Mystery of lily's white delights unveiled at last
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; twice commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigative journalism. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Tuesday 22 March 2011
It has given its name to a hue of white that epitomises saintly purity. Now one of the great mysteries of the lily flower has been solved by scientists who have worked out precisely how it manages to bloom so spectacularly from its tightly enclosed bud.
William Blake once wrote that "the lily white shall in love delight", but a team of Harvard engineers has gone a step further than any botanist in explaining another delight of the flower – the secret of how the lily is able to unfurl its voluminous petals to form its magnificent blooms. Standard explanations have varied. One involved the growth of the midribs running along the length of the sepals, the protective outer coverings enclosing the petals. It was thought that the growth of the midribs caused enough internal stress for the petals to break out of their casing.
A rival theory suggested the two faces of each sepal and petal grow at different rates. The idea here was that if the inner face of each sepal and petal grew faster than the external face, the flower eventually would be forced to bend outward, as is known to occur in other flowers.
But Haiyi Liang and Professor Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan of Harvard have come up with a third explanation, which they said is supported by a detailed mathematical analysis, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They believe the lily is able to bloom from its flower bud by growing at slightly different rates at the rippled edges of its petals. This creates wrinkling at the periphery of the petals which generates the stress within the bud to make it burst open.
"That differences in planar growth strains can lead to shape changes has been known for some time. But showing that it is at work and dominant in lily blooming is new, as our measurements and simple theory show," Professor Mahadevan said.
The scientists studied the Asiatic lily, Lilium casablanca, which has a bud of three outer sepals wrapped around three inner petals. The scientists constructed a computer simulation of the lily's petal and showed that it behaved exactly like the real thing when its edges grow at different rates.
"What is most surprising is that a subject that is so rich in metaphor, the blooming of a flower, has been studied so little from a quantitative perspective," Professor Mahadevan said.
Frilled shark: Australian fishermen capture terrifying shark from the deep
Devon beavers can stay living in the wild, Natural England rules
Keep off the grass: Research confirms that highly manicured lawns produce more greenhouse gases than they soak up
Winter floods lead to sharp fall in climate change scepticism
The ugliest animals on earth: Blobfish, axolotl and proboscis monkey battle it out to be named least attractive beast
- 1 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 2 Kim Kardashian on Bruce Jenner's 'story': 'We support him no matter what, and I think when the time is right, he'll talk'
- 3 Russian girl takes her own life after parents find pornography on her computer
- 4 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 5 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...
£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...
£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...
£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...