Mystery of lily's white delights unveiled at last
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent and i. 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; four times highly 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 investigations into the tobacco industry. 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.
Feed ducks frozen peas instead of stale bread, charity asks
Greenham Reach: The families trying to prove that compact, ecological farms can make a living
Boiling ourselves to death: Temperatures on Earth hit another record high, here’s the projected effect on humans
The ugliest animals on earth: Blobfish, axolotl and proboscis monkey battle it out to be named least attractive beast
Have you heard 'the hum'? Mystery of Earth's low droning noise could now be solved
- 1 Cyclist who knocked down three-year-old girl says his life has been 'destroyed'
- 2 A politically correct lefty goes to see Top Gear live – you'll probably believe what happened next
- 3 Young Preston fan has play-off hero Jermaine Beckford's shirt stolen from him at Wembley - which then appears for sale on Gumtree
- 4 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 5 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
EU referendum: David Cameron to deny EU migrants and under-18s the chance to vote
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...
£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...