A Moment of Science

Plant Hair

Have you ever seen a hairy plant?

Plants may appear to have hair, but the technical term for plant hair is trichomes. These trichomes may resemble hair, but they’re not the same as what we mammals have.

Trichomes are not the same as our hair, but insofar as the definition of hair is that it is an outgrowth of the epidermis, then trichomes are for all practical purposes, a kind of hair. Unlike animal hair, though, trichomes are often living cells.

Trichomes can run the gamut in structure, appearance, and texture. Some trichomes are frail, some coarse; some are branched like tree limbs, others star-shaped; some are long and straight, others are short and curly.

Just as mammal hair serves various protective purposes, including insulation and camouflage, so do trichomes. Trichomes can be insulating by keeping frost away from leaf cells. They can help reduce evaporation by protecting the plant from wind and heat. In many cases, trichomes protect plants from herbivorous insects that may want to feed on them. And in some cases, if the trichomes are especially stiff or irritating, they may protect a plant from larger herbivores.

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