunction. However, some plants, like the resurrection fern (Polypodium polypodioides), can survive extreme desiccation, losing as much as 95% of their water content. This is an amazing superpower! Most plants and animals can’t tolerate more than 10 to 20 percent water loss. Fifteen percent water loss is usually fatal in human beings.
The resurrection fern gets it name because it can survive extensive periods of drought by curling-up its fronds and appearing grey-brown … dead. The curled leaves dry with their bottom side upwards. In this way they can rehydrate the quickest when rains comes, as most of the water is absorbed on the bottom side of the leaves. When drying, the plant produces special proteins, called dehydrins near the cell walls. Dehydrins attract water and act as a lubricant, allowing the cell walls to fold in a way that can be reversed. Scientists are studying how this works, to possibly bio-engineer this ability in other plants, so that they can better tolerate drought. It may be possible to design materials with a similar elastic response, such as mobile, deployable structures that are transported dry buy deploy using moisture uptake; structures with shape memory.
This fern is an epiphyte, or air plant, which means that it gets nutrients from the air and water. It clings onto tree branches, logs and rocks, but is not a parasite, attaching to objectls only for support, to be in the best position to receive sunlight and water. Like all ferns, the resurrection fern does not reproduce by fruits or seeds but uses spores instead. The spores are found in clusters, called sori, on the bottom of the blades.
The plant is native to tropical and sub-tropical regions in the Americas and Africa. Native peoples historically have recognized the significance of this plant. It has been used, for example as, a diuretic, a remedy for heart problems, and as a treatment for infections. Recent medical research is confirming some of these folklore reports and has shown that the extracts from the fern have anti-arrhythmic cardiac properties.
Videography by Ken Kramm, July 2011. Canon Vixia HF S20, Canon PowerShot SX10IS, GoPro HD HERO. Time-lapse 1.5 hrs shown in 60 seconds, one photograph every 30 seconds. Creative Commons sound effects by Jovica Storer, The Freesound Project http://www.freesound.org/.
video source: www.youtube.com
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